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Hundreds of neurodiverse youth gather to learn how to mentor and self-advocate

Posted at 11:54 AM, Aug 17, 2022

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, one in five people in the U.S. learns differently compared to the rest of the population. That's often due to conditions such as dyslexia or ADHD.

There's been a lot of attention lately on diversity, equity and inclusion, but people who identify as neurodiverse say they often feel overlooked. Eye to Eye, a national nonprofit that supports a mentoring program among neurodiverse youth, gathered hundreds of students from across the country.

"So we have over 150 people from different parts of the country, all with different experiences and backgrounds," said David Flink, CEO and founder of Eye to Eye.

Everyone at the gathering identified as having a learning difference. That's many people's preferred term for what they used to call learning disabilities.

James Jackson is a student and mentor at the event.

"I don't have to make any adjustments for anybody because everybody understands," Jackson said. "Everybody here is neurodiverse. No one's going to judge me or ask what's going on or stare at me when I get up because I can't sit still for long enough. Or I go and fidget or you know, walk around."

Flink's mission is to ensure the next generation feels less isolated by building community and a mentoring program.

"As somebody who has dyslexia and ADD, I did not grow up in a culture that was celebratory of that," Flink said. "This is the late 90s."

Alyssa Tundidor oversees 25 mentoring chapters across the U.S.

"We want to make sure that they know it's not something to overcome," Tundidor said. "It's something to embrace. And then also just learning self-advocacy skills. So, learn how to speak up for yourself. Say, 'This is what I need in order to be successful,' because it's one thing to have things be equal, but it's a completely different thing to have education to be equitable."

James says he will be a teacher to make the changes he'd like to see in education.

"I grew up being the outcast," he said. "I grew up getting kicked out of schools, or rather, as they put it, asked to leave just because I was disruptive and they didn't know how to support me."

He says the teachers that stood out were teachers who would pull him aside to talk one-on-one and ask him what he needs to excel.

"And reminded me of the things that I'm good at, that I'm very creative as many of us were learning differences are," James said.

Discovering who their allies are, their rights, and how to self-advocate, everyone at the gathering says it's a relief to be back in person with people who have similar life experiences.

"Being here is just euphoric," James said.