Embracing Neurodiversity

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Vivian Myers

Families gather at the Beachwood Neurodiversity Family Network’s Ice Cream Social Event on Sunday Sept. 18. The event was open to the public for families to enjoy free ice cream while connecting and learning about local neurodiversity resources.

The Beachwood Neurodiversity Family Network was founded in Aug. 2021 by Yin Mei Lim, who is currently serving as the group’s president. 

The purpose of this group, as written in their mission statement, is to “connect, support, and work towards full inclusion of families with [Beachwood] students who are neurodiverse, disabled and/or require adaptive education.” 

The term neurodiversity can be interpreted in different ways. 

Melina Aguinaga Meza is vice president of the Neurodiversity Family Network and mother of an autistic 7th grader at BMS and a student at Ruffing Montessori. 

Meza believes that neurodiversity applies to everyone.

“[Neurodiversity describes] diversity and differences within the neurological development of any human being,” Meza says.

Chanté Thomas is mother to a 7th grader at BMS and a Hilltop student who is autistic with ADHD.  

As a member of the neurodiversity network, Thomas explained that neurodiversity describes a wide range of human differences. 

“Everyone has [their differences],” she said. “Some of our [differences] might be more obvious than others [yet what’s really important is] if we can just get to know each other and not be afraid of those differences.” 

This group not only advocates for neurodiverse students who attend school in Beachwood, but also serves as a safe space for all parents who may feel overwhelmed and stressed.

“It’s really hard at the beginning, to be the mom [of someone who is neurodiverse],” Thomas said. 

When you see someone who looks isolated, just seek to get to know them, seek to understand.”

— Neurodiversity Family Network Member Chanté Thomas

Prior to 2021, Beachwood did not have a group dedicated to supporting the accommodation of families whose children require special education services. The group aims mainly to advocate, support, and include all people from neurodiverse backgrounds. 

“I feel like our community is in the dark. We’re isolated, nobody knows who we are,” president Yin Mei Lim said. That’s why awareness is key for this group. 

“We have to educate,” Thomas said. 

Teaching Beachwood citizens what it means to be neurodiverse is a massive step in working towards full inclusion and awareness. 

Meza is pleased with the Beachwood school district’s support for neurodiverse students. The school district provides numerous accommodation services such as the Deaf/Hard-Of-Hearing program, the Special Education program, and much more. 

Melina Aguinaga Meza and her two sons recently moved to Beachwood after several unsuccessful attempts to find a suitable school. In contrast to her previous experiences, she is thankful for her son’s progress last year at Beachwood. 

“Beachwood was amazing,” Meza said. “It’s welcoming, knowledgeable, and my son is learning things he wasn’t learning before. My son is so much more confident than he was before. And my family is happier because of that.” 

But members of the group feel that there is still room for improvement. When neurodiverse students seek to get involved, they frequently hit barriers. 

“All the other stuff that typically-developed kids have, we don’t have,” Meza said. “I feel like that’s an area where we can work harder.” 

Many after-school programs like sports, clubs, and other extracurricular activities do not fully support the incorporation of neurodiverse students.

Inclusion for the Neurodiversity family network doesn’t require Beachwood citizens to go to great lengths. 

“It’s just as much as saying hi, you know, or learning their names,” Meza says. “Just being kind is enough.” 

“When you see someone who looks isolated, just seek to get to know them, seek to understand,” Thomas said.

The Neurodiversity Family Network is pursuing a goal of inclusion by connecting the community and working to educate citizens to better understand anyone who is neurodiverse.

“We are one community,” Meza said, “We can only be stronger here together.”

For dyslexia awareness month, the Beachwood Neurodiversity Family Network will be screening the movie, Confetti, on October 23, 2022 from 2-5pm in the High School Auditorium. The group will also be hosting an IEP workshop in november. For more details on future events, please refer to the official webpage.

Contact Information:

Neurodiversity Family Network Website:https://www.beachwoodschools.org/Neurodiversity.aspx

Email: [email protected]