Article By: Meghan Herron, Director of Research Operations; Cynthia Rico, Research Supervisor; Lawrence Platt, Research Supervisor; Eric McCoy, Research Supervisor
You may be familiar with the term ‘neurodiversity’ but aren’t quite sure what it means or how it relates to what we do at Easterseals Southern California (ESSC). We asked members of our Research Division to provide some insights.
What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a term that refers to the natural differences in how people’s brains work (Jaarsma & Welin, 2012). Just like how people can have different hair or eye colors, people can have different ways of thinking, learning, and processing information. Neurodiversity recognizes that these differences are normal and should be respected and valued.
Autism and Neurodiversity
Autism is one of the conditions that falls under the umbrella of neurodiversity. Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability caused by differences in the brain that can produce significant social, communication, and behavioral challenges (Center for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC], 2022).
At ESSC, we provide a range of services designed to help individuals with autism develop skills and abilities to achieve greater independence, participate in their communities, and lead fulfilling lives according to their own preferences.
Easterseals Research Division and Neurodiversity
Easterseals Southern California’s Research Division conducts state-of-the-art behavioral and scientific research to evaluate and enhance the effectiveness of the interventions that ESSC provides so that individuals with disabilities and their families have equal and better opportunities for an enhanced quality of life.
We conduct various projects, which range from having our star research assistant—Hans the Robot—teach skills, to identifying evidence-based practice for our services. We also conduct studies to determine how participants’ quality of life and social interactions are positively impacted by the interventions. These projects are created in support of diversity, equity, and inclusion and aim to further improve current services.
As researchers, we think that the first step in taking action to promote neurodiversity is learning about the perceptions neurodiverse individuals have about the world around them, support they receive, and find ways to increase their access to new opportunities.
Creating Awareness and Understanding
Easterseals also strives to stay current with best practices. Recently, we hosted an online event called “Honoring Neurodiversity,” in which a panel of ESSC associates and autistic adults discussed what neurodiversity means to them and how Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs) can better inform their clinical practice with input from the autistic community.
We have also been busy looking into selecting the best methods to survey autistic clients regarding what they think of the services they receive. In support of this, our researchers are working to identify the best methods used to select goals, teach skills, and use those skills in the natural environment.
The Easterseals Research Division believes that greater awareness of neurodiversity will foster acceptance for everyone in the community and decrease the stigmatization of neurodivergent behaviors.
Jaarsma, P. and Welin, S. (2012). Autism as a Natural Human Variation: Reflections on the Claims of the Neurodiversity Movement. Health Care Analysis, 1(20) 20-30. http://dx.doi.org/10.1007/s10728-011-0169-9