Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, and other forms of neurodiversity are often depicted in light of research based on white, straight, and male participants. This results in a biased understanding of the diagnosis and experiences of neurodiversity in people of color, females, and individuals who are LGBTQ+. Misdiagnosed children miss out on opportunities for early intervention and effective services and may be mistakenly placed in “behavioral” tracks in school, which exacerbates their struggles. The lack of awareness about “non-stereotypical” neurodiversity can also manifest in oppression and microaggressions. In this panel, participants will hear personal narratives from a diverse group of social work students and professionals who are themselves neurodivergent or have neurodivergent children. Panelists will share about their journeys and challenges in navigating public school, post-secondary education, employment, relationships, and accessing support and services on account of the non-inclusive understanding of neurodiversity.
Caroline Garrett, BA, BSW, RBT, is a graduate of Meredith College in Raleigh, NC and a class of 2020 Advanced Standing student at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work. Caroline was diagnosed with autism in 2017 and identifies as autistic. They have four years of experience working with preschool-aged children who have autism through the Meredith Autism Program and have also completed internships at the Autism Society of North Carolina and NC START. They are a 2017 graduate of the Autistic Self Advocacy Network’s Autism Campus Inclusion initiative and were involved in several advocacy efforts as an undergraduate student, including student panels, awareness-raising, and membership on Meredith College’s Disability Council. Caroline is excited to continue their advocacy efforts with the neurodiversity caucus of the UNC School of Social Work. Caroline is passionate about research and advocacy for people with disabilities, especially I/DD and ASD. Their past research projects center on autism and mental health, and their current research interests focus on the intersections of autism and gender identity. Caroline hopes to continue working with the disability community after graduation through a combination of policy analysis, legislative lobbying, advocacy, research, and direct practice.
Nat Hollister, BS, graduated with their degree in neuroscience from Duke University in 2018. They are pursuing a career in neuroscience research with human subjects, with strong interests in attention and consciousness mechanisms. Nat was diagnosed with ASD in early 2019, after receiving a series of misdiagnoses throughout their life, and identifies as autistic. Nat serves as a co-chair of the neurodiversity caucus within the UNC School of Social Work and they briefly worked as a support professional at The Arc of the Triangle in Chapel Hill. Nat does not particularly intend on pursuing a career in studying neurodivergence, but they are slowly forming their own identity in the neurodivergence community and regularly put their scientific mind to good use to self-advocate and support others.
Molly Marus, BA, is a North Carolina native and a 2015 graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and a class of 2020 MSW student at the UNC Chapel Hill School of Social Work, in the Triangle Distance Education program. Over the past four years, she worked for UNC’s Frank Porter Graham Child Development Institute as a research assistant on a study on teaching self-regulation skills to early elementary school students with self-regulation difficulties. She has passionately pursued learning opportunities surrounding supporting neurodivergent individuals over the past ten years, since receiving her own diagnosis of ADHD in high school. She is currently serving as a co-chair of the neurodiversity caucus within the UNC School of Social Work, and she enjoys spending time with her partner, who also has ADHD, and their two dogs. Molly has an interest in working with individuals with ASD/ADHD in the future and plans to specialize her career towards working with individuals with non-stereotypical presentations of neurodiversity.
Sherry Mergner, MSW, LCSW, is a Clinical Assistant Professor and the AHEC Liaison at UNC-CH, School of Social Work, where she has been coordinating continuing education programs for mental health, substance abuse and developmental disability professionals since 1996. For the past five years, she has served as clinical social work faculty for the Leadership Education in Neurodevelopmental Disorders (LEND) grant at the Carolina Institute for Developmental Disabilities, where she recruits social workers for this specialized training in Developmental Disabilities. Sherry also provides clinical services to individuals families at the CIDD as well as being the facilitator for a modified DBT group called Chill Skills. Her passion is working with individuals who have social cognitive challenges. Sherry completed Michelle Garcia Winner’s Advanced Clinical Training in San Jose, California in March 2016. From 2010-13, Sherry served as the Project Coordinator for an Autism Masters Training Grant through UNC-CH, School of Medicine, Department of Allied Health Services. The purpose of this training grant was to educate occupational therapy, speech, and language pathology master-level students on Autism Spectrum Disorders. Sherry received her MSW from Florida State University in 1987 and has worked in a variety of clinical and educational settings for the past 32 years. She is the proud mother of Noah, 20 years old with High Functioning Autism and Nathan, 18 years old who is typically developing. Sherry has served as a Mother’s Mentor for UNC-CH, TEACCH and was on the board of the Orange/Chatham Chapter of the Autism Society of NC from 2005-2007. She is very active in her community and within her children’s school promoting autism awareness and education.
Danyale Sturdivant, MSSW, LCSW is originally from Schenectady, NY. She is a graduate of Russell Sage College and Columbia University and holds a master’s degree in advanced clinical social work. She is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the State of North Carolina. Ms. Sturdivant has worked in the mental health field for over 15 years in various settings in the public sector. She currently works as a Utilization Care Manager at a local Managed Care Organization where she authorizes mental health and IDD service requests. She also a UNC-CH, School of Social Work Training AHEC Partnership consultant. Ms. Sturdivant has an interest in how ASD/IDD is perceived in communities of color as well as closing the gap between children of color and their counterparts with early detection, treatment and wrap around services. She is the proud parent of an 8-year-old son named Joshua who with ASD, ADHD and anxiety. She enjoys spending quality time with her son and family, reading, fishing and cooking. Most recently, Ms. Sturdivant had the opportunity to speak on a panel for Meeting FACES where she discussed her life as parent of a child of color with ASD. Ms. Sturdivant will soon be creating a website blog entitled “Living Autism Out Loud” where she will feature stories and information about her son and family and how Autism has changed the trajectory of their lives.
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