Raising Awareness of Neurodoversity at UMD

A Featured Article by UMD Student Zachary Tumlin

Hello, my name is Zachary Tumlin and I am a graduate student in the Master of Library and Information Science program at the University of Maryland College Park. In the College of Information Studies (iSchool), we examine people and information, like how can we best serve people’s information needs and how do people interact with information? Recent historical events, like Brexit and the 2016 U.S. Presidential election, have shown the public the importance of information (and thus the study of it) to the health and wellbeing of government and society.

    My background is in music education and after graduation I hope to become a music librarian or archivist, like we have on campus in the Michelle Smith Performing Arts Library in the Clarice Smith Performing Arts Center. I am also interested in expanding my mentorship and consulting work as an Autistic self-advocate, which is why I was asked if I would be interested in writing this article.

    This career change and self-advocacy work are recent developments for me because I was not diagnosed until shortly before my 28th birthday after resigning from a toxic job that featured trauma (including sexual harassment) more frequently over time. I had suspected that I was Autistic based on what I knew about Autism, but I did not seek out an official diagnosis until after that terrible experience because I wanted access to any protections or services that I could qualify for under law. Disability requires “proof of purchase” much more often than other kinds of diversity.

    This is especially true for those of us who are neurodivergent—who have minds that function in ways “that diverge significantly from the dominant societal standards of normal.” This includes people with neurodevelopmental conditions (Autism; ADHD), neurological conditions (Tourette’s; epilepsy), learning impairments (dyslexia; dysgraphia; dyscalculia), and neurological mental health conditions (OCD; bipolar; chronic anxiety/depression). The rest of society (made up of neurotypicals) has historically responded to neurodivergence negatively. These reactions have included misunderstanding, prejudice, discrimination, oppression, and even outright murder by parents or other caregivers who see themselves as doing the neurodivergent person a favor by relieving them of their “suffering.”

    One of my main goals is to raise awareness of neurodiversity and to make sure that it is included in conversations about diversity, which too often leave out disability to begin with. This is important in a university setting, which can be exclusionary to start with due to institutionalized discrimination and systematic oppression. A lack of students with disabilities means that the university can continue to ignore their needs, which perpetuates the cycle. Add on how disability pride is more difficult to achieve than other types of pride (for reasons like having an impairment means having a deficit) and you have a formula for campuses that are easily devoid of people with disabilities because they are not welcoming and supportive.

    I want neurodivergent people to realize that they are neurodivergent and that there is a whole movement out there for them if they want to join. For too long, we have been kept (and kept ourselves) in silos separated from one another, and for those of us without a physical or intellectual impairment these silos have felt like they exist somewhere between disability and normalcy. You have an impairment, that is okay, and our ableist society has done things to dis-enable you. Everyone should strive to be their best self and reach their maximum potential, but for us that also means also changing the system so that we are allowed to be ourselves and having our potential recognized and encouraged.

Zachary Tumlin is a graduate student in information studies at UMD and an Autistic self-advocate. He is originally from West Virginia and enjoys the performing arts, video games, reading, watching movies/television, and running. He is interested in disability studies (neurodiversity in particular) and is an affiliate of the UMD Autism Research Consortium. To learn more about the support group Zachary runs, check out the Autistic Self-Advocacy & Support Group flyer.