NSights Blog

Let's kick off the new Neurodiversity Alliance!

Associate Professor Jim Cherney invites us to consider a more inclusive definition of neurodiversity and you to join the Alliance for a kickoff reception April 18

On April 18, 2022, from 4 p.m.- 6 p.m., the brand-new University Neurodiversity Alliance will officially launch with a kickoff reception in the JCSU Great Room. We invite you – students, staff, faculty and members of the northern Nevada community – to attend, whether you identify as neurodivergent or not. Come enjoy some refreshments, meet the current members of the Alliance and learn about what the organization will do for our University and community.

You might wonder why you should take the time to come. Sure, free food – but does this organization do anything for you? Glad you asked! (Spoiler alert: yes!)

Among the Alliance’s purposes is to combat the ableist discrimination and biases that create various barriers that limit opportunities for neurodivergent people. Many equate neurodiversity with conditions related to Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), but it includes a wide variety of neurological and psychological conditions ranging from dyslexia and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) to chronic depression and obsessive-compulsive behavior. This variation in neurodivergent conditions means that the barriers we encounter and the accommodations we need can be quite different, and that it’s easy for people with distinct issues to never see themselves as part of a larger neurodiverse community. The Alliance serves an important role by creating a space that can transform a culture built around practices of exclusion into a society marked by belonging. And that’s in everyone’s interest.

In a recent article, Dr. Solvegi Shmulsky, a professor of psychology at Landmark College in Vermont, lays out the case for promoting neurodiversity, especially in academic settings. One main reason is that, as Shmulsky notes, “Neurodiversity includes neurotypicality and neurodivergence” (emphasis added), and that celebrating neurodiversity means embracing the differences that unite us instead of allowing them to divide us.

Everyone’s brains function differently; none of us thinks exactly alike. The isolation and exclusion caused by ableism privileging some ways of being over others gives the impression that neurotypicals are normal and neurodivergents are not. This perspective in turn reinforces the biases that sustain those systems – to the detriment of everyone. Neurodiversity is, as Shmulsky puts it, “natural and beneficial for our species.”

Simply put, neurodivergence is what drives evolution of the human brain, and the past, present and future of humanity is bound to it. Instead of working to paint over neurological and psychological differences, we ought to appreciate their value and adapt our schools and institutions to benefit from them. Too often we associate difference with tragedy, failure and danger, yet it is erasing difference that promises oblivion. The mistake is believing that the problems we face in our lives, country and culture result from others not being like ourselves, when the problem is thinking that anyone is exactly the same as anyone else.

I’m not saying that living with neurological or psychological conditions is not challenging and often difficult, but what makes the lives of people like me harder than many others’ is not the way we’re made but the way the world is made. I can’t be fixed because I’m not broken, but ableist discrimination and inaccessible systems can – and must – be corrected. And a big part of what it takes to do that is to generate a culture of belonging that brings neurodivergent and neurotypical people together.

Come out and support the new Alliance Monday, April 18 at 4 p.m. in the JCSU Great Room. I hope to see you there!

Register for the event

James Cherney
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