Forged as a part of the 2021 presidential initiatives for diversity, equity and inclusion, The Neurodiversity Alliance at the University of Nevada, Reno seeks to educate neurotypical students and increase accessibility for neurodiverse students on campus. After presenting at the 2021 College Autism Summit, the alliance noticed that they differed from other colleges across the country.
“We heard from other colleges and universities that had neurodiversity alliances, or at least groups, and none of them had thought to include students, faculty and staff in one group,” said Andrea Juillerat-Olvera, the Disability Resource Center’s lead American Sign Language interpreter and founding member of the alliance… “So we realized, ‘Wow, we’re really unique across the United States.’”
Neurodiversity is a blanket term for individuals who have atypical neuro or cognitive functioning. This includes individuals with autism spectrum disorder, mood disorders and attention or learning disorders.
The alliance started with the DRC’s peer mentoring program, which is run by Mary Anne Christiansen, the assistant director of the DRC, which then snowballed. When the alliance first started it was seven faculty members across campus to help open pathways for students, faculty and staff across campus with different neurological needs.
“They formed a student group called Wired Like This, about neurodiversity and for neurodiverse students,” said Juillerat-Olvera. “… [T]hen they did a presentation panel over in the Knowledge Center … they had some faculty that was neurodiverse and students speak. It was a really good success, I think, maybe 100 people came.”
An important mission for the organization is to increase the use of the Universal Design for Learning throughout the university to recognize the diverse set of student needs.
Things continued to grow for the neurodiverse community on campus, with lilac tassels being given to neurodiverse students for graduation starting in 2019. The next big step for the alliance was the Associated Students of the University of Nevada and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion showing their support for UDL.
“ASUN again passed a resolution supporting the implementation of UDL across campus, and the Office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion included that UDL be in their strategic plan,” said Juillerat-Olvera. “They deemed that here at the DRC we would create training modules that would train all of the Student Service Division in what UDL is, and how to implement it on campus.”
Coming to fruition in the spring of 2021, the alliance is already starting training programs for students, faculty and staff to educate themselves on how to interact with neurodiverse community members.
As a part of their training, the alliance teaches and educates on certain mannerisms and feelings of neurodiverse individuals. Some of the mannerisms explained are sensory overload, stimming, lack of eye contact and hyper-focusing.
The alliance currently has around a dozen members ranging from professional staff to students, and it is open to neurotypical and neurodiverse people across the campus community.
“Well, right now our main goal is expanding awareness,” said Juillerat-Olvera. “By expanding awareness, we are able to give people who are neurodiverse words, to put their experiences into and say, ‘Yeah, this is happening to me, I’m facing these barriers, I need this support.’”
Emerson Drewes can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter @EmersonDrewes.