Consider my institution, New York University. By listening to the disability community, we are working to change how we educate autistic and other neurodivergent students. We are trying to move from a deficit model to an asset-based model that is neurodiversity-affirming. We have a new Office of Disability Inclusive Culture that now works closely with our Moses Center for Student Accessibility, which provides accommodations and works to provide equal access to learning for students. The office is charged with looking beyond medical- or accommodations-based models toward faculty development, pedagogy, and organizational culture.

“Disability-inclusive culture” means that the work is community work. How do we impact and shift the attitudes of faculty, staff, and students? Instead of organizing our work around what students cannot do, we are working closely with staff and student self-advocates to show what students can do if we design universally for access and reduce stigma. We are collaborating so that our neurodivergent students can use their strengths and abilities on a path to future employment.

The old, and often still current, approach assumed autistic students needed to be “fixed.” Students registered with offices of disability services for accommodations deemed reasonable. Often these accommodations were implemented universally during the pandemic. Lectures were taped or recorded for all. Students had to have these reasonable accommodations to succeed in the classroom, but that was the minimum.

Looking ahead, how can universities go beyond the minimum to make access universal? How can they see students for who they are, work with them to identify their strengths, and use those as the foundation for continued learning? What if universities adopted a posture that said, “You don’t have to change. This is who you are. You are more than enough. How can we best support what you need to continue growing?”

Read the full article about education and neurodivergence by Kristie Patten at The 74.