Finding Happiness In Neurodiversity, With Shawn Smith, Me.D., CCC | EDB 121

Finding Happiness in Neurodiversity, with Shawn Smith, Me.D., CCC | EDB 121

(13 mins) In this episode, Dr. Hackie Reitman continues speaking with Canadian advocate Shawn Smith, Me.D., CCC. Shawn is a successful entrepreneur, a neurodiversity advocate and consultant, and founder of Don’t Dis-my-Ability. Shawn discusses the importance of surrounding yourself with positive influences, and seeking out fulfilling careers.

For more about Shawn’s work, visit:


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HACKIE REITMAN, M.D. (HR): Hi, I’m Dr. Hackie Reitman and welcome to another episode of Exploring Different Brains with one of our regulars. The man who founded Don’t Dis My Ability up in Canada, Shawn Smith. Shawn welcome back to Different Brains.


SHAWN SMITH (SS): Thanks for having me Hackie. Hi Hackie, it’s Shawn Smith. It’s a pleasure being on Different Brains. I’m the founder and CEO of Don’t Dis My Ability. You can find me at or you can find me on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook or Youtube.


HR: If you had to boil down. Now your Shawn Smith, you’ve overcome many obstacles, you’ve become successful. If you had to boil them all down to how you manage to succeed, growing up without proper support, if you had to break it down to specific steps, what would they be?


SS: Uh geez! You know I think that’s one of the hardest things to try and do because I think people. They have this idea of who they’re going to be and what they’re going do and whether than it being kind of linear, I would almost compare my trajectory to 01:15:03 board and the price is right. I mean this is my twentieth job. I literally done everything from shovel crap to being a black jack dealer. I was a sheriff’s officer, worked two murder trials, short ordered cook, a therapeutic foster parent, you know, I’m at the age now that where I couldn’t see how each one of those experiences was going to get me to were I am now. You know, there was no real careful planing into thinking this was where I was going to end up. It was almost one half hazard decision after another just to get by. You know, you can’t get through A to Z without going through B and I always tell people, I wouldn’t wish my experiences on anyone, but I’m also at a point now where I wouldn’t trade them for the world, but it’s being on the other side of things I think that really helps people and resonates with them that, you know, you can get through this. Yes, it’s hard, you know, it really is hard, but I also say, no one ever said being awesome would be easy, right? Anything worth having is worth working for. You might not know what you’re working towards but that doesn’t mean you should give up. That just means you should work harder.


HR: Well, that was very inspirational. You made my day, Shawn, I gotta tell you because that’s a great attitude, it really is and it gets results and we have to connect all the dots and just because my life may be a series of failures interrupted by the occasional success. You know, in boxing, we use to say you judge a champion by what he does when he gets off the campus. You know, because we all get knocked out and some of us get knocked down more than others but somebody like Shawn Smith with Don’t Dis My Ability, we know you keep trying, you keep going and it’ll work out. You gotta push and you got to do it and you got to have fun doing it too which is something that’s often missed.


SS: I also think you have to fail. You know, and I think as men, you know, growing up we were taught that failure is a sign of weakness and not show weakness and I challenge that. I know that I rarely make the same mistake twice. So I want to make as many mistakes as possible, the more mistakes I make, the quicker I’m going to learn. You know, but it’s really changing the perception of how we view things.


HR: Absolutely. What do you find is the biggest limiting factor to your company, Don’t Dis My Ability?


SS: Right now Hackie, I feel it’s the location. You know, this is where social media and 03:59:06 really come into play. 04:02:05, Canada is not my market, my following is in Florida and California, the southern state. What I’m doing and what we’re doing, you know, to us, it seems like common sense. When I talk to people, they think, oh yeah, it does seem like common sense, but yet, it seems so aggressive. You know, I’ve been shunned by every disability related non profit in the 04:26:17. Two of them have come back and apologize to me but I’m, you know, a threat because I’m an individual with a disability whose helping people with disabilities, you know, when you think of inclusion, you know, it’s a package, it’s a product that was sold, that was created by people without disabilities for people with disabilities. It’s a business and so anybody who comes in with a fresh take on things is shit disturber and that’s a badge I wear proudly, you know, if we need to teach our kids about inclusion, we’ve already taught them about inclusion. So, we need to think about what’s actually happening and who’s benefiting from this.


HR: Very interesting take, very interesting and do you feel that, just as a segue to something else, do you feel that Canada is different from the United States based on your language and this regard you just spoke of?


SS: It’s yeah, it is. I mean I have the benefit of having to work in Canada and the United States. My wife and I worked there 05:42:17 foster parents through out 05:43:15 from the state of Maine and coming back across the border was a stepback in time and I don’t mean like a baby step, I mean a huge, giant leap backwards. It’s incredible the amount of support and resources that were available just across the border than to come back here and to have this horrible realization that, wow, you know, we’re just so far behind and I guess one of my biggest challenges and frustrations is that there are so many people who talk about progress, you know, and I joke, because, you know, even my own government has really shunned me, and so I just kinda scoff now and say, you know, they’re too busy talking about progress and I’m too busy making it. By the time they need me, they won’t be able to afford me.


HR: Now, when you do your counseling, is there a way, I don’t know what the laws are in Canada, I’m not even sure what the laws are in the United States, but talk to us a little bit, cause I’m sure you’ve considered telemedicine, or doing things over the airwaves on a one to one basis or groups.


SS: I have. I’m a director for the Technology and Innovative solutions Chapter of the Canadian Counseling and Psychotheraphy Association of which I am a Canadian certified counselor. In respects to ethics, there are certain requirements in order to meet the requirements, the ethics requirements in order to provide that type of counseling. So there is a course that you need to go through and it’s something that I’ve definitely considered. But for me, I find the way that I’m going to be better able to reach people is by providing the content through my online platform, and really empowering people. It’s not just that I won’t ever do that, but really my focus would be trying to find speaking engagements and reaching a broader audience that way. Cause a big part of what I do is really challenging people’s perceptions and changing their perspectives around their kids and their through processes and even their parenting styles and how they contribute to what’s happening.


HR: Do you have any message you’d like to give to the National Down Syndrome Society? I’m gonna be addressing them down in Washington DC soon and I wondered if you had any thoughts you might wish to share with those individuals and parents and families of the National Down Syndrome Society.


SS: Sure. You know, I’ll bring it back to “No one ever said being awesome would be easy.” You know, I know that I’m not for everybody and everybody’s not for me. We often feel like, you know, validation comes from people liking us and being surrounded by people. But I know now as I mature that that’s not what it’s about. It’s about being surrounded by the right people. And if people don’t accept you for who you are, they’re not friends. Find those people in your life that when you think of them, the value they add to your life just automatically comes into your mind. Those are people who are your friends. If you hesitate for even a second, not a friend. They’re an acquaintance. Find those people that add value to your life and who you are as a person. Surround yourself with them and be that person for them as well, and that’s where happiness will come from. It comes from within. You’re not gonna find it by trying to gain acceptance from other people because that means you’re trying to be something or somebody that you’re not.


HR: Wow. That was excellent. I’m gonna give that a lot of thought. That was a good one. I’m glad we got that on film.


SS: Hahaha.


HR: Now, is there anything else you would like to describe or discuss for our audience that we haven’t covered, Shawn?


SS: Well, really, Hackie, I’d like to express a heartfelt thank you to you. You know, I just got goosebumps. I don’t know that the people who watch your podcasts or the people who know you really understand how you’ve been able to connect people. You know, like I was making these horrible videos in my basement, man, and you found me! Haha, you know, and so this in a big way was a beginning for me and a way you discovered me, Hackie, like I went from making these horrible videos basement, and they were horrible, man, to you getting in touch with me and how that was a catalyst for change. Again, you know, it’s kinda like that Plinko chip, you just, it bounces around. I met Dr. Stephen Shore; I met J.R.R. Harding, you know, Boaz and Minerva Santiago, and then going to speak at Trailblazing where, you know, in 2016 you were the keynote, and then going back again this year, presenting alongside Temple Grandin. You know, it, you just, you never know where things will take you but unless you put yourself out there, you know, it’s never gonna happen. So I take it back to the videos, you know, they weren’t great but they don’t have to be. You can improve on something that exists but you can’t improve on something that doesn’t. But it all started with me taking chance and putting it out there and you finding me and reaching out to me, and so thank you. I really take a lot of pride in being a connector and so, you know, Aaron Bouma’s a great example of that, right? He, you know, 45 minutes away from me, I was able to connect with him and introduce him to you and now he’s a contributing blogger, right? So it’s, you really have developed a community of people who want to help each other succeed and, you know. We’ve just, you know, we’re a broad, wide family of uniquely gifted individuals and I really think Different Brains and what you’ve done has given us a great venue and place to share our unique gifts. And a safe place at that. And so I thank you, Hackie, for all of your work.


HR: Well, you’re too kind. Thank you, Shawn Smith. I truly admire everything you’re doing up there in Canada with Don’t Dis My Ability. Your life story, which I hope you make into a biography sometime, is truly inspirational, and I’ve really enjoyed, as always, talking with you. How can people best get in touch with you?


SS: They can reach me on my website. If you do a quick Google search for Don’t Dis My Ability, I’ll be the first one that comes up. You can find me on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube. Yeah, those are the best ways to get in touch with me and I’d love to hear from you. If you wanna send me an email through my website, I’d love to hear from you. So that’s, and I’d love to hear from you. You can email me at


HR: I wanna commend you on all the work you do and fighting the good fight and overcoming everything you’re overcoming and being one of the good guys who’s helping so many other people and having fun doing it. Thank you Shawn Smith. Thanks.


SS: Thanks for having me Hackie. I appreciate it.