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Neurodiversity and Our Work at CLE

By Alexandra Stein, ILS Coordinator, CLE Rockville

Neurodiversity - the idea that variations in cognition are natural, and an example of human diversityWhen I first learned the word neurodiversity, in a disability studies class, it transformed the way I saw the world. Neurodiversity is the idea that variations in cognition are natural, and an example of human diversity. The neurodiversity movement calls on all of us to participate in making our society more accessible to people with all sorts of brains – people with Autism, learning disabilities, ADHD, Tourette’s, psychiatric disabilities, and so on. It also calls for foregrounding the experiences, perspectives and leadership of neurodiverse people in organizations dedicated to disability rights.

For me, as a college student, neurodiversity was powerful because it helped disentangle stigma from disability, and provoked critical thinking about how the communities I was a part of were and were not inclusive of people with a variety of processing and communication styles. An awareness of neurodiversity also launched a lot of interesting conversations with peers and mentors about ADHD and creativity, the consequences of self-disclosure in social settings, the way Autism or learning disabilities can impact people across the lifespan (when a lot of literature is school-oriented), and so on.


I continue to think a lot about these conversations now, in my work at CLE. One important part of the transition to independent living for many of our students is increased self-understanding and self-advocacy. What is hard for them, what is easy, and what skills do they want to work on in order to achieve their goals? What accommodations are needed, and what settings will help them thrive?

One of the really wonderful things about approaching these questions with an eye towards neurodiversity is that they can be more value-neutral. When we work with students on independent living skills, our goal is never to make normative judgments for the sake of normativity. It is to equip students with the knowledge, skills, and strategies they will need to maximize their independence.

The same is true, I think, across domains. There are so many ways to live a good life, and so many workable ways to approach and engage with one’s community and one’s responsibilities. The neurodiversity movement provides a helpful reminder that a big part of our work is to walk alongside students as they find the way that works for them.

Newsletter Articles – November 2016

Mother of a son with autism

Nobody wants to hear the word “disability” associated with their child, especially a young mother like myself at the time my son was diagnosed with Autism. My husband and I were well-educated, hard working, and just a normal, everyday couple. It’s only natural to give birth to children who are just like you, right? I did everything I was told to do during pregnancy. I read all the popular baby books, I ate a healthy diet, I exercised. My beautiful son was born and I was totally smitten. I couldn’t get enough of him. He was so beautiful that people used to tell me he needed to be in magazines.

The r-word

Retard. There, I said it. Now let’s spread the word to end the word. Why, you may ask? This word is hurtful and disrespectful to many and promotes exclusivity. So how do we do this? Let’s look at a simple three-step process.

CLE Couple

While CLE is certainly not in the business of matchmaking, our program creates and fosters a community for our students that is unlike any other. Many powerful and long-lasting connections can develop from peer groups, to best friends, and yes, sometimes even romantic relationships develop. In this article Dr. Galen Chun follows up with a couple that met at CLE, and whose relationship continues strong, long after the program.

Drew and his mom Deborah

For most of my son’s life he’s been misunderstood, bullied, afraid, excluded or summarily dismissed. No wonder I was never far away with a needed explanation, interpretation, apology, you name it.

But on Sunday, August 9, 2015 that job of mine ended. I was replaced in that capacity by much more capable hands at College Living Experience—although, of course, no one is replacing me as my son’s mom. Whew.

To get some perspective on where we’ve been, let’s take a look at a few of my diary entries from last year.

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This has been a special needs program update from College Living Experience | CLE | Choose Your Future. You may also click here to read the original article on the main program website.