On this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast, host David Hirsch talks with Dr. Lawrence Fung, a psychologist and Director of the Stanford University Neurodiversity Alliance. Dr. Fung and his wife Michele have two children Hannah,13 and Zachary, 16, who was diagnosed with Autism at age 3. We’ll hear Dr. Fung talk about his work to help take advantage of the inherent talents of individuals with Autism. It’s a fascinating glimpse at a man who is changing the world for the better. That’s all on this Special Fathers Network Dad to Dad Podcast.
Find out more about the Stanford Neurodiversity Project at: https://med.stanford.edu/neurodiversity.html
Dad to Dad 99 – Dr. Lawrence Fung – Director of the Stanford Neurodiversity Project & Father of a Child with Autism
Dr. Lawrence Fung: And a lot of the people that changed the world a lot, Einstein, Tesla, those people it’s possible that they are on the spectrum because there are so many traits that we suggest that these people could well be on the spectrum and they change the world. We believe that in order for people on the spectrum to be successful, we have to change the environment. If we cannot change them. We can change the world for them.
Tom Couch: That’s Dr. Lawrence fond, a psychologist and director of the Stanford university neurodiversity Alliance, dr. Fung and his wife, Michelle have two children, Hannah 13 and Zachary 16, who was diagnosed with autism at age three. We’ll hear Dr. Fung talk about his work to help take advantage of the inherent talents of autistic people.
That’s all on this dad to dad podcast. Here’s your host, David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Hi, and thanks for listening to the dad to dad podcast, fathers, mentoring, fathers of children with special needs presented by the Special Fathers Network.
Tom Couch: The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs through our personalized matching process.
New fathers with special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for dads to support dads, to find out more, go to 21stcenturydads.org.
David Hirsch: And if your dad looking for help or would like to offer help, we’d be honored to have you join our closed Facebook group. Please go to facebook.com groups, and search dad to dad.
Tom Couch: And now let’s hear this fascinating conversation between Dr. Lawrence Fung and David Hirsch.
David Hirsch: Talking today with Dr. Lawrence Fung of Palo Alto, California, who is a father of two, a scientist and psychiatrist focused on autism spectrum disorder at Stanford university Lawrence. Thank you for taking the time to do a podcast interview for the Special Fathers Network.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Thank you David, for inviting me. It’s a, it’s quite a treat to, uh, speak with you.
David Hirsch: You and your wife, Michelle been married for 20 years and are the proud parents of Hannah 13 and Zachary 16, who was diagnosed with autism at age three. But let’s start with some background. Where did you grow up? Tell me something about your family.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: I grew up in Hong Kong.
I had my first 18 years of life in Hong Kong. I’m the youngest of five. My dad is a business person. My mom is a housewife. Being the, the youngest of the five. I I’m really getting a lot of attention for the, for the, for the good and the bad, but, uh, I think I had, uh, I had a good support, like growing up.
David Hirsch: So you were the baby of the family.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: I am the baby of the family. Still. My oldest siblings want to
David Hirsch: what’s the age range out of curiosity.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: My oldest sister’s 16 years older than me. Oh, wow. Uh, my oldest brother was 13 years older than me and then 10 and then five years. Okay. Okay.
David Hirsch: So pretty well spread out. Okay. Would you consider yourself spoiled being the youngest or not?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: I’m clearly not spoiled now, but I think I was spoiled when I was looking. I got a lot of good stuff and protection in some ways, so. Okay. I think it’s good. I enjoy being the youngest, uh, for many years until I, I feel like I I’m a little longer a small child.
David Hirsch: Well, the good old days. Thank you for sharing.
So out of curiosity, what did your dad do for a living in Hong Kong?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: He was a businessman doing import export stuff and the travel a little bit frequently, uh, because of work. So my mom, uh, probably have more influence on me and a lot of, of the values, but I father basically got the, uh, the family, uh, going and supporting the family.
Uh, he played a special role.
David Hirsch: So did I remember that, uh, the family moved from Hong Kong to Toronto or?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Yes. Uh, because Hong Kong is a British colony. Um, my oldest sister convince everyone that this is probably for the best for the family, if we all immigrate. So we did immigrated at different times. I actually went to college first.
Before, uh, most of the family immigrated. So eventually my, my parents, actually my sister, my two sisters and my brother and my, my parents immigrated to Toronto in the 1990s. And, uh, I supposedly immigrated with them, but I never really lived there.
David Hirsch: Okay. So going back to your dad, I’m wondering how you would characterize or describe the relationship with your father.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: I always remember my dad bringing me to like special places when he’s got a chance to do that. So there there’s a picture of me with him sitting in the. It’s called a peak tram. So basically in Hong Kong, there is a Hong Kong Island and there’s a Khaldoon peninsula. So in Hong Kong, Ireland, there is more heli and there is a place that’s pretty touristy.
And there is a trend that goes from downtown to the peak of the Hill. So the peak off the Hill is a pretty popular place and always remember riding. In a tramp with my dad. That picture stuck with me for a long time. Yeah. My memory of my dad is that he he’s always very much a very honest person, a very much a spiritual person.
We were all Catholics. Actually. My mom became Catholic before my dad. And then after, after that, the entire family. Uh, was raised Catholic. Uh, so when I was born, I think I was a hundred days old or something when I was baptized. So I think by my dad’s, uh, influence on me is, uh, one major thing is, uh, therefore never give up.
So that also probably is the single most influential thing for my dad.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Well, if I can paraphrase, um, I think I heard you say worked a lot, so no doubt he had a good work ethic. It sounded like he was an honest. And a spirit centered person and a that message about never giving up, uh, the perseverance that goes along with saying, Hey, you know, set some goals and then stick to them.
Don’t get discouraged. So that’s, uh, those are really good traits to carry with you. So I’m sorta curious to know, did anybody else play an influential role in addition to your dad when you were growing up?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Yeah, I think my. Two older siblings definitely have a lot of influence on me, especially my dad is sometimes away and my older brother has kind of a step in sometimes.
David Hirsch: So what’s your older brother’s name?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: William.
David Hirsch: William. Okay. And are you still pretty close to your siblings, your brothers, as well as your sisters?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: We, so both my parents have passed the last. Couple of years because of COVID-19 actually, we have family reunion every week, like zoom, zoom. Okay. So before that it was a lot harder because I feel that MRA Canada, my, uh, elder brother, William that’s in the Bay area.
So at least he’s a little bit easier to see him when we’re not in the pandemic situation.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, uh, let’s pivot. You’ve had a, an amazing, uh, educational journey from what I remember, you started at Cal Berkeley, and then you went to Johns Hopkins where you got your M ms and engineering. And then from there you got a PhD at Cornell, and then you shifted gears and decided that whatever career path you were on, wasn’t the right path.
And you decided to go. The medical school, you went to George Washington university did an internship, residency and fellowship at Stanford, which is where you’re currently employed. So I’m sort of curious after your call it first round of education, where do you, do you think your career was taking you?
What were you doing? And then how did you pivot into medicine?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: So my first love was medicine. I thought I would be going to medical school, but because I was a foreign student, I was told by also by my family, that this is not a possibility to go to medical school. It’s just way too expensive and my family would not pay for it.
So basically I thought it would be nice if I. I like to be, uh, helping people, maybe I can get into the pharmaceutical industry and, um, make some medicines and that, that would also help people. So that’s kind of my, uh, idealistic way of thinking about it at that time. So, so basically I was in the industry, uh, doing drug discovery and development for seven years.
I think I had, I had fun during those few years I had my own lab and there are some good success along the way, but I never really felt like I’m helping anyone because in the pharmaceutical industry, really, most of the effort really. Do not help anybody because there there’s so many reasons to have medications fail, uh, in the discovery stage, even in the clinical stage, uh, the attrition is so high and my wife is a physician and she was very, very supportive along the way.
And she enjoys her. Profession. And when I was complaining about like, uh, not helping people directly and she said just, uh, go to medical school. And I was also thinking about medical school and, uh, was a little bit ambivalent at different times. And my, my wife basically said, you should just do it before you get a whole lot of white hair.
David Hirsch: no hair.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: So I really did not have white hair when I went to med school in 2005. And I’m so happy that I made that decision. So,
David Hirsch: um, did Michelle happened to bankroll your medical school then? Or did you saved up enough money to get we’ll do that?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: We are quite lucky because I went to work for the seven years and we saved up some, so we.
Basically did not even need the loan. So that was actually very nice. And I don’t want to tell my fellow classmates at that time, definitely stay away from that conversation.
David Hirsch: Absolutely. I get it. We have a daughter at medical school and it’s very expensive. Right. You have to really want to be a doctor.
It’s not, uh, it’s not for the money. That’s for sure. So out of curiosity, how did you and Michelle meet?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: So we both went to Johns Hopkins, so, uh, she was a year behind me and we went to the same lab and we were, uh, basically both work hard for the same professor. We are usually the two people leaving play-test from the building.
So we probably spend time in the lab and kind of get to know each other. And we started dating like a year after we met each other.
David Hirsch: Okay. And, uh, where is Michelle from out of curiosity?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: She was also from Hong Kong originally, like me. That’s a really funny thing that her high school math teacher what’s my best friend’s mom and Hong Kong had at that time, like six and a half million people.
So you would think it’s not statistically so easy to. To be in the same circle, but, uh, is fate, I guess. Well, uh,
David Hirsch: it’s one of those small world stories. You have to go all the way to America and the John Hopkins university to meet somebody from home love worth, and you ended up marrying that’s pretty remarkable.
So I think it is fate. And I’m one of those people that thinks that there’s no coincidence. This is just God’s way of doing things.
So I’d like to pivot, uh, switch gears to talk about special needs first on a personal level, and then beyond. And I’m sort of curious to know before Zachary was diagnosed, did you and Michelle have any experience with the special needs
Dr. Lawrence Fung: community? We have some. Relatives on both sides. There are, uh, special needs, uh, children, but they’re not like very close to us.
So we don’t really have first hand experience. So when, when Sacary, my son was born, um, Zachary is our first child. Uh, and just like any first time parents. You really don’t know the developmental trajectory, so well,
David Hirsch: so I’m sort of curious to know then at what age was he diagnosed and what was your first reaction to that?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: He was just about four when he was diagnosed. And that’s the time when I was in third year medical students. So my S my first patient and, uh, medical school, uh, was just like my son, because I know that. Patient has that diagnosis. And after that, basically I was trying to figure out if my son is also on the spectrum, he has got like five evaluations from various different providers and, uh, four of them were saying, yeah, he’s on the spectrum.
David Hirsch: So, what were the symptoms? What was it that sort of tipped you off that something was different?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Well, he, he didn’t speak until four. Okay. So that’s a pretty clear, and I was really going through denial at that point, basically for a couple of years, I was just hoping that this is going to be over soon and then he is going to be on the right track, but he was really struggling quite a bit.
And. He’s definitely not so interested in playing with other kids. And he was also quite kind of moody when he was, uh, like two, three years old, three, four years. So even like five, six years, he was, is not too difficult to trigger him to have a temper tantrum.
David Hirsch: So were there some. Fears initially that you had, uh, around that time, you know, you’d mentioned that you were in denial and the thought that comes to mind is that, you know, maybe he’s just a late bloomer, right?
Not everybody walks at the same time or talks at the same time, but as your suspicions raised, um, as you were starting to see patients, like you had mentioned, what were some of the fears that you had early on, uh, in and around Zachary’s diagnosis?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: So the diagnosis that definitely is. The hardest thing that I have to really try to understand.
It was hard when he was growing up. Uh, this seems like we, my wife and I both feel like, um, Ooh, this is really a lot of work. There’s a lot of stuff going on and we really just don’t know what the trajectory was. I think that it was really the not knowing what’s going to happen. Is he going to go to college?
Is he going to have a family? Is he going to have a typical life? We really have no idea. And when we are trying to compare notes with some of our friends that have typical children, we felt like we were. Probably doing 10 times more than others as parents. And initially we were just not knowing because it’s, uh, it’s our first time as parents.
So we initially thought, Oh, all the parents I’ll do it a lot of work. And then we figured out that we had more than an average share. So not. Not sure about how much stamina we are going to have to sustain all the things that he would need definitely is hard after that diagnosis. I think to a certain extent from my wife and myself, we probably had the better explanation on.
Why Zachary was really so moody, uh, with so little trigger was so difficult to go to restaurants with him, my, uh, siblings, you used to ask, like, what’s going on with Zach, with why? Why is he crying again? And we had no answers and then we had the diagnosis and then we, we kind of know that. Maybe it’s because of the diagnosis is not really us.
We don’t think we are bad parents. Although we are first time parents, I think we, we try our best and this is really, uh, uh, there’s nothing else that we can do other than trying out best. Well,
David Hirsch: thanks for sharing. It’s not lost on me that your children are three years apart. So, not only do you have a son who’s four who’s then being diagnosed, but you have a one-year-old as well.
So it sounds like it was a very, a hectic period of time with two super young kids. So was there some important advice that you got early on that was
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Well, I think I got my, my parents telling me that it’s a tough situation. But because we are, we have faith in God. God is going to take care of us and just have to trust that things will get better.
My parents gave me a lot of comfort. We were actually living in Washington DC at that time. I mean, Northern Virginia, close to Washington, DC. Basically we were alone. Which are now taking care of two children. And, uh, we don’t have immediate family. My parents was really able to give us some support. We can really feel like they, they can make a difference, uh, making us able to accept that.
Uh, we actually can do something about it.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, it sounds like it was challenging. Um, Were there some important decisions you made early on once you got the diagnosis that you felt like put Zachary on a little bit better path than you were on before the diagnosis? So
Dr. Lawrence Fung: before the diagnosis, because of his language development delay, we already started speech therapy.
Okay. I think the good thing is that we always had a. Uh, just like what I told you earlier. My, my dad, uh, always tell is, uh, really just really never, I give up and basically the persistence on everything. Yeah. I think it’s ingrained in me and I think it’s sort of ingrained in my wife too. And we, we just try our best to provide whatever.
That seemed to make most sense and will give the best outcome that we think is going to lead to for our children. And every step of the way we just tell ourselves that we never give up no matter how difficult
David Hirsch: it is. Okay. I’m sort of curious to know what impact. Zachary situations had on his sister or for that matter, the rest of your family.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: So my daughter is pretty close to my son and we feel Mo my wife and I felt my daughter was really stimulating my son, uh, too. Really at a different level. So be treating myself and, uh, my wife, we definitely try to stimulate, try to read with Zachary and try to play with him. Really, my daughter has so much energy and she was just like, stimulating my son, like don’t stop.
So that was like really, really good. And as they are growing up, my daughter is, uh, really wanting to have companion and want to find someone to play with. And, and she will be successful to get my son to play with her. Huh. So, so that’s kind of like intrinsic. And my, my son, I think when he knew about his diagnosis, he was probably like around 10 or so.
And my, uh, my daughter, uh, already knew that, uh, my son was a little bit different, but if anything, I think she. Probably have more understanding on people that are different and, uh, she wouldn’t accept other people’s differences. And I think we can be in kind of tricky situation for her play dates when her friends are coming to our house.
And I don’t know if there could be interactions that would be difficult, but. We never really had that. My, my daughter would introduce, uh, my son to her friends and never really got into a situation that I feel like, uh, my daughter is really carrying any burden
David Hirsch: whatsoever. Well, that’s remarkable. And it’s great to hear that they’re close and it sounds like they both benefited from what you said, Zachary, because of the additional stimulation beyond what you and Michelle could provide as parents.
And then, uh, she’s a little bit, you know, More understanding more empathetic to people who are different. Right. And you know, that doesn’t come by reading a book, but by actually living an experience. So, um, it sounds like they’re both the beneficiaries of this experience. So were there any supporting organizations that, uh, have been as of assistance along the way to either Zachary directly or overall for your family?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: first got, uh, The diagnosis, basically, we’re just searching for whatever that’s in the web. And, uh, like autism speaks has a lot of material I wasn’t in medical school and my daughter was born when I was in second year of medical school. So I really didn’t have too much time to really. Invest any energy in like parent support groups and so forth.
So it’s really about like, not having the time, my wife as well, she had a full time job as a dermatologist and when I was in medical school, but she has to take a lot of responsibility taking care of the children. So a lot of kudos to her when we moved to California, I think we have been to like parents having parents.
We have gone to like the parent education group for parents, with children on the spectrum at Stanford. So. At school. I think we, uh, we got more support than any single organization. The other parents with children that have special needs where we’re still hanging out. Uh, sometimes, I mean, not right now because of COVID-19 obviously, but I think having children.
That are going through some similar expense, kind of bonded the point that really there are no specific organizations that, uh, I felt that we had benefited.
David Hirsch: Okay. Well, it sounds like there was a number of different organizations that played a role, if not one central and that network of, um, other families that you get plugged into so that you can, you know, sort of, uh, learn from one another.
Right. So you don’t feel isolated or on, on your own, I think is a help. Uh, if not, just from a therapeutic standpoint. Right. Um, so that you don’t think you’re going crazy or second guessing yourself on your parenting. Uh, especially if you’re. You know, this is your oldest child and you know, you don’t have a lot of other data points.
So, um, one of the things that are, and it really stuck with me from a prior conversation and, um, sadly, it was around the time that your mom died. What was that this past year? And, um, I think you had mentioned that of all the people, it was Zachary, who was the one that was able to provide you with the most comfort.
Uh, what was that about?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Yeah, so. So my mom, my mom passed away on February 12th, 2019, and I, I I’m very close to my mom. And I remember there were several occasions, uh, during the, the film though, when I was really at the point that I was emotionally. Like feeling, uh, I was really at the toughest spot. The person that actually came to me that gave me the, uh, the hug and, and, and hold and held my hand was my son.
He, he was at least three times during the two day events. He was the first person that detected that I needed support. Yeah, I was, I was just like very moved that my son gave me so much when I needed it. And, um, the rest of the family also were mourning. I think for some reason, my, my son probably wanted to take care of me a little bit more than my other siblings, for example.
So probably, yeah, he, he was, uh, I was, uh, I have to say I’m quite impressed that, uh, my, my, my son really knew like how sad I was. And, uh, and he was physically giving me a lot of support and, and also said, uh, things that really competent me.
David Hirsch: I’d like to switch gears and talk about, um, the work that you do. You’re a doctor. You have a practice with a child and adolescent psychiatry where you treat a youth and adults with ADHD, dyslexia, and autism. So when you were trying to figure out what field of medicine to pursue, how did you choose this field versus so many other fields?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Yeah, so I guess there, there are like two stages of choosing the specialty. One thing is when I was. In medical school. At first, I was thinking that I would be a candidate, the doctor, and it was in third year when my son had the diagnosis of autism that I decided that that’s definitely not the best thing for me.
If I pursue, uh, cancer research or, uh, doing oncology to treat patients with cancer. If I had the opportunity to. Help anyone. Uh, it would be very nice if I can also help my son. So basically I, uh, decided that I would specialize in autism and there are basically a few options, uh, to get into the field of autism.
As a doctor, you can be a psychiatrist or you can be a neurologist, or you can be a developmental pediatrician. So basically over time in my. Third year and fourth year of medical school, I was basically trying to figure out what may most sense to me. And I bump into people that are like really, really good psychiatrists.
And I did research and national Institute of health when I was a medical student. So one person is, uh, Judy Rappaport, who. It’s a very famous child psychiatrist. So I thought it will be really good if I can do what dr. Rappaport can do. So part of the reason why I chose psychiatry is because of that.
David Hirsch: Excellent. And from what I remember, that’s not most of what you do on a weekly basis, monthly basis. It’s more of a day a week.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: That
David Hirsch: you see patients, is that my understanding?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: So where
David Hirsch: did the idea to create the Stanford neuro diversity project STEM from and how has that evolved over the years
Dr. Lawrence Fung: initially?
Uh, so I told you about, I was going to be a cancer doctor and I, I was thinking that I would understand the biology of the condition and then, uh, figure out what. Uh, intervention. I can devise. That’s basically what people in the field with cancer is doing. I thought I would do that for autism. So I did get some traction on understanding the biology using imaging.
Actually yesterday, I just got another major paper, molecular imaging paper that was published. But when I was. Really looking at, uh, what practically helpful for my son and other people like him. My never imaging work is not going to help him soon. It’s not going to help anybody soon, uh, is very nice science that I did.
But. I felt like I need to, I needed to do something like sooner. So a few years ago, uh, just about three years ago now I went to a conference and SAP is a software giant that has a program called autism at work program. And they had that autism at work summit. And there are people that. Had really tough time getting work for a long time.
And someone given actually was homeless at one point that because SAP gave these individuals a chance to show themselves, they now became like some of the most productive people at SAP. And I was so, so amazed and. There are examples like they published in Harvard business review. And, uh, there are also other examples that I know of that are just remarkable stories.
So it is quite clear that all of us have identity at work and also in our personal life. And I feel like. For individuals on the spectrum, the work part can be a really big part. It may be more than an average person in terms of proportion. If that person has a job. And the reason for that is the social interactions are not so easy for individuals on the spectrum.
So it’s clear that the identity can more easily. Be gravitated by what the person is good at. So basically what I believe is that if we can really, it maximize the potential of people on the spectrum at work and at school, then that would be giving them opportunities to really build their identity based on their strengths and not by their diagnosis.
Or other things that they are not so good that, and a lot of the people that changed the world a lot, I would say Einstein, Tesla, those people, uh, by this day and age, it’s possible that they, they are on the spectrum because there are so many traits that, uh, history has documented that was suggest that these people could well be on the spectrum and they change the world.
So, if we are able to get, if these individuals, these opportunities, how are we going to be doing that at Stanford? So basically what I first thought is to get a grassroots effort and try to get people to buy in and very quickly the buy and was just like, Coming so quickly. So, uh, we have a special interest group for the diversity’s, uh, started in November, 2017.
And the first meeting we thought we are going to just get like five people. We got 23 people and over time now we have more than 400 people on the distribution list. And every month we have a good speaker talking about something variable. On the university, employments student support, et cetera. So, so very quickly that energy got people to be interested.
My department chair told me that you should really invest time on this, and she gave me some protected time. And. Uh, gave me some other support and, uh, very quickly there, there was a few live group is, uh, wanting to invest in our project. And autism speaks also gave us a grant helping individuals on the spectrum to get work.
And we also support not only their hiring. And job search and also the support after onboarding, uh, in at least the first few ones. And, uh, we are not only doing this for the newer diverse individuals. We are also training the employers on how to create new diversity friendly workplaces. We, we believe that in order for people on the spectrum to be successful.
We have to change the environment. We cannot, if we cannot change them, we can change the world for them. That’s basically our philosophy. So gradually our little project that was brewing just two and a half years ago now is a full blown project. And we have quite a bit of interest from. All sorts of people, people that are on the spectrum themselves, the parents, the employers, educators, I would not have thought that I would be spending so much time doing work that is not related to.
Studying the biology and finding interventions like medicines for people on the spectrum. I, a couple of years ago, I thought that the work that I’m doing cross divert and the real diversity project, it would take like 10 years. But I think we already have several examples now that we can in a relatively short period of time that we get a lot of buy in.
David Hirsch: That’s fabulous. Well, thank you for sharing. And, uh, would it be appropriate to give SAP credit for inspiring you to do the work?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Well, I would say definitely the summit. I’ll just have my work summit in SAP. The first couple of years, they are some of the first people together with Microsoft, uh, are in San young, the exceed technology.
And JP Morgan chase. So these are the companies that spend more energy early on, and I would have to say collectively, they have moved things forward for the good and, uh, what I’m hoping is that this is not only going to be in the biggest companies, but I think it would only be. Helping people on the spectrum enough, if the smaller businesses are able to also do something similar, and this is something that I’m actively trying to pursue.
David Hirsch: Excellent. Okay. Well, I think you mentioned one of the individuals at SAP is a fellow by the name of Jose Velazco. And, um, I’m hoping I’ll have a chance to make his acquaintance because it sounds like they are, uh, leaders right in the field of employing people with autism. And, you know, I’m going to guess, you know, beyond autism, just people with disability, trying to match up the people’s strengths with the job opportunities.
And you know, it’s not a philanthropy, this isn’t charity work. This is. Something that is good for people, but also good for business.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Yeah.
David Hirsch: You know, when you can identify people that are excelling in their field.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Yeah, exactly. So you’re using a strength based model to figure out how these very brilliant people that are thinking very differently.
Can. Increase innovation and increase productivity. This should be a no brainer for organization. Basically organizations just need to know what to do. I think a lot of organizations are not doing it yet because they just don’t have to know how yet. And over time, I hope the training can be a lot more easily disseminated.
And then this can be very beneficial, not only for the individuals on the spectrum, but for all of us, for the entire economy as
David Hirsch: well. I love it. So, um, one of the things that we’ve overlooked though, is something called the neuro diverse student support program. Could you. Share with me what that’s about.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Yeah. So that’s the other major program that we have. So we just talked about the new diversity at work program. A little bit basically is focusing on helping students that are neurodiverse at Stanford to do better in all sorts of different ways. So we help the students by. Getting the mentors, the peer mentors to help these students on transitioning to college, to be able to socialize better and also have better skills of independent living.
And we also have different offices that are already doing very good work that can help them, uh, like the office of accessible education for accommodations, the short blending center. For learning differences. There’s a career center that helps with career development support. And because we are doing the new diversity at work program, we are also, uh, able to provide support on the career development side.
And as a psychiatrist, I also direct a adult neighborhood development clinic. So we provide mental health support for them. And on top of all this, we also have a lecture series. That are helping. There’s a kind of like a seminar series one hour a week to, uh, give more information that can be helpful for newer diverse individuals and other people that are interested in the diversity at Stanford.
David Hirsch: Out of curiosity, would you know, offhand, how many students at Stanford are on the
Dr. Lawrence Fung: spectrum? We don’t really have a number right now. Uh, so basically when we are looking at other universities, the literature basically has data to support one in 42, one in one 40. Okay. So if you are looking at like, this is the ballpark, most likely at Stanford, we could easily have a couple hundred.
David Hirsch: Hm. Yeah, well, I suspect that some are diagnosed. They know they have it, and they’re maybe not quick to draw attention to it and others might be undiagnosed and that’s a pretty wide, um, range or spectrum. So, um, we’re going to have to do another interview a couple years down the road because I’m super excited about the work that you’re doing.
And I can’t wait to see what some of the results are and where this
Dr. Lawrence Fung: takes you. Thank you.
David Hirsch: You’re welcome. So under the banner of advice, I’m wondering if, uh, there’s any particular advice that you would offer father parents for that matter, who are raising a child with an intellectual disability?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: The theme I think is never give up.
There are times that are going to be Rocky. And, uh, there are times that you may feel like you are alone, but if you know that if you try your best. And tell yourself if you never default, your team is going to be growing up for the better. And, uh, I have to tell you when Zachary was four and five years old, uh, right after, uh, getting the diagnosis, we have no idea when.
Things are really going to turn around. And over the years, he’s now actually completely mainstreamed. And I believe that he is going to go to college. This was something that I could not predict 10 years ago. And it was really the, the not knowing that was the hardest at that time. But if, you know, you can actually.
Try the best you can, no matter what your children are leading you, I think you’re going to be a happy parent.
David Hirsch: Yeah. Well, great advice. Thank you for sharing. I’m curious to know why is it that you’ve agreed to be a mentor father as part of the Special Fathers Network?
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Yeah, because, uh, I think mentoring is a very powerful thing.
And, uh, they were a diverse student support program. We also have to mentoring. It is really not like any other relationships because just like the peer mentoring in our program, I have gone through things that other fathers who have of children with. Special needs. I have gone through things that will be helpful for them.
And I think this is probably the best way to get back in to a certain extent. I’m so grateful that my son is on the right path and it will be wonderful that you can see other children to be on the right path as well. And a lot of it is really coming from father not only. From moms. So, um, so this is a very cool experience.
David Hirsch: Well, thank you for being part of the network. We’re thrilled to have you, I’d like to also give a special shout out to our mutual friend, khaki Reitman at exploring different brains for helping connect us.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Yeah. Thank you, hacky. Heck, it’s just a really. Remarkable, amazing person. It’s quite a privilege to get to know him.
David Hirsch: If somebody wants to learn more about the Stanford neurodiversity project, the adult neurodevelopment clinic, your work or contact you, what’s the best way to go about doing that.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: So you can just Google Stanford and they were diversity project. And then you can just navigate to the various projects on the student support program, the diversity at work program, our adult development clinic.
David Hirsch: Lawrence, thank you for taking the time in many insights. As a reminder, Lawrence is just one of the dads who is a part of the Special Fathers Network, a mentoring program for fathers raising a child with special needs. If you’d like to be a mentor father or are seeking advice from a mentor father with a similar situation to your own.
Please go to 21st century dads.org. Thank you for listening to the latest episode of the special fathers network you had to dad podcast. I hope you enjoyed the conversation as much as I did. As you probably know, the 21st Century Dads Foundation is a 501 c3, not for profit organization, which means we need your help to keep our content free.
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Lawrence, thanks again.
Dr. Lawrence Fung: Thank you, David.
Tom Couch: And thank you for listening to the dad to dad podcast presented by the Special Fathers Network.
The Special Fathers Network is a dad to dad mentoring program for fathers raising children with special needs. Through our personalized matching process. New fathers would special needs children connect with mentor fathers in a similar situation. It’s a great way for fathers to support fathers go to 21stcenturydads.org. That’s 21stcenturydads.org.
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