Neuro-Typicals Still Struggle to Understand, But Keep Trying

New York Universities’ Child Study Center had a great idea. They were looking for a way to raise awareness of children’s neurological conditions. Certainly a noble idea. The ad agency BBDO worked pro-bono to create a campaign to interrupt consumers and get them to read the ads. Their creative execution was to put the message content in the form of a ransom note. Of course breaking through the clutter is always the challenge for any ad campaign, and as it turned out their goal was met. The ads ran for only two weeks, and they were indeed interruptive. So much so that calls and e-mails poured into the Child Study Center. Here is one of the ads that actually ran.


I am a parent of an Asperger’s Syndrome adult (see previous blog here). When I first saw the ad I was alarmed (the creative was doing it’s job), my immediate next reaction was that this would help raise awareness (the campaign was doing its job). But it did feel negative to me and that is something my son and I are trying to leave behind.

It is very difficult for neuro-typicals to put themselves inside the complex minds of these children and adults. Frequently their days are filled with anxiety, confusion and fear. In a way this ad transforms a neuro-typical reader into someone on the autism spectrum. You read it and you can’t quite figure it out… It doesn’t fit into the familiar buckets… You are searching for meaning… Based on that I find it difficult to be overly critical about the campaign, but there has to be a better way.

So what to do next? I wonder if the well-meaning people responsible for this campaign consulted with the parents and individuals who live in this world everyday. A simple focus group would have told them that they want to move beyond the negatives and into the positive attributes that our children have. These are wonderful people and can contribute to society in meaningful ways, and in some cases in superior ways. The human spirit, regardless of what mental or physical differences shape it’s vessel, is essentially universal. People want to make a difference, to live fulfilling lives, communicate with others, and be happy.

The attitude and approach of all of us must evolve and advance, just as the attitude toward regular medical conditions have evolved (diabetes, cancer, etc…). The key to this, as with so many things, is awareness followed by education. Once those building blocks are in place, people will get it and go to work.

I was happy to read at the end of The New York Times article on this topic (you can link to it here) that they were going back to try again. I’m grateful for their efforts and will look forward to what they come up with next.