Normalize Our Differences

With patience, tolerance, and understanding, you will find that neurodiverse students are just like the rest of the population. 


Wikipedia Commons

Neurodiverse individuals think and act differently because of the unique ways that their brain functions.

   Neurodiversity is the array of differences in the functions of the brain. It is a wide spectrum, ranging from ADHD, autism, Tourettes, anxiety, depression, and hypersensitivity. These conditions can impact the way a person learns and interacts, but that does not render the person incapable of such tasks. Such individuals simply think and act differently than “the norm” due to their specific diagnosis. According to the National Cancer Institute, an estimated 15-20 percent of the world’s population exhibits some form of neurodivergence. Eastern offers courses and programs for those with learning disabilities. 

   “We offer many different types of classes, and differentiate instruction,” Dr. Roth, the Director of Special Services, said. “We offer many different academic levels to help support students. And even within those levels, we differentiate to meet the learner’s needs.” 

   These levels include special education, college prep, accelerated, honors, advanced honors, and Advanced Placement courses. 

   This differentiation takes course in many ways. Between hands-on activities for kinesthetic learners, guided notes, and allowing earbuds in to avoid sensory overload, teachers’ accommodate the needs of neurodivergent students based upon specific learning needs. 

    In special education classrooms,Teacher Aids provide additional assistance and reinforcement, breaking down assigned tasks into manageable portions. “These are some of the hardest working students I have ever worked with” said Special Education assistant Ms. Mickle. “I absolutely love it.” 

   Mickle will be leaving  this April to work at non-profit P.I.L.O.T. Services in Atco, NJ — a group who aids adults with special needs and learning disabilities.

   Contrary to popular belief, not all neurodivergent students are in special education classes. This is mostly because neurodivergent looks different for all diagnosed.

    Laura Silenzio ‘23, editor-in-chief of Eastern’s The Voyager and officer of Eastern’s DECA, has ADHD and Tourette’s. She is enrolled in AP and Honors courses. Having ADHD, she admitted, can make learning more challenging. “When I was younger, I was able to work around it,” she said.  “Now it becomes more difficult because as I start taking harder classes, my brain still works the same way.” 

   Laura never saw herself as different, until she started AP Macroeconomics. She noticed she didn’t finish as quickly as other people. “I can’t focus on one thing and then I just get in my head,” she said, “ and can’t get any tests done or anything like that within the time limits.”    

   Willow Mignone ‘24 is a member of Theatre Club as well as the Gender and Sexualities Alliance (GSA).  Willow also has hypersensitivity. This causes her senses to be heightened in large, crowded group settings.  After attending a private elementary and middle school, Willow came to Eastern.  Soon, she realized she needed a 504 plan. 

   “My brain processes everything consciously,” she said. “I have to filter things myself, which is really difficult to do and becomes really overwhelming.” She also has an accommodation to walk when the hallways are clear. 

   Mignone played the autistic lead, Christopher, in Eastern’s 2022 fall play The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Nighttime. She told The Voyager, “[It was] a bit overwhelming but an incredible experience that I don’t get as often as some others, because it is a bit difficult to audition for a play (with) characters you don’t process information similarly to at all.” It was her first opportunity to play a character who thought in the same “font” as herself.   

   Cam Levy ‘25, a member of Stage Crew and Book Club, has ADHD and anxiety. He discussed how “without the help of medication, it’s a lot harder just because of focusing, especially during high stress situations like tests. It’s hard to focus on what’s in front of me and not get distracted by everyone else. But I think with the help of the aid of medication, it makes it a lot easier to be able to function. ” 

   Levy originally took Concerta for his ADHD, but had to switch to Ritalin after the recent Adderall shortage, since it had the same base ingredient. Both medicines are used to aid those with ADHD, stimulating the mind and aiding with focus, attention spans, and impulsive behavior.

   Levy also mentioned how his 504 plan allows him extra time on assignments. 

   “A lot of the teachers, especially my math teacher this year, Ms. Bradley, are extremely accommodating to that and it’s very helpful with my accommodations and helping me so I can do the best on my work.” 

   These adjustments assist neurodiverse students in the classroom, but how do they fare socially? 

    Leilani Johnson ‘24, a special education student, as well as a member of Eastern theater and the SUCCESS club,  was diagnosed with ADHD. She often struggles with hyperactivity and managing her emotions.  “I feel like people don’t want to be friends with us because they think that because we’re different,” she said. There are stigmas that neurodiverse individuals aren’t like them or that they’re dumb or don’t know anything. 

   “That’s totally not true,” she said. “We just learn things a little bit differently and a little bit slower sometimes.” 

   This misunderstanding can cause ostracization.

    Child Development teacher Ms. Dibert said just because an individual may have difficulty socializing doesn’t mean they don’t want to. “They just maybe are scared because they don’t know how,” she said. 

    An anonymous senior, diagnosed with General Anxiety Disorder and Major Depressive Disorder, said, “I don’t think most people want to talk to me, so when someone actually does reach out, it’s a little bit of a shock.”

   In all, socializing as a neurodivergent person can be difficult. Possibly because they switch conversation topics too fast, have involuntary tics, don’t understand social cues, or are hard of hearing. However, with patience, tolerance, and understanding, you will find that neurodiverse students are just like the rest of the population. 

      They are quick learners and great friends, and are willing to wait for the person who is willing to truly listen to and understand them. As Mickle said, “Think before you speak and really take the person into account.”