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UM program raising awareness of “neurodiversity” in Missoula

Posted at 9:04 AM, May 10, 2021
and last updated 2021-05-10 11:05:55-04

MISSOULA — May is Better Hearing and Speech Month, the ideal time for students at the University of Montana to spread awareness about neuro-diversity -- that our brain differences are normal.

"The demands of college are way different than the demands of high school, so it can be a pretty steep learning curve,” said UM clinical educator Jennifer Schoffer Closson who heads the MOSSAIC Program for autistic students.

"The demands of college are way different than the demands of high school, so it can be a pretty steep learning curve,” Schoffer Closson added.

The Mentoring, Organization, and Social Support for Autism/All Inclusion on Campus program just landed a grant to help educate the public on neurodiversity.

“Where it might not be as visible, it still impacts their participation and movement through this world," Schoffer Closson said -- and that's where the Gold Bag Seminar comes in.

"We figured this was a good way to introduce them to what it is and kind of bring awareness to terms and individuals that they might have encountered before, but might not have known that they were different or how they were different,” MOSSAIC Program Student Director Amanda Cox told MTN News.

On top of information, the bags students pass out are filled with items some neurodiverse people might use as tools, “a lot of neurodiverse individuals do have a sensitivity or need for more or less stimulus in their life."

"Sometimes people engage in crunchy foods, maybe to help them pay attention in class, or chewy foods to help them calm, or little fidget items to help them stay engaged in particularly taxing learning situations,” Schoffer Closson said.

Meanwhile, a group of community members have been taking part, including Michael Crews who says Integrated TherapyWorks heard about the project and wanted to get involved, “and we jumped on it because we just are very passionate."

Some participants say they wanted to get involved, hoping the educational tools will make people more empathetic.