Advocating for Neurodiversity within Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI).

Written by Written by Chisato Hotta, DSW, LPCC, LMFT

We can’t support their needs here.”
As a therapist, I had witnessed first hand over and over again, the stigma against mental health. As a mom to twin boys on the autism spectrum, our family is constantly going against stigma. A few years ago, we enrolled the boys in a Wardolf inspired charter school. This school was in another district to us- about 30 minutes away. Every person we spoke with told us that their needs will be met and they will be fine. I offered to send their individualized education plan (IEP) to the school before we started the process of moving them, offered to have the boys meet the teacher and more. Everyone told us that they will be ok. Every single person told us that they were already ahead academically, because they could read and write their ABCs, knew the sounds of the letters, could read, knew their numbers and could do addition, subtraction and more. They looked at the boys’ IEP and gave them speech therapy.

Before the new school started, Covid-19 hit and the world moved online. Their classes did too. Here we were, with two five year olds on the spectrum, in online school. We made sure they were in every online class, participated in the curriculum and attended their virtual speech.

The day of the IEP came and the team informed us that their needs are too high. They need to change to another school in that district. I asked, would this class be in person? No it’s virtual for now but once things go back to in person they would go in person. Why couldn’t they continue with their current school and curriculum if it’s still going to be virtual? My husband and I are doing the support anyway, so what would the difference be? Why can’t they at least try the Wardolf school in person before making that decision? No one in the team could answer that. The teacher then said, “well, I can’t even tell them apart.”

This was mind blowing to us. Our older twin has straight hair and looks like his mom. Our younger twin has wavy hair and looks like his dad. They are fraternal twins. And yes, their diagnosis is the same. But they are completely opposite to each other.

Throughout the meeting, one thing became clear- the school and the district was only looking at the label. This school was not designed for us- most of the kids were white, upper class, neurotypical children. My boys are Japanese/Honduran, middle class, neurodivergent children.

Being part of their Diversity, Equality and Inclusion committee, I saw it first hand. It was obvious that their version of DEI was putting books written by Black authors on their shelves and saying that was DEI. I advocated to include neurodiversity and pointed out that diversity is not only about Black and White. I was met with blank stares.

They were not interested in trying to support the boys or us. We tried for months to fight it, until one day, my husband and I had a discussion. Why are we fighting so hard to keep them at a place that does not accept them? The school has already acknowledged multiple times that they are ahead of their whole class.

But… They can’t tell them apart. They only see autism. Not who they are . Not how smart, sweet, loving, and hard working they are. Why are we going to keep them there? So, we stopped fighting it. We pulled them from that district and we put them back in their home district. We decided to choose our battles, and this one was not one we were going to fight. We had enough things to fight for.

Unfortunately, our experience is not unique. Too many organizations and individuals think DEI is only about race, specifically two races. If they look deeper, they may look at LGBTQ+. Maybe they will include API in the race. But to get to neurodiversity, it is a stretch and rare. Looking at the intersections of how all of these factors and more interact with each other, is very rare. We need to do better as a society. If we are encouraging diversity, equality and inclusion, we need to advocate for that for all. Open your eyes and ears and listen. Learn about others and their experiences. Listen to people’s lived experiences without judgment. Provide a safe space to talk. Grow together. Without that, there is no diversity, there is no equality and no inclusion. What a sad world that would be!

If you would like to learn more about DEI, see our resources page.