Supporting Neurodiversity in Public School Systems: A Conversation with Kristen Haynor, Neurodiversity Specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools

May 12, 2023 Jessica Kidwell and Kristen Haynor Season 2 Episode 5
Supporting Neurodiversity in Public School Systems: A Conversation with Kristen Haynor, Neurodiversity Specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools
Show Notes Transcript

The public school system in the United States has historically been built to support the success of one type of student: a typically developing student with average intellectual ability.   And, unfortunately, any student who falls outside of this type has a much harder time thriving in a system that is not built for them.  Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia, one of the largest school systems in the US, is trying to expand the success of more of their students by being one of the first systems in the country to create a neurodiversity specialist.

Join Jessica Kidwell as she talks with Kristen Haynor, Neurodiversity Specialist for Fairfax County Public Schools, about this new position and how she is trying to change the culture of this school system in hopes to create a system that truly celebrates all types of students. 

Key Moments:

[00:00:18] Neurodiversity in Public Schools.

[00:08:36] Neurodivergent students and equity.

[00:17:32] Understanding neurodivergent behaviors.

[00:21:56] Supporting neurodiversity in education.

About Kristen Haynor:
Kristen Haynor is the Neurodiversity Specialist for Fairfax County Pubic Schools in the state of Virginia, which is one of the largest public school systems in the United States.  Kristen, who is neurodivergent herself, is a graduate of the FCPS school system.  After graduating from Madison High School, Kristen received a bachelors degree in Biology from the University of Mary Washington, her Master’s degree in Special Education from George Mason University, and is currently pursuing her PhD in International Education. 

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Swell AI Transcript: Kristen Ep Master .mp3

Jessica Kidwell I'm Jessica Kidwell and this is Neuroversity, a space to expand our understanding and knowledge about neurodiversity and to elevate neurodivergent voices and experiences. Located in Northern Virginia just outside Washington DC, Fairfax County Public Schools is one of the largest school divisions in the US with 198 schools and centers and serves a diverse student population of more than 181,000 students in grades pre-k through 12. And in the 2022-2023 school year, Fairfax County Public Schools became what we think is the first county in the United States to hire a neurodiversity specialist in a K through 12 public school setting dedicated to advocating for their neurodiverse students. The creation of this position was a recognition by FCPS that the needs of neurodivergent students have been historically overlooked in US public education. And who was chosen for this innovative and believed to be first of its kind in the US position? My guest today, Kristen Haynor. So curious minds, let's get started. Kristen Haynor, who is neurodivergent herself, is a graduate of the Fairfax County Public School system. After graduating from Madison High School, Kristen received a bachelor's degree in biology from the University of Mary Washington. Her master's degree in special education from George Mason University and is currently pursuing her PhD in international education. Kristen, welcome and thank you so much for being with me today. I appreciate you having me and for having this conversation on your amazing platform. Well, I guess it's a mutual admiration society we have going on today. So I want to start off a little bit about this position in and of itself. Can you tell me officially what the position is and where it falls within the organizational structure of this big giant school system?

Kristen Haynor It's a great question. And I'm going to try to take you through it a little bit visually to help understand better understand where this position sits. So within Fairfax County, we have the chief equity office and within that chief equity office, we have the Office of Professional Learning and Equity and I have the privilege of being on the equity and cultural responsiveness team, which is in the equity office with other ECR specialists. We have an amazing resource teacher. So there's a team of about, I should know this offhand, there's probably eight of us. I'm the neurodiversity specialist on that team. The function of the role I think looks truly different every single day. And that is the blessing and the curse almost of creating this new position in such a large school district where the main function of role really is to address mindsets around what is inclusion? What are people's abilities? What assumptions and biases do we have around neurodivergence or labeling? And to really help to create a true inclusive culture and one that's not performative to say that we have check created access, but how we really created access in a way that allows individuals to show up as their full selves and reach their potential while removing those barriers. And are sometimes we ourselves those barriers? So a lot of the work really relates to going into schools or offices or our amazing parent resource center and having facilitating conversations around what are our current practices? Are they really representative of the neurodiversity of our district? And how can we put these, whether they're design practices for universal access, or whether we're looking at, are these really equitable policies? How are we putting that in the forefront of our planning processes so that we're not constantly retroactively realizing those that we've marginalized or those who have not had not only a seat at the table, but also to be able to be represented at that table for access? So it looks different every day. Um, and with that being said, I also think that I'm able to do this job, not despite my neurodivergence, but because of it, which was a really kind of beautiful surprise. But that's, I guess that's a really long winded answer of my role is really to change the mindsets, attitudes and beliefs that people have around what neurodivergence is, what disability is, how disability shows up in our education system and in society at large, and how might we be limiting individuals' potentials by making assumptions about what they're capable of and not presuming competence.

Jessica Kidwell Like you said, the blessing and the curse of a brand new position is literally the world is your oyster as far as determining what the scope is. I find it fascinating that this particular role is currently set up through the equity arm of the county as opposed to being part of curriculum or the operational section. Can we talk a little bit about how equity plays such an important role in what you do and how you feel personally about the importance of neurodivergent students being considered part of the equity office and, and how that differs perhaps from looking at neurodivergence as a learning disability or a special education situation?

Kristen Haynor I think putting this position in the equity office was possibly the most brilliant part about this design. And the reason for that is that equity, equity is at the forefront of everything that Fairfax County Public Schools does. And that is the mission and the charge of the school district, that it is always centered and that it is always leading the conversations, the design, the structures. And so the brilliance of having this position in the equity office is that if, if equity is leading all that we do, I'm not siloed in any department or space that this role truly can support, whether it is curriculum design and collaborating with those individuals or whether it is critically reflecting and assessing on our special education practices and services, that this function of this role is truly to support transforming those practices. And I'm sorry, I often get so into my own head about what I'm thinking about.

Jessica Kidwell It's okay. I realized after I asked that question that I need to be careful because asking a person with attention differences than mine a multi-part question isn't exactly neurodiverse affirming behavior. So I need to make sure that I am recognizing the person in which I am speaking to. So no worries at all. I mean, you answered my question in that the way that equity kind of leads this position, which I didn't realize until the first time you and I talked. And I was really curious about the organizational structure and how the active choice was made to put it within the equity umbrella as opposed to more of the curriculum building, which I love that you say, I love that you said that curriculum can be very much a part of what you do, but the lead function is to have neurodivergent students within and recognized as part of the equity seats at the table.

Kristen Haynor  I often use the flower analogy to really capture the nature of my work and that we as a public school system have created this garden space and that garden space was created for one flower to truly survive and thrive. We've created another in that system where other flowers can survive and others really even struggle to sprout. And so if we are able to identify that and not see that it's the flower who doesn't know how to grow, but rather how can we provide that flower with environmental changes with that, you know, that soil or that fertilizer or that sunlight, not only as shifting their environment, but just providing and intentionally giving and building those skills for that flower to thrive. That is the future that we are aiming for, where we have this garden representative of so many different flowers with so many different functions that are necessary for that garden to thrive. It's really getting at if our goal as a school system is to set up our students to really lead innovation and careers tomorrow that don't yet exist, do our systems and structures reflect that?

Jessica Kidwell That flower analogy is fantastic. I love a good analogy in general, but the way that you just described that, like I just am able to picture it so perfectly. And I think that that's something I certainly will take with me and I hope others do. I think that it is well overdue for the concept of what intellectual ability looks like and how intellectual ability or exceptionality is identified. I know that many, many neurodivergent individuals because of the nature in which their brain is differently wired have a hard time showing their exceptional abilities in the construct of standardized testing or what a current school system or department of education is determining as minimum or baseline levels of understanding. I think the concept of twice exceptional and as it's known in the biz to E is so overdue and so closely aligned with what your mission is, which is a cultural shift. A cultural shift.

Kristen Haynor Exactly. And to help equip our school system and identifying, affirming and understanding how that might manifest for that individual. I think often we don't yet know our students strengths unless we really have that relationship and that that can be communicated. But so often there are due to the structure of, as you said, those standards and those pacing guides, there might not be built in opportunities for exposure or for students to showcase that strength. So it's really dependent on that teacher or that support staff to nurture that strength and leverage it to help offset the challenges. But oftentimes it's really difficult to recognize unless you really know what you're looking for.

Jessica Kidwell And I see it so intertwined with the equity standpoint because as you and I both know with the work that we do and the knowledge that we have, equity and race and gender all play a huge role in identifying neurodivergent individuals from the get go and that many Black and Brown students are not even seen as falling into that twice category because of a lack of understanding of how neurodivergent behaviors can manifest in different individuals. And so a behavior problem can actually be more of a focus or attention issue as opposed to some kind of oppositional defiant disorder or some other problematic definition that is placed upon these students. So I love the equity arm of what you do so that the understanding of neurodivergent is spread across the spectrum as opposed to just what most people think neurodivergent individuals look like.

Kristen Haynor Yes. Wow, that was beautifully said. And one of my favorite quotes that I feel really captures that is that we see others as we are, not as they are. And that's where a lot of the harm comes because we make assumptions about, let's say to that behavior example, we make assumptions. Often individuals make assumptions rooted in their own experiences and their own context and not really looking at that behavior for what is serving or what is the function for that individual, what are they communicating and how is my response grounded in their support, not my perception of what is taking place. And that really causes us to be positioned as the detective and not the judge. So quick, we make those decisions about what we think or what we perceive somebody else is experiencing, especially as it relates to behavior and whether that's because we haven't created the conditions that allows for individuals to have this think space, which really goes back to part of my mission is creating this as part of our wiring, that it's something that we start to do automatically when we see a behavior to not take it at face value, but to ask ourselves that why, what is occurring? Why is it occurring? Therefore, then asking how might my response be grounded in their support rather than making those decisions or judgments that often lead to more harm.

Jessica Kidwell You and I live in the world of hopes and dreams and what we see could be possible if only understanding and knowledge was more universally spread. However, in the real operational world of one of the largest counties, public school counties in the United States, resources are limited, staffing is problematic, and it has to be hard to convince from your point of view the frontline instructional assistants and teachers that of all of the things we ask them to juggle and be social workers, therapists, teachers, so many things that we expect of our teachers. How does this detective work of understanding neurodivergent behaviors and individuals learning styles become front and center for that frontline  provider that the students interface with the most?

Kristen HaynorThat's a great question. I'm really glad that you named the constant number of roles that our teachers, our support staff all have to take on every single day. I think unless you've been been a teacher or you have a loved one who is or has been a teacher, it's really difficult to understand every single day not only trying to create academic outcomes for your students but also supporting their emotional, mental health, their social skills. They're all encompassing in trying to prepare these young adults to really enter the world and make it better. I think that is such a huge charge for our teachers and it's not always recognized to the emotional toll that it takes on these human beings. I say that because the reason that we really need to focus in on transforming our system is because so often efforts start, true efforts to create these more equitable outcomes or to create true social justice movements start from the ground up. To your point, for a district that's so large and all that is already incumbent on, as you call them, our frontline staff members to do, how is that really sustainable and how is that really going to get to the outcomes that we need to see? Because I would love to see them in my lifetime. I think it really is having these conversations from the top down, from incorporating them into our current practices and going back to why it's so powerful that my position is in the Equity Office is because I'm able to collaborate with all of those other offices. Because as you and I know, this is so much bigger than one person and this work has already been done, so I have the privilege of coming in and picking up the baton. Realistically, how are we an octopus? How are we extending our tentacles into other spaces so that those spaces are starting to integrate them into those practices and building capacity there so that it further spreads and our practices truly transform? I think it really comes down to, as a system, how are we committing to these mindsets and these practices? How are we incorporating them into our design from the forefront? How are we including it in our language and our conversations? Because so often, I think neurodivergence is siloed into special services, which siloing special services alone is problematic. And we don't see how within a public school system, there's a continuum of services. And so how can we use this language and this conversation in our everyday conversations, putting it in the forefront, in the mainstream? How are we being culturally responsive? How are we being trauma informed? How are we supporting social emotional needs? And how are we supporting the neurodivergence and the neurodiversity of thinking that is in every single space that we enter? And so I think there's a lot of components there. And I don't, my fear is that the brunt of this work being placed on our teachers and our schools, they can't do it alone. And we have to give grace and understanding that some of these concepts and these mindsets have not yet been learned. I haven't yet found a program of studies that in terms of pre-service that really integrates these mindsets that why behind, let's say, specialized instruction, it's oftentimes that a student is not able to thrive because of that educational environment that they've been placed into that wasn't designed for them. And so what is the why behind either that accommodation or that specialized instruction, not because they're not able, but because they need it in a different way?

Jessica Kidwell It can feel, I imagine, overwhelming. And from a parent standpoint, I can only assume that frustration comes up when you have an individual student, your child, who is struggling because at the frontline level, perhaps the providers of his or her education are not understanding who this student really is. And so I imagine there's a bit of an adversarial feeling among parents that a county this size should be doing more, could be doing more, that there's the fact that you are one in a county of 181,000 students could be frustrating. And I want to give that a voice and recognize it. But then from a holistic standpoint, first of all, it's a start and no journey is ever finished until a journey starts. And additionally, if the fundamental culture and mission of a county this size does not fully embrace that neurodivergent affirming construct, that neurodiversity needs to be an understood and focused goal within the school system, if that doesn't come from the top, it might not matter how many frontline staff gets flooded into individual schools if the true culture of the system does not embrace neurodiversity. So it's got to be a frustrating and difficult tightrope to walk to know whether top down or bottom up is the right way to go.

Kristen Haynor I think it can't be under emphasized how important the work that you're doing to change culture will, given time, end up in frontline day to day changes for the student experience. And that patience is a really hard space, I think, for anyone to live in, especially parents when their child is struggling day to day. But I feel hopeful that Fairfax County clearly has made a choice to do the work to try and permanently change the culture. The fact that this position exists, I think, speaks volumes to that commitment for the commitment to being an inclusive district. And to your point, because this position exists, that does not negate all of the experiences that have been had. And it does not settle those fears of those systems and practices still existing. And so how are moving forward, how are they going to be different so that my student's needs are met and their strengths and abilities are recognized, not only recognized, but celebrated? Because a lot of the, culturally, a lot of the language that we use influences not only how others see individuals, but how they see themselves. I think that's part of what keeps me up at night, is thinking about the privilege that I have to some of these stories from parents and families about what their experience has been like for themselves as parents or caregivers, but also as students. And feeling that call and responsibility to address those and lift those up and elevate those perspectives into spaces where those are pieces of data that we are responding to, not always looking at pieces of data that do not reflect the true experience of our individuals. So it is, it's a very, I like the word that you use, tightrope, because on the one hand, it's balancing these really amazing, this amazing vision and role that this county has really progressively integrated. And at the same time, how is this role truly going to respond to those current experiences and the need that is so great? And so I feel really lucky and privileged to be a part of that community. One of the surprising parts of my job that I'm so appreciative of is how many people who don't yet know me, who don't know my being, my nature, my personality, but by the sheer fact of my title have reached out to me in wanting to share and connect so that I can elevate their stories and their experiences in other places. And just the connectedness that I have felt by the support of that community. And it's given me too, confidence to speak to my own neurodivergences and how it is part of who I am. I wouldn't be who I am without them, but to make sure that neurodivergent voices are being elevated so that we also have a more true representation of lived experiences and for our neurotypical community members to take part in that conversation as a two-way conversation to really better understand and normalize neurodivergence just as neurotypicality has been normalized.

Jessica Kidwell So let's personalize this a little bit. I would like to hear the neuro type that you identify with and how it has impacted and benefited you to get to this position in your life. You have a ton of letters after your name with PhD coming soon. What is the story of Kristen Haynor? 

Kristen Haynor What a beautiful question. I actually just had this conversation with my parents yesterday. I was working on a webinar and I asked them, I just wanted to see if their remembrance lined up to how I remembered my experience. I would not have categorized myself as an academically strong student. I really struggled in high school and feel like I made it through because I found my community in student government and leadership and in sports. And so I also came from a family with a lot of access to resources. So if I wasn't being successful in a class, I had the privilege of having a tutor. And so I really was able to make it through. But to be honest, I was not a strong student and I never understood why. And I often would hear that if you just applied yourself or if you just blank. And so I went to undergrad actually to play field hockey because that's where I felt most confident. And I believed I could have success. And then kind of moving around that whole undergrad journey, I knew I loved science because I was so fascinated of the why behind it all, the intricacies, the wiring, the how does it make you who you are. But again, I did not yet have that confidence in my abilities as a student. And I really didn't figure out how to study, how to… I just really didn't understand my own way of operating. And I had a lot of anxieties come into play and depression. And I had a traumatic family experience that all kind of just started to weave its way together. I ended up being a biology major because I thought I was going to be an orthodontist. I thought, what would I do every single day that would bring me joy? And I just got such satisfaction of figuring out how the puzzle of teeth fit together and the different technologies. 

Jessica Kidwell Okay, first of all, I just want to interrupt that there in of itself is a non-typical way of thinking that something that you would want to do day in and day out. In my head, I was like, teeth? Teeth is straightening teeth, is what you would want to do. So I acknowledge and thank goodness, thank goodness there are all sorts of different minds in the world.

Kristen Haynor So clearly that didn't work out. I ended up moving home after graduation to be with my family during a really tough time. And my high school field hockey coach invited me back to coach. I had just graduated. I didn't have a job. I didn't know what I was doing. And ultimately through that coaching offering, I was asked to apply for an instructional assistant position. And to be quite honest, I had no idea what special education was. It wasn't ever really talked about in my high school experience or really any of my educational experiences. And as soon as I started, I just fell in love with the uniqueness and the brilliance of the students and figuring out how their minds worked and how to support them and demonstrating that it was this beautiful, creative space to try to really get to know those students for who they were. And I always felt like deep down, I didn't understand why, but I felt like I really thrived in connections with people. And I could never explain it, but I just felt like I had this sense where I could feel emotions. But I thought that wasn't… I never really vocalized that because I didn't really know if there was any legitimacy to that. So once I started teaching, I decided to go during my summer and spring and winter breaks to teach internationally, because I realized I grew up in Northern Virginia. I went to school in Northern Virginia. I really had a limited understanding of different ways of being. And so I taught in Ghana, in India, in Thailand, in Haiti. And while I was there, I kept coming as a special education teacher. I kept asking questions in terms of how are students able to be successful if they don't fit this structure? Because the stakes in some of those places that I was in, the stakes are really high. If you are not successful in education, what does that mean for your livelihood? And so I just started asking more and more questions. And I decided that that was also part of my purpose and my passion, was to understand how to have these advocacy conversations in other spaces. Not that I know best, but just to facilitate and have these conversations. And so it was suggested to me, I went back to school for my master's and then for my leadership and was like, I can't go to school again. I'm not very good at this. But it was suggested that in order to make the change that I wish to make to get your PhD, because that allows you access to not only research and resources, but it does allow you access into spaces for your voice to be heard. And it wasn't until, funny enough, I still had no idea that I was neurodivergent. And that's to me, I laugh because my mom was a teacher. I was a special education teacher. I was surrounded by professional development. And I never had made the connection and no one else had really made the connection either until I was meeting with my psychiatrist because at that point, my mental state had evolved into generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, a major depressive disorder. So I really started with, I chose medication and I chose therapy. And it wasn't until, oh, I also forgot I had a traumatic brain injury while I was in India. And so we were really talking about how all of this impacted my executive functioning. And she said, well, I mean, it makes sense with your ADHD. And I would, excuse me, what? I had no idea. And she said, oh, I'm so sorry. I didn't realize you didn't know. I didn't realize I was breaking news to you. And it felt like, I don't know if you've ever seen the movie Ratatouille, but it felt like that moment when the food critic takes that first bite of Ratatouille and he's transported and everything kind of makes sense. It was in that moment that everything in my life started to make more sense as it related to my memory, my planning, my organization. And at that point, I had a thousand coping strategies that allowed me to operate more successfully in different spaces. But I had no idea that not everybody else has a thousand tabs. If your brain is a web browser, not everyone has a thousand tabs open at the same time. And 500 of those tabs are playing videos at the same time, too. And so it was just this, I don't know, this aha moment too that I wasn't kind of going back to that if you just applied your self-comment and thinking back to all those spaces where I'd be sitting and looking like I was staring off and disengaged. And in reality, my mind was ping-ponging between all of these different ideas. And I wasn't maybe focused on the task at hand because either I felt like I couldn't meet the expectation and I had fear of asking for help because of how that would be perceived. And or I was just really excited about what I was thinking about because that creativity is what really drove me. And I've since learned that with ADHD, there's often heightened limbic systems. And so that going back to that feeling like you can connect those energies, that's real. And so I think that all really, I love how when you look back and everything makes sense, it doesn't make sense at the time, but when you look back, it all makes sense as to how you got to where you were because now I'm in a space where I understand how my different ways of operating impact my day to day functioning. Yet, not only does that not solely define who I am, but it also is the reason as to why I'm able to do what I do when I'm in these creative spaces or connecting with other individuals. So I think it's important to talk about because when I've had some conversations with students, they're shocked that I share with them the different mental health disorders that I have or my ADHD or my traumatic brain injury because they have not yet always had representation in their life. And oftentimes when we hear about it, we hear about Einstein or we hear about Justin Timberlake or we hear about these different celebrities, but we don't really often hear about it within our own communities and that you're not so alone. And so just having those conversations about, one of my favorite statistics is that one in five people have at least one form of neurodivergence, whether they know it or not. And I think that that is also a great point of conversation because there's so much that we don't yet know around these different labels. And so how can we, A, not make assumptions, biases or stereotypes around what, let's say, ADHD is and at the same time, not make assumptions and stereotypes about what those strengths are because they manifest differently for every single person. And until we understand that, that is when we can truly create these inclusive spaces. But as soon as I got those diagnoses, when I called my family, we all just kind of laughed. I mean, I have the privilege, we have the privilege of laughing about it because we had the access to make things work. And I know that I was very lucky in that. And I think to how it's also transformed the way in which we communicate and operate together now as a family. I still have, we have Family Sunday every week and I now have a, they've been really supportive and using all my coping strategies. And so one of the things I have is a whiteboard check out list. Everybody writes things that I have to remember before I leave so I can check them before I leave because every single week I was forgetting, you know, every single thing I was supposed to bring home. So that's, there's just so many, it's not, I could just keep going on and on about this. There's so many misnomers that I also want to negate and that I, it's not that I'm not able to have the attention to remember that it's that I often struggle with regulating where my attention and emotion goes. So I just love having these conversations and I appreciate you asking me about my own neurodivergence because it has been an interesting sense of finding myself.

Jessica Kidwell I love hearing it and I could talk with you about it all day as well. And the key that you and I have spoken about offline is this normalization and representation of day-to-day individuals, like when you started naming Einstein and Justin Timberlake, yes, that gives kids who are living in the muck of their day-to-day life images of what could possibly happen maybe in the small realm of possibility. But the Kristen Haners of the world give these kids what is happening day-to-day. It is so quote unquote, you and I both hate the word normal, but it's normal to have a neurodivergent brain and live a day-to-day regular life. And I think that that, the normalization and taking the shame and the stigma and I should hide this aspect of myself away from people or they will judge me, you are a living, breathing example of how not to do that. And I think that the fact that you are late in life to see, I mean, you're incredibly young to be clear, but later in life to receive your official diagnosis gives you such an incredible lens to be able to be working in a system that is trying to help these kids in a much earlier time in their life.

Kristen Haynor  I hadn't thought about it that way yet. I appreciate that perspective because you're right. I'm thinking of mistakes that I made as a teacher when making assumptions about what a student was or wasn't doing or why, and associating that maybe sometimes with a choice and really being able to look at my own way of operating and how so many times the way that my neurodivergence manifests, it is definitely not a choice. So I also don't want to over glorify and say, I have all of these abilities due to my neurodivergence to do X, Y, Z. And also it would be a disservice not to name that it takes a lot of work. It takes a lot of trial and error, coping strategies, learning boundaries, how to support my own way of thinking. And I think that the more I can't, I had this thought the other night, one of the, I think too, which is why I so appreciate the way in which you've set up this podcast and the structures even leading up to it to ensure comfortability and transparency has been huge. Because I even think with one of the parts that sometimes holds me back in this position is with the ADHD and the co-occurrence of let's say anxiety, oftentimes perfectionism is a component of that. And there's lots of different, I've been reading a lot about kind of what, how that is interconnected. And I think where I need to stand more firmly, which is why this is really helping me to do that, is part of our equity transformation cycle is in the fourth stage is to having the courage to take action and to make the changes that are necessary based off of what you've uncovered. And so I think it's been really important to be honest and to just start the conversation, as you said, to just start the work and to maybe let go of that fear that I'm either not representing the work in the right way. I just want to make everyone feel seen and proud. And I'm not speaking on behalf of anyone, but that I'm creating other spaces where this conversation can take place. And so I think that that is something that I appreciate you really helping me to kind of step into that. So thank you. 

Jessica Kidwell Literally my pleasure. So Kristen, I am curious what your hope is five years down the road for your position and perhaps for other public school systems in the U.S. as far as you are one person now in a large school district. What do you hope is the case five years down the road? 

Kristen Haynor My hope five years from now is that I mean, I can I have my hopes and desires and then I have to bring it back down to reality because I'm thinking I want an entire department, an office and a neurodiversity specialist in every single school and office and space. And realistically, my hope is that five years from now, it is very clear that this cultural shift, this mindset shift is bigger than one person and that it also takes day in and day out dedication in order to move, let's say, a county or we'll say a ship of this size in order to change course. And so I would love more teammates in our equity and cultural responsiveness team focused on neurodiversity and to have structures in place in schools where that whether it is a neurodiversity lead or a designated position to support that work in the schools. So it is that top down approach. I mean, that's the dream. And how can we get more community members involved? How can we get more parents involved to support this work? And I think moving beyond that, I have the opportunity to go to a conference and a lot of the conversation was we need a neurodiversity specialist. How did you do that? And honestly, it had nothing to do with me. That was all our school board and advocacy groups seeing the need and implementing it in their budget and their purview and their planning. And so how we can take this and move this forward, I think one day that would be wonderful to take this to other school districts in the United States. And I have to admit, I'm not quite even thinking of that yet. I'm still really focused on looking at what this is my 11th month in the job trying to figure out what has worked well, what has not worked well, what adjustments do I need to make? What spaces have I not yet been in? What connections do I need to create? And it is my responsibility as well to justify that this needs more individuals. And so how can I make that very clear to show not only the criticalness of this equity work, but the breadth and the depth of it and how it permeates every single one of our spaces in this school district. And so I have a lot of work left to do. This is going to be my life work. And I think just if at all possible, if we could allocate more positions to engage in this work, we're only going to be better for it.

Jessica Kidwell  Well, from your mouth to the board's ears and the state's budget, right? Kristen, I am so grateful to you for your time, for your clear passion, for just our shared point of view and the ability to be in conversation with you. Thank you so much for everything that you're doing. It has been a real pleasure to talk with you today.

Kristen Haynor Thank you, Jessica, for sharing your brilliance and passion and for creating this platform where your core mission is to elevate neurodivergent voices in spaces. And this here, this is the work. This is equity work right here. So thank you for all you're doing. And I really look forward to how we might continue this collaboration or any ideas that you might have so that we can move this work forward together. 

Credits with Music
Jessica Kidwell Neuroversity is hosted and produced by Jessica Kidwell. Our audio engineer is Jarrett Nicolet at Mixtape Studios. Jarrett also created our theme music, Graphic Design for Neuroversity by Kevin Adkins. Web support is provided by George Fox. For more information about this episode, ways to support the podcast, or anything related to neuroversity, please visit our website at You can also follow us on your podcast app and social media sites. We are at NeuroversityPod on Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Facebook. And if you like what we're doing, please tell others about Neuroversity and give us a review on Apple Podcasts. There's plenty of room for more curious minds to enroll. you