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University continues to develop resources for neurodivergent students

Article Originally Published by Ileana Garnand on North Texas Daily

Article Originally Published by Ileana Garnand on North Texas Daily

The university offers various programs for its neurodivergent population and mandatory training on neurodiversity could be on the horizon as students and staff advocate for a more equitable culture, a Neurodiversity Initiative Advisory Committee member said.

The term neurodivergent refers to less typical brain variations of sociability, learning, attention and other mental functions. Conditions that can fall into this category include the autism spectrum, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, Tourette syndrome and more.

Advocacy groups work to ensure these neurological variations are known and valued as any other human variation, but many people are still unfamiliar with the concept.

“A lot of people don’t understand how hard it is to pick up on the tiny social cues they do,” English sophomore Connor Robnett said of their experience on campus. “It’s very difficult to know nonverbally when someone is trying to convey something to you.”

This lack of understanding from neurotypical people led to some issues during Robnett’s freshman year, including experiences in their residence hall and with some teachers.

“There were a lot of people who didn’t necessarily understand that I was autistic and that meant I needed some extra time and understanding,” Robnett said. “I think [staff] definitely tried to do their best. But I really don’t think they have the training for it. A lot of it was telling me I need to stop whatever I was doing.”

Lucy Gafford, a member of the Neurodiversity Initiative Advisory Committee, is working on a program dubbed the “Blue Zone,” which provides training on neurodiversity to faculty and staff.

Ran on volunteer hours, Blue Zone has been conducted with over 450 housing staff and the university police department. Gafford is currently in talks with the Equity and Diversity office as installing Blue Zone as a mandatory staff training.

“Obviously, I don’t think that this is going to be the end-all, be-all where you’re suddenly an expert working with someone who is neurodivergent,” Gafford said. “However, it’s a good starting place and it’s a sustainable activity that we can do. Hopefully, because we would like to see more interest and more people asking for that, it would spur there to be more information and more training developed.”

As for existing resources, when at an appointment through the Counseling and Testing Center, Robnett was told of only one resource for neurodivergent students. In reality, the university has seven and counting.

Programs that connect students to their peers include Empowering Personal Interactions in the Community (EPIC), which launched this August and holds various social events. Eagle Chat is another peer-to-peer group where students can problem solve various issues they have on campus. The Collaborative Actions for the Neurodiverse cohort (CAN) provides support in on-campus housing settings with peer mentorship and professional development.

“A lot of people don’t realize that students have issues in the classroom,” Gafford said. “But more often they have issues outside of the classroom in their personal space.”

The university offers social skills training out of the Audiology and Speech Pathology department, where students workshop concepts including appropriate sharing in conversations and navigating romantic interest.

A support group for neurodivergent faculty and staff members is currently being developed, Gafford said. Embracing Neurodiverse Groups in Academics and Gainful Employment (ENGAGE) helps students reach their academic and vocational goals through individualized services.

“It’s really a great place to slow down and make thoughtful progress with [various] areas,” ENGAGE coordinator Lydia Evans said. “Each student is so unique on what they need to be working on.”

More information about the programs offered by the Neurodiversity Initiative is available on the committee’s website.

Featured Image: Students walk in the Union on Sep. 29, 2020. Students can find more information on the Neurodiversity Initiative through the Neurodiversity Initiative Advisory Committee website. Image by Samuel Gomez

Source: North Texas Daily

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