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Student presents TEDxYouth talk on neurodiversity and gender studies

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Jay Pierce (11) spoke about his research on differences of treatment for atypical people based on gender. (Courtesy of Flickr, Suzanne Pierce)

Jay Pierce (11) spoke about his research on differences of treatment for atypical people based on gender. (Courtesy of Flickr, Suzanne Pierce)

Junior shares personal experiences and studies to educate about aspects of neurodiversity

Tess Petrillo, News Editor

Junior Jay Pierce is currently attending Running Start courses at Bellevue College while also committing to extensive research on gender, autism and neurodiversity — the belief that brain differences are normal rather than deficits — outside of formal schooling. Pierce has gained a wealth of information from his research and decided to share it with the rest of the world in a TEDxYouth presentation.

This opportunity came about when Pierce was doing his daily routine, watching TED Talks. “I like to keep an eye out for these things — I saw that the Youth TED Talk was coming to Seattle and I was like, ‘I have some things to say,”’ he said.

Pierce wants to bring attention to the oppression forced upon people who are neurologically atypical, including the ways in which people with autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or schizophrenia have to cope with the exclusivity in society.

He spoke about how people who are not neurotypical have a significant amount of difficulty getting a job, or simply being accepted in society as an equal, because society is under the notion that those who are anything besides neurotypical can only be dangerous or dysfunctional.

Originally, his main field of study was not in neurodiversity. “My original topic was going to be just autism, but I knew I could expand on it,” he said.

“I knew that only two or three people watching would have autism, so I figured if I talked about an issue that covered things such as schizophrenia or ADHD, more people would be affected by what I was saying.”

Pierce’s chosen subject is actually part of the reason he got the chance to speak. “There were six to nine speakers and half of them were talking about climate change so when I said neurodiversity they were like ‘join the party,’” he said.

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When constructing his speech, he wanted it to reflect his own personal dialogue in the best way possible. “You know when you’re in the shower and you have an argument with yourself? My process was basically like that but I wrote it all down.”

With the finalizing of the speech, Pierce was given some extra help to aid in the revision process. “When you do a TED Talk, you get a speaker coach to make sure you are following all the rules,” he said. “TED Talks have very strict rules, for example, I was not allowed to mention any companies in my presentation.”

Specifically, he discussed how having a mental disorder on your resume greatly reduces your chances of getting a job. This aspect is frustrating to Pierce, given that often times people are able to control the symptoms caused by their disorder. “Like I have ADHD, I can’t sit still — but I can manage that,” he said.

This is part of the issue that Pierce is trying to solve, and a main reason that prompted his research.

Before venturing into the broader topic of neurodiversity, he decided to research autism when he learned a disheartening fact about the process of diagnosis. “Symptoms for autism are different for each gender,” Pierce explained, “but we only diagnose based on the symptoms of the male gender.”

Wanting to solve the problem, he set to work on researching the symptoms of autism found to be specific to females.

Due to lack of information in published pieces, he derived most of his information from social media. He did this by going on WordPress blogs and finding records of neurologically atypical people’s personal history and diagnostic status, along with their most frequent symptoms. Then, he sorted the symptoms that were most common and used those symptoms to formulate questions that could be asked of someone to see if they have these symptoms.

As he delved deeper into the topic, the aspect of gender in the totality of neurodiversity became apparent.

“If a boy has autism, ADHD or even schizophrenia, it is seen as more acceptable than if a girl was to have any one of those — the boys are also more likely to be treated and cared for than the girls,” he said.

Pierce also became increasingly concerned with the way that people with schizophrenia or dissociative personality disorder (formerly known as split or multiple personality disorder) are portrayed in the media and television. “Because of how these people are portrayed in the media, if they have an episode they are labeled as a monster — causing them to get depression or anxiety which causes their symptoms to worsen.”

While he conducts the majority of his research outside of school, Pierce has also started taking classes related to his field of study. “I am taking psychology and human development, which goes extensively into the topic of autism,” he said

He also noted that our high school’s special education program was doing well in comparison to what is offered elsewhere in the district, but recommended that the health curriculum be reconstructed to include education on neurodiversity, as well as gender.

As for the students, Pierce has one request. “Many disorders are not problems, but differences — differences that society can’t handle right now. Accept people that are different from you as equals, and try to gain an understanding of those people.”

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Student presents TEDxYouth talk on neurodiversity and gender studies