When marketers talk about “influencers,” they generally refer to a social media influencer — someone on YouTube, Instagram, or TikTok with millions of followers who often charge brands to promote products to their audiences. Consumers often look to these influencers because they trust them, and their recommendations influence purchases and start trends.
However, amid our fascination with social media influencers, we often forget the original influencers: people like doctors, teachers, and mentors who influenced our parents as we were growing up. These original influencers provide a level of trust that transcends social media to guide and shape our life’s journey.
These original influencers are especially powerful in the lives of people with learning and thinking differences, who are on a lifelong journey to thrive in a world that’s not built for them. We know that so many of the 1 in 5 Americans, or 70 million people, who think or learn differently spend their lives being misunderstood, undiagnosed, or even dismissed. Stigma, lack of awareness, and a culture of accepting the status quo can mean that their life journey is stacked against them, preventing them from reaching their potential, and costing our society billions each year.
It’s these original influencers who form a supportive pod to empower and advocate for the 1 in 5. As people grow, everyone learns to overcome obstacles and to rely on a community of people to provide guidance and direction. This community includes those who can equip them with information or support systems — people like parents, teachers, and pediatricians. Employers with inclusion practices that include the neurodiverse are also part of this community.
When I started to struggle in elementary school, it was my community of influencers — particularly my parents — who surrounded me to provide support. My parents noticed something was amiss and worked to build the right community of influencers who would identify the right resources and support to build my confidence so that I could continue my journey. While it wasn’t a linear journey, I’m thankful for all that they did. And I often think, “If we’d only had Understood when I was growing up!”
For me, and for the millions of others who have learning and thinking differences, there are three core influencers who are critical:
Parents: The unsung heroes. They typically are the first to notice behaviors that could be learning disabilities. They know their child and can observe to identify trends. Often parents become the fighters and advocates on behalf of their child. They source tools and resources and do what it takes to help their child. They know their child’s potential.
Teachers: The trusted guides. They influence an individual’s journey toward full achievement in many ways. They can point to resources, identify some of the learning challenges within the classroom, and often serve as a sounding board — or partner — to parents. It’s critical to constructively build a two-way relationship between teachers and parents so that both influencers can reach their potential.
Pediatricians: The expert partners. From wellness check to wellness check (and everything in between), doctors watch a child progress. They work with parents to monitor a child’s development. With their training and through their professional associations, they can help identify areas where a child may need more support. They can also help uncover what else might be contributing to struggles or suggest medical supports or school interventions where needed.
Understood wanted to help all families build their community of influencers. That’s why we created Take N.O.T.E. — an initiative designed for families wondering why their child is struggling with reading, math, behavior, and more. Take N.O.T.E. is a free, digital-first tool that helps them identify the signs and use that understanding to take the necessary next steps to better support their child.
We thank everyone who is on this journey — especially if you’re an influencer and part of the community. You are helping us all to make an impact, ensuring that the 1 in 5 can thrive, and collectively working to reduce stigma and to shape the world for difference.
Nathan Friedman leads the multifaceted brand, marketing, communications, and production functions for Understood. He has extensive experience building iconic brands, crafting engaging campaigns, and leading teams through complex operational challenges.