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What Are You Trying to Tell Me? Neurodevelopmental Disorder Care Across North Carolina

MAY 2023

I don’t know what it’s like to have a developmental disability, but I do know the stories I’ve shared are worthy of public attention. I reflect on my own youth as a typically-developing child throughout the stories in order to offer a glimpse of a typical trajectory up against one that is atypical. This is not to demonstrate what is normal up against what is not, but instead to mirror the world we live in versus the one we need to orchestrate. There are issues that seep deeper than those I’ve described here – discrepancies among gender, race and class when it comes to who is diagnosed, for instance. These stories, nonetheless, drew me into a real issue I previously knew nothing about, and I hope it does the same for others.


As we continue to learn more about developmental disorders, it’s important we are cognizant of the varied ways they manifest in individual lives. Unlike a physical impairment that can be seen with the naked eye, neurodevelopmental disorders present internally. An autistic child might find themselves time and time again struggling in social interactions with a concealed disorder to blame. The same applies to a child with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) who can’t sit still in class. Outwardly, they’re labeled ill-mannered or disruptive; inwardly, they’re suffering from challenges the rest of the world can’t see but only they can feel.


In John Elder Robison’s autobiography “Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s” he lays claim to this discrepancy I describe. While Asperger’s disease is no longer a diagnosis, it is now classified as an autism spectrum disorder.


My conversational difficulties highlight a problem Apergians face every day. A person with an obvious disability – for example, someone in a wheelchair – is treated compassionately because his handicap is obvious. No one turns to a guy in a wheelchair and says, ‘Quick! Let’s run across the street!’ And when he can’t run across the street, no one says, ‘What’s his problem?’ They offer to help him across the street.”


I end these stories with a look back at an interview I held with Davina Weirich, the Early Intervention Director of FIRSTWNC in Asheville, N.C. at the center's office. We sat in a play therapy room – Davina in a bean bag and myself in a swivel chair – to discuss her work. In telling me about the children she works with who struggle behaviorally in school, she said "Behavior is a form of communication. So whenever I have a child that is having behavioral concerns, I have to say ... well, what needs aren't being met?" So with that, I ask you, what am I trying to tell you? 

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