Featured Artwork: Elena Resko
Inclusion broadly defined is a concept that all people should be accepted. However, this is often not the case in many academic settings. As communities continue to revolutionize the classroom, providing innovative new environments for students, two key components are often left out of the conversation: the concept of neurodiversity and the resources surrounding mental health required for students to succeed.
“Neurodiversity” is defined as an umbrella term for all mental differences, ranging from learning differences such as Down syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder, to cognitive differences such as anxiety and depression. Despite students with neurodiversity being prevalent in education systems, University College London (UCL) estimates that 1 in 10 students are neurodiverse; however, the concept is often heavily stigmatized as a whole. Moreover, in addition to the scrutiny and mislabeling as “atypicality” surrounding neurodiversity, students who are neurodiverse often do not have the academic resources to support their education. Society’s perpetuated concept of ableism has led to many students saying they are not comfortable talking about their mental health with their teachers, and another 52% of school staff lacked adequate information and resources for them to succeed, according to Mental Health Today. Despite 1 in 10 students being considered “learning diverse” and mental health being something that can impact anyone, many schools do not have adequate resources to support their students.
These perpetuated standards of ableism and lack of support towards students have had a detrimental impact, but yet the conversation about the topic of inclusion goes unchanged. People with learning differences are 2-3 times more likely to be unemployed. Additionally, according to the World Health Organization (WHO), 30-80% of people with mental health issues do not seek treatment.
This all pushes the question: how do we change the conversation about inclusion?
May is Mental Health Awareness Month, leading to more open conversations about mental health and the stigma surrounding it. However, what happens when #MHA is over? Gen-Z is often categorized as a generation pushing for change, some youth have taken to demanding change. As a student activist who has been diagnosed with depression and anxiety, I would like to call upon other youth changemakers to join the conversation.
To start to innovate this change, I recommend trying to facilitate a conversation about inclusion and neurodiversity in your everyday life. This could be opening discussions with your school administration about the lack of resources to support students and their mental health, or by asking your peers what they would like to see regarding support from the school. By starting this conversation, you can play a crucial role in destigmatizing the topic of neurodiversity as a whole.
For Mental Health Awareness Month, one way that several youth organizations strived to change the conversation was by creating a #WearGreenChallenge to raise awareness for mental health. This campaign had a total of 100 participants and is just one of the many examples of student activists who have come together to help change the conversation about mental health and neurodiversity. Another youth campaign project working on destigmatizing mental health and learning differences is SENIA Youth (Special Education Network and Inclusion Association). This group works to focus on creating chapters to facilitate conversation and to host events celebrating differences. For ways to get involved, check out SENIAyouth.org.
Looking forward, we must all strive to not diminish our differences, but instead celebrate them. Until we are able to create a world where the neurodiverse community receives proper representation and mental health is a commonly talked about subject, we are not where we want to be. That is why I am calling on you to stand up now for inclusion around mental health conversation and neurodiversity.