Neurodiversity and Youth Mental Health: resources and an upcoming legislative forum

A group of mostly-young people rapt, with attention in an educational setting.

Young people from all walks of life, backgrounds, and experiences bring rich contributions to our community, and young people who are neurodivergent have essential perspectives and contributions that our community benefits from.  

Yet, people who are neurodiverse run into obstacles in a world built for people who are neurotypical. Those challenges are even more pronounced for young people who are neurodiverse, particularly in the educational system. Young people who are Black, Indigenous, and people of color (BIPOC) who are neurodiverse also experience the additional challenges of racism and other forms of oppression. When we dismantle these obstacles, and work with neurodiverse community members to build more equitable systems, we don’t just benefit young people and adults who are neurodiverse, but the whole community. Traditional models of education and learning don’t fully support many young people, so these changes benefit everyone.  

 Neurodiversity or neurodivergence are terms used to describe differences in brain wiring and function that are reflective of human biological diversity. Embracing neurodiversity means focusing on the unique strengths of each person and how to support everyone to thrive within societal structures and communities, as both neurodivergent and neurotypical people are part of neurodiversity.

Reducing Stigma 

“Sometimes I feel lonely or anxious because I don’t have the same thoughts as other people, or don’t think in the same way,” said a student at Nova High School.  

By making our structures more accessible for young people who are neurodiverse, we can prevent students from experiencing isolation, and instead foster connection. We see this desire for connection and shared experience in the form of stories shared on social media. It is important for people to share their stories of how they exist in a world with dominant systems that don’t support young people who are neurodivergent. We can reduce stigma and increase access to resources and supports by amplifying the voices and experiences of neurodiverse youth. 

Opportunities for play 

Physical movement is important for all young people, and even more so for neurodiverse youth who have different and often higher energy levels. The school environment has varying levels of stimuli that impact young people differently. Some young people may need more stimulus to function and a quiet classroom may not be conducive for their focus and learning, whereas others might need a quieter space. Further, intersections with racism and other forms of oppression can lead to disproportionate school discipline rates for neurodiverse youth. 

Health supports 

In some cases, neurodiverse people also experience mental health challenges. It’s crucial for anyone who needs support for mental health to receive it. It’s important for health care providers to be responsive and knowledgeable about neurodiversity. 

Public Health – Seattle & King County has declared Racism a Public Health Crisis. Ensuring that neurodiverse people and everyone in our communities are treated with respect and inclusivity is core to our mission. 

Public health is concerned with protecting the health of the entire community. Neurodiversity can impact individual and community health and it follows that the additional barriers faced by people who are neurodiverse is a concern. Increased stress as a result of discrimination, for example, can lead to long term chronic diseases. 

How can our community support the mental health of neurodiverse young people? 

We all benefit when we look at neurodiversity not as a barrier, but as a way to better celebrate the immense diversity in ways of understanding and approaching our shared world. When we value neurodiversity, we build systems that benefit everyone, and create rich opportunities for connection so we all may thrive. Public Health – Seattle & King County and Best Starts for Kids strives to support and promote understanding and awareness of all the forms of brilliance and diversity within our communities in King County. 

If you’re interested in learning about your own or your child’s neurodiversity, you can talk with a medical or mental health provider or school counselor. You can also consult with providers who specialize in neurodiversity such as experts in attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or learning disorders. 

Developmental Disabilities Legislative Forum 

 

A visual with a photo of a happy young person and the text "33rd Annual Developmental Disabilities Legislative Forum A Virtual Community Conversation."

With this upcoming forum, it’s important to raise awareness about the policies needed to support neurodiverse communities. The annual Developmental Disabilities Legislative Forum on November 17 is an opportunity to educate elected officials on issues that are important to individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities (I/DD) (including autism and other forms of neurodiversity, or developmental delays. It’s also an opportunity to share information and support for families, friends, and supporters. Community members will share their personal stories as they relate to King County’s legislative priorities, that build equitable supports for people with I/DD or delays and their communities.  

King County’s legislative priorities this year include:  

  • Increase funding for services that are linguistically accessible and culturally relevant.   
  • Fund the Washington State Department of Social and Health Services Employment and Day Rate Study recommendations.  
  • Improve access and eliminate barriers to quality supports and services for families with young children (0-5) with delays and disabilities.   
  • Fund services for students leaving high school.   
  • Invest in the Housing Trust Fund and other revenue sources to support community-based housing solutions.   
  • Invest in I/DD behavioral health supports.  

What: Developmental Disabilities Legislative Forum  

When: 6 pm, November 17, 2022  

Where: This will be a virtual event  

Multilingual Registration 

Resource List 

Seattle Children’s: 

Additional Resources:

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