Welcome to the ITAKOM Blog. Here, we have created a space to inspire, learn and discover stories from the far-reaching field of neurodiversity. Stories from the rich, diverse tapestry that is our community. Here we share ideas that, may just, change the world. We meet the people behind ITAKOM and the Salvesen Mindroom Centre; we introduce those behind the science and the reality; we meet sisters and brothers, partners and friends, scientists and thinkers, parents, carers and educators. Here we meet All Kinds of Minds.
First up, it’s Sophie Dow.
Sophie Dow is many things to many people: she is a speaker, a wife, a writer, a charity founder, but most notably to one person, she is a mother.
Up until 1981, she thought she had it all worked out—working at Swedish TV as an assistant director with her aims set on heading up the Sports Department (they didn’t know that—but then she met her Scottish husband (and co-founder of SMC) at a friend’s wedding and the rest is now current history. After relocating to London in 1982, Sophie worked as an Arts and Culture Correspondent for the Swedish press and media for 12 years.
The birth of their daughter Annie in 1990 followed her older brother who was born in 1987. Although at first glance Annie seemed perfectly healthy, Sophie began to have her reservations. At three-years-and-four-months-old, Annie was still not speaking and by that time it was clear that Sophie’s earlier rationale of “well, Einstein didn’t speak until he was five and, sometimes, I also find shirt buttons tricky!” didn’t hold water any longer. Sophie set about looking for answers.
Her search for a diagnosis for Annie eventually took her to a conference in Gothenburg in 1998–one of the very first in the world on learning difficulties. With 2,700 delegates attending Sophie quickly learnt that a) she and her family were not alone and b) neuro divergence was- still is—one of the big public health issues of our time. Sophie spent two days listening to desperate statistics about exclusion, bullying, loneliness, divorce, prison statistics and—yes even children who were thinking about suicide.
She found that totally unacceptable and decided to do something about it. The vision for the Salvesen Mindroom Centre was born then and there. The SMC (for short) is a Scottish charity working to raise awareness of a spectrum of learning difficulties: ADHD, autism, OCD, Tourette syndrome, dyslexia, dyspraxia etc. The organisation also provides practical advice, essential information, invaluable resources and tailored support to anyone who needs it. Today, with a staff count of 22, the SMC has been able to help thousands of children and their families since Sophie and her husband founded the charity all those years ago. Thanks to a generous philanthropic donation, the SMC also have its own research centre -The Salvesen Mindroom Research Centre, at University of Edinburgh.
Having handed over the operational reins a few years ago, Sophie’s role is now as a Trustee with responsibility for special projects. In 2018 Sophie’s book ‘När livet inte följer manus’ (‘When life doesn’t follow the script’) was published in her native Sweden to much acclaim. It is an intimate retelling of her family’s journey from diagnosis to understanding and living with neurodivergence. One prominent book reviewer even went as far as nominating the book as ‘one of the four best in Sweden right now’. ‘När livet inte följer manus’ is currently being translated into English as well as French.
There is still a long way to go, she says, given that we know so very little about the brain. According to neuroscientists we know less than 10% of how the brain and the mind works -and so the great challenge of the 21st century must be to learn more. ‘That’s a very exciting challenge. There is a whole new continent—the brain—to be discovered. And that discovery will bring with it a much-needed paradigm shift in how we look at and understand the brain. A much more holistic approach that includes All Kinds of Minds.
Sophie’s visions for ITAKOM?
“That people will take away a sense of hope, a changed life maybe, just as my life changed thanks to attending that conference in 1998.”
And what about an endpoint? Is there a time when the work is done and Sophie can, finally, hang up her hat? Sophie argues, no. “Absolutely not. Not until no mind is left behind.”