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Fairfax Co, VA: District hires first "neurodiversity specialist"; one in every 5 affected

June 9, 2023, WTOP, Chevy Chase, MD: Fairfax Co. could have the nation’s first neurodiversity specialist for a K-12 public school
It took a while for Fairfax County Public Schools in Virginia to hire for its new neurodiversity specialist position, according to Nina Thomas, the school system’s coordinator of professional learning and cultural responsiveness.

But when Kristen Haynor was selected for what she characterized as her dream job, it was clear the county “found our unicorn,” Thomas said.

Haynor, the school system said, may be the first neurodiversity specialist to work in a U.S. K-12 public school setting. She joined the Equity and Cultural Responsiveness team in May 2022, and works to support students who have autism, ADHD or generalized anxiety disorder, and other traits that would traditionally be considered limitations to academic achievement.

Haynor is one of three recent school system hires aimed at supporting students who learn differently. The county also hired a dyslexia pecialist and 2E specialist, who works with academically gifted students who also meet state or federal eligibility criteria to have a disability or multiple disabilities….

Haynor has a team of eight specialists, also on the equity team, that works closely with her, Thomas said. While she works to support neurodivergent students, Haynor said there’s not currently a way to identify the number of neurodivergent students in Fairfax County. However, she said the National Institutes of Health recently reported roughly one in five people have at least one form of neurodivergence.

In addition to supporting staff and students, Haynor said she’s also working to discuss the cultural and mindset shifts that are needed to take place, because, “I don’t think that we’re in a place yet where the diversity of thinking is yet able to be celebrated due to a lot of constructs that are currently in place and restrictions. Yet, if you think about some of (the) most-celebrated thinkers of our time, whether historical or contemporary, they’re likely neurodivergent.”….

“We’re not fixing people,” she said. “Our job is not to fix people or change the identity of who they are. Our job is to meet them where they are, build on their strengths.”

Rachel Rubio was hired to serve as the school system’s new Dyslexia Specialist, a job dedicated to the reading and writing disability….


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