Celebrate Neurodiversity Week

Happy Wednesday, Dear MSA Communities,

As we wrap up a fabulous run of incredible dancing, singing, acting and community engagement with the Young Frankenstein run behind us and head into a weekend of beautiful MSA Dance in the Center for the Arts, I want to pause and take a moment to focus on one aspect of the diversity we embrace in MSA—neurodiversity.

Next week is Neurodiversity Week (March 21st-25th), a time to celebrate the strengths and talents of people with learning differences. Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.

Through this work, we focus on inclusive practices that acknowledge all humans are different, with unique minds, needs, and abilities. This approach moves beyond labels and recognizes that differences in ability are natural and can contain unique gifts and contributions. When talking to or about neurodiversity inclusive, nonjudgmental language contributes to a culture of caring. Many neurodiverse learners prefer person-first language (“a person with autism,” “a person with Down syndrome”), while others prefer identity-first language (“an autistic person”). Therefore, rather than making assumptions, it is best to ask directly about a person’s preferred language, and how they want to be addressed. Expanding our knowledge about neurodiversity among our students and their families and being mindful of the language we use to talk about our differences is critically imperative.

As part of their Inclusion Inspiration Series, Marin County’s Dedication to Special Education is holding a free virtual screening of the film, ‘The R Word’ followed by a Q&A discussion on Thursday, March 24th 6:30-7:30pm. This film focuses on the importance of our words and how they impact people with disabilities.

Check out the following link to the trailer: https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=391P78bhM0o

You can register for the free virtual film screening here” https://www.specialed.org/dse-school-community-workshops/

‘The R Word’ film screening and Q&A is for EVERYONE, especially for people who may not have a close connection with special needs populations! Please share far and wide!

While Neurodiversity Week is one way of reminding everyone of the importance of being kind, accepting, and inclusive of everyone and their differences, it important to note that the work is not done in only one week each year. Recognizing the hard work, resilience, and determination of neurodiverse people in a world that is not always designed to meet their every need is something that can be celebrated each and every day. Everyone can contribute to an inclusive community that is responsive to the neurodiverse needs.

Tips for a Neurodiversity-Friendly Mindset

  • Offer small adjustments to accommodate a variety of sensory needs
    • Sound sensitivity: quiet spaces, forewarn unexpected loud noises
    • Tactile: allow/embrace modifications to clothing materials, tags, zippers, buttons, laces, Velcro, etc.
    • Olfaction: be aware that certain smells can calm and/or activate people (air fresheners, perfumes, foods, etc.)
    • Movement: allow the use of fidget tools, extra movement breaks, flexible seating options
  • Inform/remind others about social etiquette in different environments/situations, avoid assuming that someone is deliberately breaking the rules or being rude
  • Try to give advance notice if plans are changing and provide a reason for the change
  • Avoid making assumptions – ask a person’s individual preferences, needs, and goals.
  • Be kind, be patient

I’m proud that our MSA program embraces neurodiversity with an assets-based lens and that our many artistic disciplines appeal to students with learning differences and their families.

Warmly, Michelle
MSA Director/NHS Assistant Principal

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