The Neurodiversity Project: A Brave New Idea
Cover Photo By Nick Herasimenka
By Rachel Nichols
Sensitivity, perceptivity, creativity, innovative thinking, empathy. When you think of these qualities, what kind of person comes to mind? Perhaps an artist, an entrepreneur, a healer? What about someone who identifies as ADHD or HSP? Jenara Nerenberg, an international science and psychology reporter and graduate of the Harvard School of Public Health and UC Berkeley, suggests that these qualities are often the beautiful gifts that come with being neurodivergent.
What is “neurodivergent,” you may wonder? According to Jenara, employing the term neurodivergent is a re-framing of mental difference—could be a person who identifies as ADHD, HSP (highly sensitive person), Asperger’s or various other “neurotypes.” The neurodiversity framework is a shift away from the pathology paradigm.
“Many people have a feeling they are somehow ‘different’ but don't have the vocabulary for how exactly,” said Jenara, who is constantly keeping abreast of the latest insights in neuroscience, wellbeing, social justice and public health. “Digging into some of the latest research on how autism and ADHD present in women, for example, some people start to realize that there are labels that actually suit them and that they actually welcome. They begin to finally feel relief and say, ‘This is me.’”
Creating A New Community
Jenara, who is neurodivergent herself, is dedicated to re-framing these mental differences and implementing actionable change to support and celebrate the neurodivergent community. In pursuit of this, she founded The Neurodiversity Project in 2017. The project, which aims to bridge science, community and individual identity, began as a series of community gatherings and has grown into an author series, retreat, and conference. Additionally, Jenara’s work in this emerging field was featured as one of 10 "brave new ideas" at the Aspen Institute's Aspen Ideas Festival.
“We are creating an ecosystem where neurodivergent people are embraced as they are,” Jenara said. “So we not only have gatherings on topics like creativity or relationships, but we also invite best-selling authors to share their latest research and insights within medicine, neuroscience, trauma and psychiatry as well as performers and artists who celebrate human diversity. I love witnessing human beings standing in their truth, engaging in real talk and feeling the healing effects on their nervous systems. The Neurodiversity Project events thus bring all of these various threads together.” Recent events Jenara and The Neurodiversity Project have hosted include evenings with Gabor Mate, Lissa Rankin, Bill Hayes, Rev angel Kyodo williams, and others.
Join the Movement + Upcoming Events
The upcoming retreat, Highly Sensitive and Neurodivergent: Nervous System Healing for All will take place September 6th-9th 2018 at 1440 Multiversity in Northern California and will dive into the intersection of neurodiversity and trauma—exploring neuroscience and practical questions of work and love, and experiencing the healing effects of co-host Irene Lyon’s unique blend of movement-based Somatic Experiencing, Feldenkrais, and Somatic Practice.
“The ecosystem we are building is growing rapidly,” says Jenara, “and I invite people from other parts of the U.S. and abroad to reach out.” For upcoming author nights and to browse events, photos, and videos from The Neurodiversity Project, click here. Or join the Project’s social media communities on Twitter and Facebook.
Currently a reporter for the UC Berkeley Greater Good Science Center, Garrison Institute, Fast Company, Susan Cain’s Quiet Revolution and elsewhere, Jenara is also at work on her first book, chronicling some of the journey and research she’s encountered along the way. You can follow Jenara and the Project on Facebook to get updates on the release date as well as new events.