Equity, Inclusion and Diversity

7-Day Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge

The 7-Day Neurodiversity (ND) Inclusion Challenge is a self-guided learning and reflection experience that highlights the need for true inclusion and acceptance in the Brandeis community and beyond of those with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other neurological disabilities. The ND Challenge is modeled on the 21-Day Racial Equity Challenge that the Heller community also spearheaded. Because the concept of neurodiversity is not yet familiar to many people, the ND Challenge adds additional introductory text to each day’s suggested sources and allows individual participants to select from a varied set of reading, viewing, and listening options.

The ND Challenge includes many perspectives on neurodiversity from within the framework of inclusion, seeking to move from awareness to acceptance at Brandeis and beyond. It emphasizes the need to listen to and prioritize the voices of autistic and other neurodivergent people, though the voices of several supporters and professionals are also included. The 7-Day Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge offers participants the opportunity to engage each day with articles, videos, podcasts, and blog posts and reflect on what actions should be taken to achieve true inclusion and acceptance of neurodiversity and neurodivergent people.

Daily Readings and More:

The daily selections of the ND Challenge were compiled by Mel Ptacek, MPP/MBA'20, who also wrote the introductory text for the ND Challenge and the text accompanying each day. Thanks go to Finn Gardiner and Ari Ne’eman for helpful comments and suggestions. Thanks also to the Brandeis Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, which helped coordinate the ND Challenge with DEIS Impact 2021.

Utilize this 7-Day Challenge Tracking Tool after engaging in materials daily.

Click here for a downloadable version of the full 7-Day Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge. Daily downloads are also available below for each day of the Challenge.

Introduction

(Click here for a downloadable version of Introduction to the 7-Day Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge)

Many people are unfamiliar with the term “neurodiversity,” a concept originating in the autistic community and made widely known, in particular, by Jim Sinclair, a pioneer of autistic self-advocacy. Briefly, “neurodiversity” refers to the range of neurological divergence from “neurotypical” patterns of cognition. The term and concept originated from the neurodiversity movement, a social movement that argues that society should accommodate and include people with neurological disabilities rather than seek to cure them or enforce typical behavior. Human minds vary, and these variations do not all require a cure. The term also can imply that no typical or normal brain exists at all; all brains are variations on a theme.

Associated primarily with autism (now known clinically as autism spectrum disorder [ASD]), neurodiversity usually also includes attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and dyspraxia as well as many other conditions. Some apply the term not only to innate conditions but also to acquired conditions, for example, neurological divergence caused by brain injury. Different disability communities have different politics. While some do seek cures or other interventions designed to promote typical function, a growing number of communities have adopted the neurodiversity framework as offering a better approach to research, support, and advocacy.

While neurodiversity is consistent with services and supports designed to help people achieve important person-centered goals like communication, independent living, and avoiding self-injury, therefore, the neurodiversity movement rejects the idea that service provision or research should promote typical behavior, like eye contact or standard movement and speech patterns.

Neurodivergent people are subject to much stigmatization, discrimination, exclusion, and bullying in various aspects of life. While the numbers of those diagnosed as autistic have grown particularly dramatically in recent decades, autistic people and other groups of people with neurological disabilities continue to face high rates of unemployment and underemployment, even when obtaining significant education and other credentials. Add to this that, all too often, neurodivergent people have been prevented from advocating for their own needs. Much as in the workplace, the dominant practices and structures of education are generally not designed with neurodiversity in mind.

Because we are compressing multiple issues into the span of seven days, each day we will offer a set of main suggested readings, videos, podcasts, and the like. We’ll also provide several additional resources for those wanting more, as well as a set of resources relevant to that day’s focus. That way, you will have many options for participation.

We hope you enjoy it all, but do read, view, or listen as you choose.

With each day’s topic, we will also include an introduction. This should be especially helpful for those who are less familiar with the idea of neurodiversity.

You also may notice some areas of disagreement and debate, even within the framework of inclusion. We present a variety of views and resources that support inclusion and acceptance; however, we do not necessarily endorse any particular position or interpretation. To promote discussion and reflection, we are setting aside an opportunity for people in the Brandeis community taking the Challenge to come together to process their thoughts and feelings. This will be held midway through the Challenge. It is entirely optional, and all are welcome in this space.

Day 1, April 5th

Introduction to Neurodiversity

(Click here for a downloadable version of Day 1 of the Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge)

Statistics on neurodiversity vary by source of information as well as over time. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) currently reports that 1 in 54 children in the United States is autistic.

For ADHD, the CDC estimates that just about 11% of all US children have been diagnosed at some point with ADHD, but these rates have changed over the years. In addition, there are debates not only about causes of ADHD and about disparities in diagnosis, both correct and incorrect ones, but also about how rising diagnoses may, for example, be the result of pharmaceutical company influence. There has furthermore been some debate over the concept of ADHD itself and its underlying elements, some of which appears motivated by denialism. All of this is exacerbated by the relative lack of people with ADHD running ADHD advocacy and policy organizations and otherwise directly involved in these discussions.

The prevalence of dyslexia likewise has been hard to pin down, with perhaps a fifth of the population being dyslexic, while research into dyspraxia is sparse, even though roughly 10% of the total population may be dyspraxic and some estimates are higher.

Not only are diagnoses increasing, but disparities in diagnosis by race and gender are also diminishing (issues we discuss this week). Meanwhile, laws protecting disabled people from discrimination such as the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act (IDEA/IDEIA) have helped larger numbers of students obtain the supports they need to complete high school. As a result, larger numbers of neurodivergent people are attending college and entering the workforce with a range of degrees and other credentials, many facing discrimination and other obstacles.

As we begin our 7-Day Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge, you may notice that many discussions of neurodiversity are highly medicalized, more inclined toward medical descriptions of individual impairments (the medical model) than toward analyses of social structures and practices that create impediments for some people but not others (the social model of disability). This tendency is common throughout discussions of neurodiversity and in some cases reflects an expectation (or hope) to eliminate or cure autism or other similar neurological disabilities. Related to this is the fact that many people describe neurodiversity in terms of certain deficits. For example, autism is often characterized as a set of deficits relating to communication, social interaction, and behavior rather than as a range of strengths and differences that autistic people possess. The same is true of other neurological disabilities falling under the construct of neurodiversity.

Although some medicalized perspectives are included, the intention is to present a range of views from varying perspectives of social justice and to provide a sample of pertinent resources. Neurodiversity, as a concept and a movement, acknowledges challenges that many people with neurological disabilities face as disabled people in our society, but sees autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurodiversity in terms of strengths and differences as well as challenges.

We hope you enjoy the readings, videos, podcasts, and blog posts we offer in the Heller School’s Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge.

If you’d like more for today:

Further Resources for Day 1:

Day 2, April 6th

Neurodiversity and Representation

(Click here for a downloadable version of Day 2 of the Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge)

There are many misunderstandings surrounding autism and other neurodiversity, often leading to fear, prejudice, and stigma. Nonverbal or minimally verbal autistic persons are especially subject to misperception. In many cases, these misunderstandings have led to interactions with others that harm autistic people. Negative interactions with teachers, health workers, police, and others are linked to high rates of discrimination and social exclusion that autistic people particularly experience. Similarly, they face high rates of health challenges (including COVID-19), homelessness, and suicide. We will explore some of these challenges this week.

In response to the problems facing the autistic population, on April 2, 2008, the United Nations celebrated the first annual World Autism Awareness Day and April is designated as Autism Awareness Month. Currently, many have been pressing to replace the word “awareness” with “acceptance,” giving us Autism Acceptance Day and Autism Acceptance Month, which would stress a more inclusive goal.

Today we look at awareness and representations of neurodiversity and neurodivergent persons among the public and in the media, exploring the extent of acceptance. Of all neurodiversity, autism has received the most attention. From Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of “Rain Man” to Greta Thunberg’s public embrace of her actual autism as a “superpower,” a lot has changed in how autism is represented and perceived; yet much misperception persists, as do numerous barriers to inclusion and equity. (Thunberg met with many positive but also some negative depictions in the media; see Further Resources for more.)

In recent years, several characters in TV series, novels, movies, and other formats—most portrayed by non-autistic actors—have been coded as or perceived to be autistic or “on the spectrum”; more rarely, some have been identified as such. The list is growing. These would include series such as Atypical, The Big Bang Theory, Bones, Criminal Minds, The Good Doctor, House, and Parenthood, and the HBO adaptation of the Stephen King novel, The Outsider, as well as the Korean drama It’s Okay to Not Be Okay and the Danish-Swedish dramaThe Bridge (remade for American audiences from the original Bron/Broen); novels such as Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes books and, more recently, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the Stieg Larsson Millenium series; movies such as Adam, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (based on the Larsson novel), and Mary and Max; and video games such as Overwatch (which includes the autistic-identified character Symmetra). Many of the representations on this list and beyond have been criticized by those in the autistic community as inaccurate and/or harmful.

If you’d like more for today:

Further Resources for Day 2:

Day 3, April 7th

Neurodiversity, Race, and Ethnicity: Representation and Diagnosis

(Click here for a downloadable version of Day 3 of the Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge)

As noted in a recent Ruderman white paper: “Disability intersects with other factors such as race, class, gender, and sexuality, to magnify degrees of marginalization and increase the risk of violence. When the media ignores or mishandles a major factor, as we contend they generally do with disability, it becomes harder to effect change.” Because disabled persons are subjected to widespread discrimination and are also overrepresented in communities most subject to systemic racial discrimination, such as the African-American community in the U.S., a complex relationship between disability and race leads to particularly negative interactions of disabled persons of color (among them, those who are autistic and otherwise neurodivergent) with police, healthcare workers, and the like. Autistic young people, for example, are already more likely to be stopped by police than their non-autistic counterparts, affecting as many as 20% of autistic youth, according to one study, and many of these will be arrested. In addition, autistic people of color are often victims of violence, including within their families.

Without solid intersectional research, however, we cannot understand the full relationships between neurodivergence, race, and ethnicity. Another factor to consider is the scarcity of researchers of color who study issues relating to neurodiversity.

Autism itself has a white privilege problem, as Morénike Giwa Onaiwu has written.

Research on racial and other similar disparities affecting neurodiverse people has in the past suffered from the disparate diagnosis rates by race and ethnicity (and sometimes, too, by immigration status). A recent CDC report does suggest, however, that for autism these diagnostic gaps may be diminishing. At the same time, media representation of neurodiversity promotes the association of autism and other conditions with white men and boys, in particular. (And this association has been reflected, though negatively, in the media discourse on the “autistic shooter.”)

With respect to ADHD, these diagnoses are the subject of much debate and controversy, including as diagnosis relates to race, and how and why racial differentials have been changing. These discussions are ongoing and our sources below provide a snapshot at the time they were produced of that ongoing debate.

Because of the number of issues involved and range of views, we offer two days devoted to neurodiversity, race, and ethnicity. Each day still has many resources from which to choose.

Today is devoted to issues mainly of representation and diagnosis. Tomorrow is devoted to issues related to the impact and effects of the intersection of racial and ethnic disparities with neurodiversity.

If you’d like more for today:

Further Resources for Day 3:

Day 4, April 8th

Neurodiversity, Race, and Ethnicity: Impact and Effects

(Click here for a downloadable version of Day 4 of the Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge)

Today, we continue our examination of neurodiversity, race, and ethnicity by looking at some of the impact and effects of the intersection of neurodiversity with race and ethnicity. We concentrate on the African-American community and many of yesterday’s resources are relevant to today’s focus. Included in this discussion is reflection on how the neurodiversity community and movement itself has had discriminatory and exclusionary effects on people of color that need to be addressed.

As in Day 3, given the number of issues that fall under this topic, we once again offer numerous options from which you may choose. (And, even then, there are other angles we could still explore.) Our goal is to look at how these intersections play out in people’s lives from various perspectives.

If you’d like more for today:

Further Resources for Day 4:

In addition to the previous day’s resources:

  • ADDitude editors, “ADHD and Race: Fighting for Equality in Health Care” (includes extensive list of resources)
  • Bazelon Center, “‘Defunding The Police’ And People With Mental Illness”
    NOTE: While mental illness is not always included under neurodiversity, it sometimes is and, in any event, many people with neurological disabilities do also have conditions classified as mental illnesses, conditions that may compound racial or ethnic discrimination and exclusion. In addition, some people may inaccurately perceive neurological disability as mental illness in instances where this is not the case.

Day 5, April 9th

Neurodiversity, Gender, and Sexuality

(Click here for a downloadable version of Day 5 of the Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge)

The ratio of males to females diagnosed with autism has been traditionally high, around 4 or 5 to 1. More recently, however, studies more attuned to how autism might appear in girls, whether due to social expectations or other reasons, have been conducted. “Camouflaging” or “masking,” for example, leading to detrimental effects, is known throughout the autistic community, but is especially common among autistic girls and women. This new approach to understanding autism in girls has reduced the ratio, although some disparities remain.

Some researchers have proposed controversial theories of autism and gender such as the “extreme male brain” theory, which is rejected by most autistic self-advocates. Concern over autism’s association with homosexuality and transgender, nonbinary, and genderqueer identities has also produced harmful theories and practices.

There have also been issues of gender disparity in ADHD diagnosis and diagnosis of other neurodivergence, though these have been less widely explored.

Today we explore aspects of the intersection of neurodiversity with gender and sexuality, some of which have already begun to be considered in previous days. The depiction and understanding of autism have long been entwined in gender constructs, such as the belief of some experts that “refrigerator mothers” cause autism and the popular view, persistent to this day, that autistic people are predominantly “tech nerds” and the like.

If you’d like more for today:

Further Resources for Day 5:

  • Maxfield Sparrow, ed., Spectrums: Autistic Transgender People in Their Own Words
  • Melanie Yergeau, Authoring Autism: On Rhetoric and Neurological Queerness

Day 6, April 10th

Neurodiversity, Education, and Employment

(Click here for a downloadable version of Day 6 of the Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge)

Education and employment are two of the most important social and personal challenges that neurodivergent people face. Through the hard work of activists and advocates, the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) in 1990 and other pieces of legislation and regulation such as the Individuals with Disabilities in Education Improvement Act (IDEA/IDEIA) have meant that a much greater number of neurodivergent people are completing high school and going on to employment or higher education.

Yet, education and employment pose numerous difficulties for autistic and other neurodivergent people, particularly due to prejudices against them and to structures and practices in schools and workplaces that impede or openly discriminate against them. Here again, more attention has been paid to autism than to other conditions falling under neurodiversity.

For example, research has shown that autism is one of the few conditions where those with a college degree, or higher, have a lower rate of employment than those without the degree, though both rates are high. And, while many more autistic people are graduating from high school and seeking employment or higher education, research shows that as a group they have lower employment rates not only compared with non-disabled persons but also compared with other disabled communities, and that they have fewer opportunities for independent living.

Both unemployment and underemployment are common among autistic people. This is occurring even as talk—which may be appealing to some employers—of an “autism advantage” or “neurodiversity advantage” is heard today. (A similar view can be found with respect to ADHD and to dyslexia.) However, the idea of such advantage may diminish support for the wide diversity of neurodivergent people in terms of interests and skills as well as needs.

Employment constitutes one of the most important means by which people find social inclusion and financial stability along with improved health. With ever more autistic people attending college or obtaining post-secondary education, the situation is a cause of great concern.

Some organizations and companies—such as through Autism @ Work programs at several large global technology and finance companies—have sought to address the autism employment problem, with some limited success. However, many of these efforts are aimed at individuals with highly specialized skills that not all autistic or neurodivergent people possess. In addition, the programs also can sometimes reinforce stereotypes of autistic and other neurodivergent people and, in the wrong circumstances, could be exploitative.

Today we look at the education and employment situation facing neurodivergent people along with some policies and practices that might address this situation.

If you’d like more for today:

Further Resources for Day 6:

Day 7, April 11th

Neurodiversity Going Forward: Where Are We Now?

(Click here for a downloadable version of Day 7 of the Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge)

Today we will ask, “How can we achieve true acceptance and inclusion of neurodivergent people at Brandeis and the larger world?” The question is meant to encourage reflection and thought as well as plans for action.

In the Further Resources section, we offer some options for parents and others who seek to support their children, friends, coworkers, and so forth, but now pass the question of how to achieve inclusion and equity to the wider community at Brandeis and beyond. Views within the neurodiversity community are as varied as its members are, but most in the community hope to see an acceptance and true inclusion of neurodivergent people that goes beyond simple awareness. Examples abound in schools, workplaces, and the wider community where awareness exists, but not genuine acceptance and inclusion.

As part of today’s suggestions, we offer a map of the Brandeis campus depicting the various offices, departments, or functions that a neurodivergent person, whether student, staff, faculty, or even visitor, might encounter, either regularly or occasionally. The idea behind creating the map is to allow us to imagine how such a person might feel when approaching and trying to navigate the campus or engage in learning or working, while also meeting their support needs. How, for example, would neurodivergent people, in all their variation, experience the spaces between these parts of campus? The answer one gives to this question could help to prompt reflection on how to support and include neurodivergent people at Brandeis and how to encourage any efforts that have begun.

“Nothing about us without us” is more than a slogan heard among disabled activists; it is a goal and a demand. As Morénike Giwa Onaiwu has said: “Far too often the labor of marginalized people is minimized and treated as if it were of little value; meanwhile, those with vastly more privilege go on to profit enormously from the resources they have derived from those same seemingly ‘less valuable’ people.” Neurodivergent people of all races, genders, and other identities must be included in all forms of decision-making about themselves and in all knowledge production and policy formulation about autism and other neurodiversity. Parents and other family members cannot substitute for neurodivergent people themselves but have their own perspectives; they do have contributions to make.

Thank you for taking the Neurodiversity Inclusion Challenge this week and for thinking about the issues that have been raised. Now it’s up to you.

brandeis-neurodiversity-map.png

If you’d like more for today:

Further Resources for Day 7:

Appendix

Text-only version of the Brandeis Neurodiversity Map. Represents Administration, Staff (includes some students), Faculty, Undergraduate Students, and Graduate Students, as well as campus offices and services that relate to neurodiversity:

Division of Student Affairs

  • Department of Community Living
  • Dean of Students Office

Academic Services

  • Student Accessibility Support (SAS)

Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion

  • Office of Equal Opportunity (OEO)
  • University Ombuds
  • Programming, Training, Education and Development (PTED)
  • Gender and Sexuality Center (GSC)
  • Intercultural Center (ICC)

Prevention, Advocacy, and Resource Center (PARC)

Brandeis Counseling Center (BCC)

Human Resources

Staff unions

Faculty unions

Brandeis Alumni Association

Heller Alumni Association

Undergraduate Students

  • DEISability
  • Divisions: Science; Humanities; Social Science; Creative Arts

Hiatt Career Center

Rabb School for Continuing Studies 

Graduate Students

  • Schools:
    • Graduate School of Arts and Sciences
      • Center for Career and Professional Development
    • Heller School
      • Heller School Office of Equity, Inclusion and Diversity
      • Heller School Career Development
      • Heller Disability Working Group
      • Heller Student Association
    • International Business School (IBS)
      • Career Strategies Center
      • IBS Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee
  • Graduate Student Association

Library

Center for Teaching and Learning

Institutes:

  • Lurie Institute for Disability Policy
  • Institute for Behavioral Health
  • Other research institutes

Additional Resources to Consider:

nd-challenge-graphic.jpg

The ND Challenge launches with an Introduction on April 2, which is celebrated each year as World Autism Awareness Day, with April often designated as Autism Awareness Month. Many individuals and organizations now replace the word “Awareness” in these phrases with “Acceptance,” arguing that we have gained enough awareness at this point and must instead address the pressing need for acceptance.