Supporting Neurodiversity Means Supporting Neurodivergent Leaders

Thirty years ago, the students of Gallaudet University demanded that its newly-selected president resign. She had been the only hearing person among three candidates for the position of president at the nation’s only university designed for Deaf students. The students wondered how a university that claimed to develop Deaf people into leaders could be so lacking in Deaf leadership. Their victory led to the appointment of the university’s first Deaf president, setting a precedent for all presidential appointments at Gallaudet university since then to be selected from within the Deaf community. Additionally, the Deaf President Now actions illustrate the importance of allowing people to see others like themselves in respected positions – a lesson which transfers seamlessly when applied to the neurodiversity community.

Even those with a nebulous understanding of neurodiversity are generally in agreement that neurodivergent people should be accommodated and included. A major factor that sets those with a full model of neurodiversity apart from these others is understanding the reason behind accommodations and inclusions: respect for the humanity of neurodivergent people.

Further cultivating a world that truly shows respect for neurodivergent people involves advocating for accommodations and inclusion for neurodivergent adults. This inclusion must be of the kind that fully accepts neurodivergent people, including their support needs, as valuable members of society. One streamlined way to support this inclusion is through collaboration with neurodivergent experts.

Collaborating with neurodivergent experts, including neurodivergent professionals and other adults, both expands our expertise and sets an example for valuing neurodivergent perspectives. These collaborations should be accessible, with accommodations available to offset potential environmental barriers. They should also be on a level playing field – one in which neurodivergent people are not constantly forced to defend their own humanity once they get a seat at the table. Another important step is reconsideration of what constitutes “essential functions” for professionals and trainees. Criteria related to broad areas such as “social skills” often create bias against neurodivergent applicants.

More accessibility and neurodiversity-oriented collaboration will also, likely, draw more neurodivergent adults into fields that support neurodivergent people. This cycle will perpetuate a steady stream of neurodivergent professionals who can serve as resources and role models on the path toward a world that is truly inclusive.