April is Neurodiversity Celebration Month: Celebrating Different Minds

Tuesday, April 02, 2024 11:21 AM | Jill Tyus-Coates (Administrator)

Submitted on behalf of the DE&I Committee written by Jessica Lizardi, MPA, AFC, Financial Aid Advisor, Oakland Community College

What Is Neurodiversity?  Neurodiversity is a concept that recognizes the diverse ways our brains function. Rather than viewing neurological differences as deficits, it abandons the traditional medical model which pathologizes these conditions and instead emphasizes their value and strengths. Conditions such as ADHD, Autism, Asperger’s, OCD, Dyslexia, and learning disabilities all fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity to offer unique perspectives and abilities that enrich our society. Australian sociologist Judy Singer first coined the term “neurodiversity” in the 1990s’s to promote equality and inclusion of neurological minorities. Since then, it has grown to be a world-wide movement celebrated in April to bring attention to the impact and contributions different thinkers make on this world, promoting acceptance, equity and inclusion in schools and workplaces. 

Higher education institutions play a vital role in fostering understanding, acceptance, and support for neurodivergent students and colleagues within their communities. It may not come as a surprise that a significant number of faculty and staff in Higher Education identify as neurodivergent (whether publicly or privately), as many of the hallmark characteristics of neurodivergent thinking align with the strengths of those advancing fields of study in academia. These attributes can include deep knowledge in areas of their special study interest, fostering a penchant for research, exceptional talent in fields such as science, computers, or mathematics, a keen attention to detail required in grammar and/or literature studies, and even enhanced pattern recognition which can be helpful for analysis and synthesis of materials.

Notable Neurodivergent Professionals in Higher Education and Beyond

  • Dr. Stephen Shore: An autism self-advocate, author and professor at Bard College in New York. His work focuses on empowering neurodivergent individuals and promoting inclusion in education.
  • Ron Sandison: a Michigan autism self-advocate and author of 4 nationally recognized books on autism and faith and is the founder of Spectrum Inclusion. He is a professor of theology at Destiny School of Ministry, and speaks on autism at more than seventy events a year. 
  • Haley Moss, JD, is an autistic attorney, author, advocate, artist and professor at Taylor University. She is passionate about disability inclusion and neurodiversity and became nationally known for being the first openly autistic woman to obtain a law degree.
  •  Jason Arday is the youngest Black professor at Cambridge University and an autistic sociologist who has spoken about autism, racism, and learning to read at age 18. 

Several colleges and universities celebrate Neurodiversity Awareness Month by organizing events, workshops, and campaigns to raise awareness and promote understanding of neurodiversity. A few examples include:

  • Texas State celebrates and educates its campus community in Neurodiversity and how to be an effective ally.
  • Landmark College (Putney, Vermont): Landmark College is renowned for its programs tailored specifically for students with learning differences, including ADHD, dyslexia, and autism spectrum disorder. The college typically hosts various events throughout Neurodiversity Awareness Month to educate the campus community and promote acceptance.
  • Grand Valley University’s (Allendale, Michigan): Milton E. Ford LGBT Resource Center provides support to NeuroQueers, a club for students who are both LGBTQ+ and neurodivergent and an affirming space for members to be fully themselves. 

Quick Neurodiversity TIPS - when creating inclusivity for neurodiverse staff and students, consider these tips adapted from Providence Institute for Healthier Community:

1.  Be mindful of tone policing, perceptions and phrasing

  • When coming across a potential “difficulty” with an employee or coworker, instead of thinking “why are they always so negative and low energy” or “I don’t want to work with _____, I just don’t have a good relationship with them,”.  Be aware of differences and personalities. Neurodivergent people sometimes have a more literal or even neutral personality and even a monotone voice. In a neurotypical environment, this is often perceived as being standoffish, rude, or disinterested. Try not to make any assumptions, and focus more on what they are saying, rather than just how they are saying it.

2. Provide quiet spaces/Zen Dens

  • Have a place to reduce stress and decompress from overstimulation and feelings of being overwhelmed. Think of a place with dimmed lights, comfortable seating, calming music options, adult coloring books, etc. This is a space beyond a breakroom, which has bright lights and people eating.

3. Educate yourself and your team on neurodiversity

  • Neurodiversity is being more widely discussed and included in workplace DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) efforts, so more education is accessible to educate employers and employees alike. Some examples include:  a. Neurodiversity Hub: Resources for employers b. EARN: Neurodiversity in the workplace.

4.  Remember ALL adults learn andn absorb information differently - communicate informatio nusing multiple modalities.

  • During staff meetings, training, 1:1 reviews, class lectures, and other information sharing sessions, be sure to provide resources for different learners. Have handouts prepared to support spoken presentations, record virtual meetings for people who do better at reviewing information for comprehension, provide closed captioning on all videos, and allow time for questions and answers at the end of every meeting or class session. 
On behalf of the MSFAA DEI Committee, we thank you for joining us in honoring the brilliance of both neurodivergent minds and the indomitable spirit of women who have shaped our world. By celebrating both Neurodiversity Awareness Month and Women’s History Month, we foster progress and improve our recognition of a collective of societal contributions.

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