Fear and Informal Groups

Informal groups exist in student bodies from preschool to graduate education. Beginning at the earliest stages of education, students separate themselves into semi-fluid social groups that create simultaneous opportunities for inclusion and exclusion (Lareau and Horvat 1999; Milner 2013). These opportunities have often favored students without neurological differences given that they depend on young people’s ability to quickly assimilate social norms and exclude others (Lareau and Horvat 1999; Arum and Roksa 2010). Even when a student with a neurological difference or neurodivergent student quickly assimilates social information, variations from typical forms of nonverbal expression and affect can have significant impact on opportunities for socialization and subsequent inclusion in formal education including college and university campuses (Donvan and Zucker 2016). These barriers create scenarios where individuals expressing neurodiversity are isolated and made to feel less welcome in a significant portion of the higher education experience.

Consequences of exclusion from the benefits of participation in informal groups pervade higher education. Peers shape development ofany kind, especially in processes intended to be transformative (Hay and Ashman 2003). Key habits including study time, sleeping habits, alcohol and drug consumption, engagement in campus activities, and persistence in activities related to the search for employment all correlate with the intensity of similar habits found across the individual’s peer group (Hay and Ashman 2003). Under many circumstances, peers also provide important emotional support (and release) for students during times during which an academic term becomes stressful.

Requiring formal identification of disability and frequent obviousness of accommodation sets disability apart from other forms of difference. Many differences people embody and experience have few implications. For example, in most contemporary settings, asking people to identify their natural hair color or even dominant hand is of little consequence with limited ethical implications. However, psychological research into othering has demonstrated how quickly human beings identify in sameness and similarity (Gazzaniga 2010). Systemic and formal identification of students as different without social context should be handled with caution. Most colleges and universities articulate a level of confidentiality relating to disability identification and accommodation. However, administration of accommodation procedures are difficult to carry out in confidence from the moment the student enters the physical office of disability services to sometimes extremely obvious differential treatment in the classroom. Furthermore, some administrative or classroom policies designed to improve the learning of the student body as a whole can turn an uncomfortable spotlight on accommodations. For example, professors who ban the use of laptops in their classes because they fear web-based distraction to all but students with accommodations are creating a very observable distinction between students. While in a healthy campus climate of neurodiversity, the difference can be assumed less relevant since disability accommodations are fully disconnected from shame or other- ing, in less evolved circumstances, implications of such singling out in the classroom can carry forward to a broad basis of peer interactions. All individuals on college and university campuses require ongoing indoctrination in the management of privacy and disability and the dynamics of personal characteristics and identity formation upon entry into higher education so that inclusionary informal group practices become the expected norm.

Promotion of neurodiversity on university and college campuses is an initial step toward reducing the stigma associated with neurodivergent responses and integration within society overall. Higher education is designed to be an opportunity to socialize and establish lasting connections to the lasting benefit of all participants. That opportunity is lost if neurodiverse are not allowed to participate in these informal social groups. However, the active integration of these populations is not a simple proposition because of the design of higher education itself. The overall number of paths through higher education is prohibitive itself, but there are opportunities in general education requirements to promote awareness and initiate situations for overcoming socialized perceptions to experience genuine interactions with individuals who are neurodiverse. Furthermore, promoting a culture of resistance to disability based inclusion in the student body pays dividends over time through increased tendency to consider neurodiversity more typical than exclusion of disability.

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