Inspired by their peer's poem on living with autism, Chinguacousy Secondary School students teamed up to create The Neurodiversity Project, a one-act play to help shed light on what life in high school is like when you identify as "neurodivergent." The term stems from a belief and movement that brain differences, such as autism, ADHD and depression, should be recognized and respected as any other human variation.
"When I first heard [the original poem], I was so surprised by what she was experiencing that I had no idea about," says Allyson Bradley, Chinguacousy teacher and one of the directors of the project. Bradley held auditions, along with student director, Ciaran Federico, to encourage other students to share their stories or help give a voice to others. Student interest was so high that the production quickly grew into a 24-student ensemble.
Students researched and brainstormed for months to create the original drama production, which is entirely written and performed by Chinguacousy and Parkholme satellite students. Many of those involved identify as neurodivergent, and some students use accommodations throughout the play, such a notes or a speaking aid, which they proudly show at the start of the production.
Through spoken word, skits, song and rap, students share their experiences living as neurodivergent while also navigating the complexities of high school. Some students tell their own stories, while others tell the stories of other students to protect their anonymity. Embedded throughout is a clear message that brain differences are natural and normal, not conditions that need to be cured or treated.
"Everyone has potential. We put ourselves in boxes and limit ourselves towards our abilities, whether it be physical or intellectual. I want people to know that we don't belong in those boxes," says Isabelle Peach, a grade 12 student at Chinguacousy, who acts and sings in the play. "This project helps us know what accommodations people can require and how to get out of those boxes."
The play aims to encourage audience members to not just understand and empathize with those who identify as neurodivergent, but to take positive actions towards them.
Adds Bradley, "I think that's the impact we're having on people—opening their minds to the idea that these kids have something invaluable and important to contribute, and that by forcing them into the structures that we've been using, we're limiting their potential."
"I hope that when the community sees this play, they're able to reconcile some of the stereotypes that are perpetuated by the media with who we are," says Walker. "And I hope that they get a chance to see us not just for our diagnosis, but who we really are."
The show will be performed on April 17 at 7 p.m. at Chinguacousy Secondary School as part of the National Theatre School Drama Festival Regional Showcase. Those interested in attending can purchase tickets in advance or at the door.
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