The University of Michigan’s Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion hosted a virtual panel Friday about neurodiversity on college campuses. Neurodiversity refers to the normal differences in brain function present across the general human population and can include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder and dyslexia.
Ashley Wiseman, moderator and associate director for the University’s Global Scholars Program, began the event by asking what the panelists wanted people to know about neurodiversity.
Josh Guberman, panelist and Ph.D. student in the School of Information, said society should focus less on how they can profit off of a person’s neurodiversity.
“Something that really bothers me is the commodification of neurodiversity,” Guberman said. “So in both higher education and the business sector, there’s this tendency to talk about neurodiversity in terms of the benefits — the idiosyncrasies — (that) someone’s neurodivergence might confer upon their employers or society.”
M. Remi Yergeau, another panelist and LSA professor, said people must learn more about the diversity within the neurodivergent community. They added that there is a widespread, incorrect notion that neurodivergent students are difficult to have in class.
“The portrait of neurodivergent students in many college teaching guides, including those that bill themselves as being about inclusive teaching, paint a picture of neurodiverse students as the types of students that faculty, staff and administrations dread,” Yergeau said.
Graduate students at the University have historically struggled to find accommodations for disabilities, citing confusing application process, difficulty with department communications and appropriate extensions for degree requirements specific to post-undergraduate education.
Panelist Noor Pervez, community engagement manager at the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, added that neurodivergence can present itself in many different ways, making it impossible to identify what a neurodivergent person looks like.
Wiseman also prompted panelists to discuss how other identities have shaped their experiences as neurodivergent people.
Pervez said professionals ignored early indications of his cognitive disabilities because of his academic success, sayinghis immigrant and socioeconomic background affected his diagnosis.
“I grew up in north Texas, (with) relatively low income … I’m the child of immigrants,” Pervez said. “Collectively, we have a very substantial anxiety around authority because you’re constantly worried you’re going to do something wrong and lose the status and the benefits that you have. Because of that … it wasn’t even suggested that I get an assessment.”
Helen Rottier, panelist and Ph.D. candidate in Disability Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago, spoke about how their white privilege intersects with their neurodivergent identity.
“Whiteness is a huge protective factor in my experiences in the psychiatric system,” Rottier said. “I wouldn’t be where I am. I wouldn’t have the opportunities that I have if I were not white, because of my other identities.”
Guberman also discussed how privilege played a role in his diagnoses. As a white man with a mother who is a clinical psychologist, he said his neurodivergence was more easily recognized. He said he has been able to navigate higher education with relative ease compared to those who may not have normative speaking abilities.
“As a young white boy at the time … I was so much more likely to be recognized as having autism because the doctors’ diagnostic criteria were — and in many areas still are — formed for people like me,” Guberman said.
Wiseman asked Pervez how intersectionality is kept at the forefront of his work as ASAN’s community manager.
Pervez explained that society must continue asking the question of “whose voices are missing?” in discussions about neurodiversity.
“Where are the ripples going?” Pervez asked. “Where are people going to be impacted that wouldn’t have been thought of by the people who are designing a given thing?”
Yergeau added that more education on neurodiversity is needed.
“Culturally speaking, in the U.S., (when people) are thinking about neurodivergence, they’re thinking about neurodivergence as a rhetorical disability or a communication-based disability,” Yergeau said.
Wiseman also prompted panelists to share advice on how to move forward in creating an anti-ableist academy. Rottier said universities should focus on teaching disability justice and including neurodivergent perspectives.
“(Disability justice) is a framework that comes from disabled people of color, disabled queer and trans people,” Rottier said.
During the panel, attendees used the chat feature on Zoom to discuss ableism and neurodivergence. They also expressed their appreciation for the panelists’ candid remarks on their personal experiences with ableism and the psychiatric system.
Daily News Contributor Kavya Uppalapati can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.