Neurodiversity Student Group hosts student-led panel Nov. 29

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December 4, 2017

11:45 PM

The Neurodiversity Student Group held a student-run panel Wednesday, Nov. 29 entitled “Neurodiversity: Accepting All Kinds of Minds.”

The panel was composed of four members of the Neurodiversity Student Group: Alanna Van Valkenburgh ’20, Chloe How ’20, John Michael McCormick ’18 and Martha Gizaw ’19.

The panel focused entirely on taking audience questions in order to educate others and allow for dialogue on what neurodiversity is and how it affects students’ experience at the College of William and Mary.

The panel opened with a definition of neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is basically the idea that there’s lots of different kinds of brains, there’s structural differences, chemical differences, and there’s lots of kinds of minds,” How said. “And the neurodiversity movement is saying that’s not a bad thing, and that different types of brains come with different challenges and benefits, and we should embrace that as part of diversity.”

“Neurodiversity is basically the idea that there’s lots of different kinds of brains, there’s structural differences, chemical differences, and there’s lots of kinds of minds,” How said. “And the neurodiversity movement is saying that’s not a bad thing, and that different types of brains come with different challenges and benefits, and we should embrace that as part of diversity.”

Several students from John Tyler Community College who were starting their own neurodiversity student organization attended the panel.

They had several questions regarding raising awareness of the organization, activities organized by the student group and how the group gains members.

The College is the first four-year institution to have a recognized neurodiversity initiative, yet the student group is only two years old and not yet a fully recognized student organization.

The panelists were able to offer advice on starting an organization to the students from John Tyler.

While fielding questions, the panelists discussed topics such as why neurodiversity is important, what comprises the neurodiverse community and how to fight stigma.

“It’s about being the best version of yourself,” McCormick said. “It’s also about standing up for yourself; it’s about fighting for what you need to succeed even if that’s a little more and a little different than most people. Neurodiversity has taught me that you can be proud of something without loving it, especially a part of yourself. You can be proud of who you are while still willing to change.”

The panel also spoke on some of the main goals of the larger neurodiversity movement beyond campus.

Neurodiversity is defined as the diversity of human brains and minds, and includes variations in neurocognitive functioning, such as mental illness and other neurological conditions.

“The most important [thing] is that neurodivergent people exist, and we go out in public and interact with people on a daily basis, and you can’t either forget about us or treat us as some far away issue,” McCormick said.

Panelists also spoke about representation in the larger community.

“The slogan of the disability activist movement that the neurodiversity movement sort of co-opted is ‘nothing about us without us,’ so I think right now what the neurodiversity movement is trying to do is taking charge of things that involve neurodiverse people,” Van Valkenburgh said.

On talking to neurotypical people, those individuals who do not display atypical patterns of thought or behavior, the panelists agreed that it’s often much easier to talk to people who know very little about neurodiversity rather than others who have misguided ideas about neurodiverse issues that are not presented from a neurodiverse perspective.

They also expanded on what encompasses neurodiversity, although it was originally designed to include brain differences, like Autism.

The word neurotypical was originally used for people not on the Autism spectrum. Those who were neurodivergent, were.

The word was sort of designed to include really any brain difference, so like autistic people, people with Tourette’s, people with ADHD, people with any sort of mental illness, but it’s of course something you can choose to identify with or not,” How said. “Some people feel like, ‘okay, I have an anxiety disorder, but it doesn’t really affect me a whole lot, I don’t really identify a whole lot with this so they might choose not to use the neurodivergent label, but it’s still open to any kind of deviation from what’s neurotypical.’”

“The word was sort of designed to include really any brain difference, so like autistic people, people with Tourette’s, people with ADHD, people with any sort of mental illness, but it’s of course something you can choose to identify with or not,” How said. “Some people feel like, ‘okay, I have an anxiety disorder, but it doesn’t really affect me a whole lot, I don’t really identify a whole lot with this so they might choose not to use the neurodivergent label, but it’s still open to any kind of deviation from what’s neurotypical.’”

Van Valkenburgh said that the main purpose of the panel was to raise awareness of what neurodiversity really means and what the student group does.

“I feel like a lot of people either don’t know what neurodiversity is, or they have a base understanding of it but don’t really know what we do, or what they can do, so we’re just trying to get the word out to people interested in neurodiversity and what we do,” Van Valkenburgh said.

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