A message on a different kind of diversity

Diversity is more than just a buzzword. Creating a safe space for our neurodiverse loved ones is more than a hobby.

BY COMMISSIONER STACY BERNAL
Ogden Diversity Commission, Mom, and Ogden City Resident

Oftentimes, the word ‘diversity’ immediately brings to mind topics like race or gender. In reality, diversity is a much broader spectrum, encompassing identities that include disability and neurodiversity. Coined in 1998 by sociologist Judy Singer, “Neurodiversity refers to variation in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood, and other mental functions. It emerged as a challenge to prevailing views that certain neurodevelopmental disorders are inherently pathological and, instead, adopts the social model of disability, in which societal barriers are the main contributing factor that disables people.” (Wikipedia)

Put simply: Neurodiversity is the beacon term for “weirdos of the world to unite”. Now, before you start calling Ogden City to complain about my use of the term ‘weirdo,’ hear me out.

My son, Haiden, received his Autism Spectrum Disorder diagnosis when he was almost four years old. At the time, he attended a pre-school full of neurotypical (aka “normal”) kids, where his disinterest in socializing set him apart from them. He was quite content sitting alone in the corner of the playground, which is where he was one day when I went to pick him up. As I made my way past the jungle gym, a little boy blurted out to me, “Are you his mom?”

“Yes,” I replied.

“He’s weird,” the boy said matter-of-factly.

Tears stung my eyes, and I looked at Haiden to see if he had heard. If he had, he made no indication of it. In that moment, I had a realization: this would not be the last time someone referred to him as weird. And it would be impossible for me to be with him every waking moment of his life and to shield him from the name-calling. So, I started using the word as a term of endearment.

“Haiden, you’re my little weirdo,” I’d coo in his ear as I tucked him in bed at night. After saying or doing something amazingly quirky I’d tell him, “You are the coolest weirdo. I love it.” And even today, nearly 12 years after that fateful day on the playground, one of our family’s daily mantras is: “Keep it weird, Haiden.”

In the early spring of 2018, I saw that in different cities throughout Utah, there were “Autism Awareness” walks planned for April 2nd, but none scheduled in Ogden. With less than five days of planning, I jumped into action and created a small event that drew about 20 people to the corner of 25th and Washington, where we held signs and walked around the block in the blustery cold.

The following year, we held “Awesome Autistic Ogden” at WSU, hosting 14 vendors and more than 300 attendees. The 2020 event had to be canceled due to the pandemic, and plans for 2021 include giveaways and a media blitz on the AAO Facebook page. Stay tuned for details.

Over the years, my desire to protect my son from meanness has multiplied by a sense of urgency that I need to keep him safe from physical harm. According to a 2015 study by the Ruderman Foundation, “Disabled individuals make up a third to half of all people killed by law enforcement officers.” In September, a 13-year-old autistic Utah boy made national news when he was shot 11 times by an officer. Eleven.

Diversity is more than just a buzzword. Creating a safe space for our neurodiverse loved ones is more than a hobby. It’s a matter of life and death. Change happens within our community, and we have the power to impact that change. It starts with me and you. Keep it weird, Ogden. Keep it weird.

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