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Humans of the U: Sammie Serrano

"I didn’t want students who are neurodivergent at the U to be subject to the same struggle that I had."

I am neurodivergent, a term that comes from the words ‘neurological diversity.’ It’s considered an umbrella term for people with mental or neurologically diverse conditions such as ADHD, OCD, autism, dyslexia, bipolar, and many more.  “Neurodiversity” was coined by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist with autism, as part of a civil rights movement to fight stigmas targeted towards neurodivergent people. On the other hand, neurotypical refers to the majority of society whose brains function “normally.”  Those who are neurodivergent simply process information differently…they aren’t defective. For example, if you look up ADHD on Google, you’ll just come up with the negative side effects and symptoms that highlight the fact that it is simply a disorder. But if you look up ADHD neurodiversity, it’s more empowering because you’ll see how you can use ADHD as a strength and learn about how you can use certain aspects and characteristics to your advantage.

When I first came to the U, I struggled in my classes because I didn’t have the accommodations that I have now through the Center for Disability Access (CDA)—because I didn’t know it existed! I learned about the CDA from a friend in class. Once I applied, it took a whole year to finalize the process.

I didn’t want students who are neurodivergent at the U to be subject to the same struggles that I went through. So, I applied to the U’s Diversity Shark Tank, an event where people pitch ideas to advocate for better inclusion on campus. I wanted to host an event for neurodivergent students to create a community and give them access to resources like the CDA or the University Counseling Center. They loved my idea, and I was invited to co-present with the director of the CDA during the U’s first Day of Collective Action on this topic. You can go to this link to the overview of the presentation under “Neurodiversity, Resilience, and Accessibility at the U.”

It went really well—lots of people showed up, both to the in-person presentation and zoom livestream. I asked the audience to share their personal experiences with stigmas and interactions between neurodivergent and neurotypical people. We also talked about institutional support and how the U can do better to get students the help that they need. I passed out a booklet that I created called “How to be Resilient When Everything is not OK.” I made it for a stress management and personal resiliency class using methods I had learned throughout the semester, but I also included lots of techniques I used in high school before I realized I was neurodivergent . When you’re feeling overwhelmed, you open the booklet and walk yourself through a list of strategies to help you take it one step at a time. I really like the fact that it’s customizable so you can figure out what works best for you. I keep my own version of this list of steps next to my desk so that I always know where to find it whenever I lose touch with everything around me and let stress take over my life. This list—titled “Everything is Awful and I‘m not OK: Questions to Ask Before Giving Up” —is a really good way to step back, recenter yourself, and go from there.

If you would like a copy of this booklet, it will be distributed on campus through the University Counseling Center, the Mindfulness Center, and the Learning Center. Feel free to pick one up for yourself!

—Sammie Serrano, Class of 2022, B.S. in Health, Society and Policy, minor in Health, certificate in Health Communication, College of Social & Behavioral Sciences