BECAUSE Neurodiversity Panel & My responses to Feedback
The neurodiversity panel at BECAUSE went pretty well. I was a little nervous at first, as it had been a while since I’d done a public speaking gig- and this was also the first time I’d put together a panel. We had 3 people, me, Stacy and Mira. After going to other conferences that had panels with as many as seven people, leaving almost no time for discussion and questions from the audience. We got together and did some planning before the event, and I wrote up an outline and questions. We did mini-introductions to ourselves, then I asked attendees to introduce themselves and share what brought them to this session. Part of the reason for that is we could adjust our presentation depending on the knowledge base and interests of the attendees.
Then I went over some definitions of neurodiversity, neurodivergence, concepts of the disability rights movement such as the medical model vs. the social model, and a little history explaining that neurodiversity had been coined as a term by the online autistic teen/adult activist community.
Then we each went thru the questions and discussion our experiences growing up neurodivergent, and how our gender and sexual identities developed and interrelated.
Then we opened it up to questions/discussion from the attendees. Wow! I feel like we had lit a spark and watched it spread across the room! I could tell that there were way more questions that people wanted to ask, some that we couldn’t answer! I collected contact information from interested parties, so hopefully we can get together locally, share information with folks from further afield, and get ideas/input from folks about planning another workshop panel- at BECAUSE next year and other settings.
I am looking thru the evaluations and also had a longer discussion with one of the attendees, so I’ll address some of the comments that were made. BTW- I had 2 handouts- a basic list of Neurodiversity definitions, another of Neurodivergent/GLBT resources. I didn’t know how many people would come so I made 15 copies of each. Some people came in late so they may have not gotten them. One person was sitting on the floor, so likely stuff didn’t get handed to him. I’ll be sending out more resources via e-mail. Most of the resources on this is online, so listing a bunch of long urls does not really work well on a paper handout!
Favorite part of the workshop “The discussion of the need for questioning ones’ caretaker or therapists.”
I could tell that was very revolutionary for some folks! Yes, we talked about professionals who were very helpful, and ones who *weren’t* very helpful! You can indeed fire your psychiatrist! (Though that might depend on how much control you have over your medical care but that’s another discussion!)
Fave part of workshop: Learning about neurodiversity.
This workshop could be improved by: I would like to learn more about info specific to neurodiversity.
Fave part of workshop: Hearing stories of the presenters.
Fave part of workshop: I liked learning about everyone’s unique experiences, esp. Mira’s because I know her already and see her almost everyday
Fave part of workshop: Audience participation
This workshop could be improved by: Put a medical or therapy trained person on panel
Additional comments: Too many personal comments in negative viewpoint
Fave part of workshop: Talking about gender/sexuality/neurodiversity
This workshop could be improved by: More time 🙂
Fave part of workshop: Personal story sharing Add’l comments- Thank you so much!
Fave part of workshop: Stories
This workshop could be improved by: Scientific info in relationship to personal info anecdotes
Fave part of workshop: I learned about myself
Add’l comments: “Turns out, the presenters did not focus on a wide spectrum of neurodiversity, instead on personal experiences. I did like what they were saying but WOW really not the workshop described in the book.”
(Here’s the description of workshop: Mariah will introduce the concept of neurodiversity- the idea that various mental health conditions, developmental and learning disabilities, learning styles, talents and giftedness are part of human neurological diversity, and a brief introduction to concepts in disability rights. Each of us will then share our own experiences with sexual and gender identity development and how that interrelates with our experiences with the education and health care systems, and society more broadly. We invite participation from attendees in sharing their experiences with neurodiversity and bisexuality.
Another piece of feedback I got (verbally) was that based on listening to Stacy & Mira’s experiences, there was some confusion about being neurodivergent vs. being trans. Short answer: Having a trans identity DOES NOT mean automatically that person is neurodivergent. Long answer: BUT, there is overlap and it’s complicated! Stay tuned for another post (I will link to this one)
Some people wanted more time explaining neurodiversity and various examples.
Other people said they enjoyed hearing personal stories. Some liked both.
Re: suggestion of medical/psychological folks on panel, more scientific info
I wanted to center the voices of neurodivergent people, rather than “experts” on psychology et al. since we usually hear those voices the most, they get prestige and profit off of their expertise, whereas “patients/consumers” get stigma and often are not listened to by the public.
That said, I *do* think a panel with health/education/social work professionals would be awesome, that is a good idea for next year.
I also probably should have added the caveat that I am a political science major, and I am viewing neurodiversity primarily as a socio-political movement. I did discuss that neurodiversity has a neuro-biological basis, but I did not have a bunch of data backing that up. I do want to make sure workshops are accessible to laypeople, but I think we can be more science-y while still being intelligible!
Negative comments- well I don’t know which comments that referred to, but likely there was some frustration expressed by panelists (and attendees) towards the medical-industrial and educational establishments. I tried to maintain an overall positive tone, since we are bringing our experiences into the open and neurodivergent people have more opportunities for activism and public education than ever before. But we are going to be speaking out against oppressive people and power structures, so yes that is going to be somewhat negative. However, it would be the same case in any of the other intersectional workshops.
Other feedback I got that is more relevant to the organizers of the conference as a whole- it was too hot, and we needed more time. All the workshop sessions were 1 hour and 15 minutes, which is an amount of time that works better if people already know more about the topic. I think I was trying to do too many things in one session, partly to compensate for years of neurodiversity not being a topic!