The Neurodiversity Initiative at the College of William & Mary is an innovative program that is raising awareness on our campus of the vast array of brain differences, and cultivating an appreciation of the many kinds of talents we can nurture at our historic institution.
A few other colleges and universities around the country have begun to explore these issues, but none have the stature and the unique traditions of William & Mary, a “Public Ivy.” We have an opportunity, first and foremost, to serve the students on our campus, and also to be a national leader in this area and serve as a model for other liberal arts universities. We know that students with autism, whether labeled with Asperger’s, High Functioning autism, or some other diagnosis, come to college as high-achieving high school students—often with extraordinary intellectual gifts. The kinds of contributions that such people can make and have already made to our society are incredible. The ability of the autistic brain to focus intently on an area of expertise has made world experts of autistic people in areas ranging from computing to surfing. On our own campus, and on other campuses, though, autism can make both the freedom of academic and social life intimidating at best and overwhelming at worst. We can do a lot to help remediate these difficulties.
The Neurodiversity Initiative seeks to serve our campus community and be a model for other campuses with regard to how to engage this issue and support these students. William & Mary’s approach, which emphasizes maximizing current resources, is already gaining national attention.
After the Initiative’s exciting launch on April 17, 2012 with John Elder Robison’s energizing visit to campus, plans for the next academic year include bringing expert consultants to campus to help promote training in key areas of student life, such as residence halls and peer mentoring, and bringing researchers from places such as the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to campus to talk about neuroscientific research. In Spring 2013, the Initiative will host a panel of experts from the College, the community, and across the country to talk about autism in highly intelligent and motivated young adults.
The Neurodiversity Initiative will continue to reach across campus, into faculty research, student life and organizations, and academic support. It also brings William & Mary into closer and crucial contact with the local and regional community of autism advocates. We are strongest, we know, when we connect with our communities. Many alumni and friends of the College have already expressed their support for this project.