The end of a calendar year seems to bring about reflection of the preceding year’s events and hope for what can be accomplished in the coming year. As an organization, the Foundations for Divergent Minds (FDM) team is utilizing this time to make plans for projects, programs and changes for 2022 that we’re thrilled to share with you, our community. Before we do so, we want to quickly revisit 2021 and highlight several triumphs, disappointments, and lessons learned.
Year Review: 2021
Learning on Demand!
The start of the year also marked a change in how we offer our courses. In the past, we had offered them three times a year utilizing a hybrid model with some parts at your own pace, but there were specific synchronous meeting times required for participating in discussions. This year, however, we made the same videos available with the discussion questions on demand. This allowed people to sign up when they were able, still purchase with a payment plan, and be granted scholarships when in need.
As a result of this flexible, asynchronous format, 13 caregivers and 11 autism professionals were able to take the courses in 2021 despite the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic. Of course, we know that the impact is far great than the number of individuals enrolled; each enrollee represents more clients being supported and more people mentoring others using the FDM framework.
Decoding Disability Discrimination
This fall, in partnership with the National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) and the Johns Hopkins’ Disability Health Research Center, we hosted a “Decoding Discrimination” roundtable, the first of a multi-part series of activities designed to identify discriminatory phrases that have circulated throughout the pandemic that disenfranchise people with disabilities, particularly people of color with intellectual/developmental disabilities. The interactive discussion amplified the perspectives for ~70 self-advocates, healthcare representatives and civil/disability rights attorneys from various regions of North American and some individuals from other countries as well.
FDM: Safety and Crisis Action
Expanding Our Commitment to Equity and Justice
After the backlash in April to Next for Autism as well as with discussions around BIPOC representation in the Autistic community, and on the heels of our grant work with the National Disability Rights Network, we made an ambitious plan to serve a wider portion of the Neurodivergent community.
While we did not receive competitive funding we’d sought from several organizations to fund these endeavors, we know with the work we’ve laid, and the projects we want to begin, that we will be able to serve our community better than ever before.
Celebrating FDM’s new home!
January 2021 was an exciting month as we were able to move into an office space giving us a business address. This is significant because many systems require a business address in order to use their services. For everything from Facebook to creating internship listings at local universities, you must have a physical location with a business address. Although we will continue our engagement with communities across the globe via virtual means and through collaborative initiatives, establishing a physical office space legitimized us in ways not really visible to the public.
Demanding Our Roses
This year also brought the unfortunate circumstance of plagiarism of our framework by an autistic SLP, Rachel Dorsey. The feedback we’ve continued to get from therapists, educators and parents is that it completely changed the way they think about autism, and we truly appreciate that we can be life-changing. We also appreciate the frank admission of how she came to the point of unintentionally plagiarizing our work in her course through Learn Play Thrive. It is difficult work to analyze the ways you may be part of a system of oppression, and we were happy to support that growth. It is our expectation going forward that that admission be embedded in all the work Rachel does by specifically naming the FDM framework as the neurodiversity framework she is using. This is the only ethical way forward to ensure equity.
Informing the Informed
We also were contacted by a learning website to do a day long training with their employees. This training marked the first of two opportunities in 2021 to education on Neurodiversity using peer reviewed research. As long time activists, we understand the importance of informing those who provide education to others. Our training reflects that by meeting each group where they’re at and tailoring our presentations to meet their needs.
We were honored to lead the fifth annual Autistics Present Symposium, whose theme was “Foundations for Divergent Minds: Research and Best Practices” this year. A renowned, national conference sponsored by the Neurodiversity Navigators Program at Bellevue College and the Community Outreach Division of Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network with 100% Autistic presenters, our team led the keynote and breakout sessions, which can be viewed on the 2021 Autistics Present Symposium page (along with transcripts and handouts).
Future Plans: 2022
Join the Movement
Through the events with Learn Play Thrive in 2021, we were forced to see that we are doing a disservice to the community. Our framework was always meant to be built on like it was through their course, but we have lacked a mechanism to encourage its use. This will be changing in 2022 as we will begin offering non-exclusive licensing agreements for those using our framework in new and innovative ways. We hope that this will encourage others to take up the mantle of finding more practical applications to help educators and clinicians change their practices to be neurodiversity-affirming.
Increasing Social Inclusion
For the past several months, we have been working closely with a group of clinicians and parents in a small town in Massachusetts to create an inclusive recreational program. In the beginning months of 2022, we will see this pilot program begin. It is built on the FDM framework, including scaffolded support in our five domains and a focus on self-advocacy and co-regulations shills for both neurodivergent and neurotypical peers, and will be hosted at an inclusive, multi-use facility. It has been amazing to see this program come to fruition, and we are excited to see the change in this community.
Providing Better Education
For a number of years, we have spoken of our wish to update our courses to reflect the most up to date research and to better evaluate the learning that takes place. We will be embarking on this process this year. Starting, we will be updating internal and external policies to apply for accreditation to offer continuing education to a variety of educators and clinicians. This process will take several months so that we can use best practices in adult education, eLearning and accessibility. We will continue to offer our existing course in the interim. As we get closer to launch, we will be seeking a few people to take our courses and provide feedback. Anyone who has previously taken an FDM course will be able to access the corresponding updated course at no cost.
Creative Care Collaborations
We are continuing to build our strategic partnerships in order to advocate for more equitable healthcare. Along with Grantmakers in Health and the Disability Philanthropy Forum, in 2022 we will lead Disability Justice: What Funders Can Do to Address Disparities, Equity, and Health, a national call to action focusing on philanthropy, disability, race, and health equity.
Also in 2022, we will host a second virtual session with NDRN and Johns Hopkins’ Disability Health Research Center entitled Decoding Discrimination Resource Reveal. We have developed a plain language resource, using the contributions from our 2021 collaborative Decoding Discrimination Roundtable event, that consists of frequently used discriminatory phrases as well as suggested intervention strategies for self-advocates.
This session will also feature a panel discussion where participants will learn from our collaborators precisely how the resource can serve as a practical tool in support of present and future advocacy efforts. While the initial 2021 roundtable was intentionally designed for a specific number of participants, we are happy to open this one up to a wider number of participants. We’d love to have you attend; please visit the event page for details and to RSVP for this free event!
FDM: Safety and Crisis Action
Keeping Autistic People SAFE
Our Securing Autistic Futures from Endangerment (SAFE) project is a multi-year project to increase the safety of autistic people with regards to domestic violence, intimate partner violence and caregiver abuse. Research has for years shown our vulnerability to abuse, but very little exists to protect autistic people.
This year we will be focusing on identifying red flags for abuse in close relationships, whether with roommates, friends, intimate partners, family or caregivers. This will include surveys to be taken by abuse victims and survivors and a roundtable discussion on the themes we identify.
Finding the GAPS
We are stead fast in our commitment to BIPOC autistics, especially as racial tension in the United States continues to affect people at this intersection at higher rates.
In 2022, we will continue to seek funding to start our Guiding Autistics with Policy and Security (GAPS) project to create accessible, plain language tools for responding to police interactions through harm mitigation strategies. Currently most law enforcement training with regards to autism keeps many at risk for harm or death. We hope to change that.
Marrying Theory with Practice
Our time at Autistics Present Symposium created a drive for us to do something more. A common concern of clinicians and caretakers is a lack of practical tools to embed Neurodiversity in their homes, schools, and clinics. This year, we plan to host our first semi-annual symposium on Neurodiversity in Practice. The past few years have seen an increase in practical application in the autism research community, and we feel it is past time to bring that science forward into public view.
This symposium will features invited speakers at the cutting edge of Neurodiversity research and will be coordinated in partnership with the Rice University Center for the Study of Women, Gender, and Sexuality. We hope all will come away with more ways to practice in Neurodiversity-affirming ways with autistic and other neurodivergent people.
Big Fish; Even Bigger Ocean
As a newer Autistic organization, we inhabit a space that’s unique due to our individual and collective intersections. Our many years of advocacy and activism mean we offer similar expertise to the other well-known Autistic organizations.
We will be talking live with New Jersey Autism Center for Excellence in April to discuss how we navigate this space, what it has meant as we attempt to grow, and how we use what we can get to meet the needs of our community and the next generation of autistics.
As we cross into 2022, we want to express our sincere appreciation for the continued support you have given us not only this year, but throughout the years in various ways including: resource sharing, hosting online birthday fundraisers, Amazon Smile, Giving Tuesday, honoraria, grants, engaging on social media or other means, etc. We see – and are grateful for – you, and in turn, we will cotninue to do our part to labor for equity, access, and fulfilled lives.
In solidarity and love,
Foundations for Divergent Minds