Pieter Kark dedicated his neurology career
to working with people with disabilities

The credentials of Dr. Pieter Kark tend to humble the rest of us. A preeminent neurologist with fifty years of experience working with people with disabilities, Dr. Kark was educated at two of the top universities in the world – Harvard and Oxford – and had stints at prestigious Massachusetts General Hospital, the National Institute of Health, and several leading universities during his distinguished career. Above all this, he is a man with a very big heart.

With such a pedigree, we were thrilled when Dr. Kark joined the board at Abilities United in 2009. Upon arrival, he was thoroughly impressed with what he found. “I’d never seen anything like it,” he says. “Everyone on the staff deeply cared about what they were doing. They all wanted to help the participants move forward, and to enable them to contribute to society however they could. There was such a warm, positive feeling.”

Abilities United has a different philosophy than some of the other organizations Dr. Kark has encountered. “Other organizations, particularly in the past, viewed people with developmental disabilities as people who needed to be cared for,” he says. “In contrast, Abilities United sees each individual as a person who can contribute to society in enormous ways! We have people who are excellent poets, artists, writers, and musicians. For the November 2012 election, five individuals organized a community discussion about tax issues that went for a couple hours and really got into the meat of the issues. Our participants are people who have a lot to give back, and they enjoy giving back.”

Over his career Dr. Kark has seen some important and very positive changes for those with disabilities. He has helped enable some of these changes himself; through his research he identified that some disabilities, which are caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, can be treated simply by changes in diet. “One of my first patients had problems with coordination, and by putting him on a low sugar diet he’d get better very rapidly,” says Dr. Kark. Simply put, his pioneering work has helped enable more effective treatments for an entire class of disabilities.

While pleased with the progress he has seen over the past fifty years, Dr. Kark believes that we still have a long ways to go. “There are hospitals and high-tech companies – even in this area – that can’t imagine hiring someone with developmental disabilities for a job that they could certainly do,” he says. “People need to recognize that those with developmental disabilities have a lot to contribute.”

With his deep expertise and passionate support for people with developmental disabilities, Dr. Kark has been a wonderful addition to the Abilities United team.

Based on a 2013 interview. 
Written by  Bob Thomas and edited by Pieter Kark and Wendy Kuehnl.