Neurodiversity Education Research Center (NERC) seeks to transform education through innovative and research-based teaching and learning strategies for autistic students. Every parent deserves access to high-quality, specialized education opportunities for their autistic child.

NERC is a community-focused nonprofit committed to helping open the door of opportunity for neurodivergent middle and high school students to emerge as 21st Century global leaders in the scientific workforce. What if we viewed autism as a difference to be celebrated rather than a disability to be mourned? NERC joins innovative thinkers representing parents, university scholars, scientists, business leaders, and community activists who celebrate a global force of exceptional neurodivergent individuals.

Science Prep Academy is NERC’s flagship STEM private 6th -12th grade(s) mircoschool that has validated our innovative research-based education model.

Michael Sylve attended Science Prep Academy from the beginning of his eighth-grade year to his sophomore year. He transferred to Science Prep because his grandparents were watching the news and saw Science Prep and the opportunities the school was giving to its students.

Michael says his favorite thing about Science Prep was the culture and people at the school. There was a family-oriented aspect to Science Prep that helped Michael feel at home.

“There are no limits,” said Michael’s mother about Science Prep Academy, “You always had support. You had the community involvement, you had parent involvement, and organizations working with students.”

Michael was very involved during his years at Science Prep Academy. He participated in robotics, track and field, basketball, and multiple events with special olympics.

Michael explained how robotics helped him become a team leader, but also help each other build a community with each other. However, track and field was Michael’s main activity since he has been involved since he was 11 years old.

“It helped me grow as a person, as a leader, and as a communicator,” Michael said about Science Prep.

After Science Prep Academy, Michael attended Tolleson Union High School where he was also highly involved in his community. Michael was Student Body Vice President, ran track and field, and cross country his senior year.

“Student Council is about leadership; helping the school, helping the teachers, and helping the staff members,” said Michael, “We build around students and helping them, and the Tolleson community itself.”

The family-oriented aspect of Science Prep Academy is similar to the reason why Michael selected Grand Canyon University for his college education.

“I think GCU is the best fit for me not only how they have great education, great events, and the people,” said Michael, “But it has a family community where we help the community, events, and meet new people.”

Michael is also very excited about the basketball games GCU will host that he can attend. As well as getting involved with other sports with his major which is business, specifically sports management.

Michael’s mother recommends Science Prep Academy for the growth it allowed Michael to go through.

“Science Prep is very welcoming, open-minded, flexible, and supportive. Anything our students needed you guys individualized it to suit them, and help groom them to go down their pathway of success,” she said, “No one’s pathway was the same… and it is authentic.”

About 1 in 44 children are identified with autism spectrum disorder. Approximately 85% of people in this group are unemployed. Others are doing menial jobs far below their skill and testing level. During the next ten years, an estimated 707,000 to 1,116,000 teens (70,700 to 111,600 each year) will enter adulthood and age out of autism services through their schools. The cost of caring for Americans with autism reached $268 billion in 2015 and is projected to increase to $461 billion by 2025 without educational support that prepares middle and high school students to transition into the workforce.

Our mission is to empower a student-led movement to educate their schools and communities, advocate for just policies that protect Neurodivergent youth from harassment and violence, and organize in coalition with other youth groups across identity lines to address broader issues of oppression.

Consider the impact of this situation on the lives of millions of high school and college-age students across the globe. When people don’t have access to high-quality, safe education, jobs, and economic opportunities, the is greater risks of mental illness, poverty, homelessness, and incarceration. This is a serious situation in need of a response with a solution.

Instagram Creator with Over 20 Thousand Followers Speaks with NERC

Instagram holds thousands of accounts of content creators covering topics from parenting, veganism, or fashion. In the neurodivergent community, activism and education are commonly talked about on the platform. For the creator behind autisticpositivity, Amelia creates content about her experiences being an actually autistic creator.

“I started my account just a few weeks after I was diagnosed with autism. I originally thought I had ADHD, but after some posts from actually autistic creators popped up in my feed I started to wonder if it’s really ADHD. I had very poor knowledge about autism. After my official diagnosis, I thought I want to say thank you to these creators by becoming one myself,” said Amelia.

Some of Amelia’s content includes posts about why the puzzle piece is harmful to the autistic community, why ABA is harmful to autistic indiviuals, and general posts about everyday life. These posts allow not only autistic indiviuals to gain support and feel seen on the social media platform, but allow the general community of non-autistic individuals to gain so insight on how to better support those around them.

“I’m very loud about ABA and harmful therapies. I also advocate for not viewing autism and neurodivergence as a pathological disorder, and autistic and/or neurodivergent people as ‘defective’, but as different,” said Amelia.

This is a very common value of many neurodivergent creators. They strive for the inclusion of autistic people in the general community, not the exclusion. And often this is in the form of educational posts.

“I definitely focus on autistic people! I also create some educational materials for allistic people, but autistic people benefit from these posts too. I don’t focus on myself with my advocacy,” said Amelia.

Amelia also talked about her goal when it comes to giving back to the neurodivergent community, how she wants to help as many people as she can. Trying to make them feel less alone, empowering them, helping them accept they’re autistic, sharing resources and most importantly promoting aitistic positivity in contrast to the ableism she often sees on social media.

“I appreciate every single one of you! You are not alone!.” said Amelia to her 21.3K followers, “Activism is necessary to spread awareness, acceptance and appreciation!”

Science Prep Academy student Keagan Starks had the opportunity over the summer to be apart of NASA’s Neurodiversity Network (N3) Internship Program. The program includes each student being paired with a Subject Matter Expert (SME) who then guides them through the program.

“Science Prep Academy is a very pioneering school for autistic and gifted children.” said Keagan. Keagan first heard about the opportunity through Science Prep Academy, where he is a senior. He is working towards his American Welding Society (AWS) Certifications through a partnership Science Prep Academy has with East Valley Institute of Technology (EVIT) .

“The goal of the N3 program is to provide experiences for neurodiverse students, specifically those on the autism spectrum, that will spark their interest in careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics)” – N3 Website.

The Subject Matter Expert (SME) Keagan is working with is Dr. Alexis Rodriguez, a Senior Scientist at the Planetary Science Institute in Tucson, AZ. Keagan got the opportunity to meet Dr. Rodriguez on site before the start of the internship.

“You’re working with a program sponsored by NASA, and I will be a co-author on many scientific papers,” said Keagan in regards to how he feels about the opportunity.

“It has been an exciting experience. Especially going down there and meeting and talking with the scientist,” said Keagan’s mother.

She says the internship has helped him stretch beyond what he normally does and is getting experience with a different type of science he normally doesn’t see.

Keagan’s tasks included using GIS tools to map features on Mars that scientists believe are frozen parts of Mars’ northern ocean. Keagan describes it as collecting data sets, which he then uses to mark certain geological features on the images. He is most excited about the build-up his mentor has been doing, giving him more tasks and layers each time to allow him to grow and learn during the summer.

When asked about how Keagan feels towards maybe a career with NASA, Keagan seems to have a clear path he wants to take.

“I am a builder. I fix things and build things. I’m lined up to get certifications in welding…So I am planning to pursue a career in welding professionally,” said Keagan.

At the end of the summer, Keagan will produce and share a final presentation of the items he learned over the course of the program.

“We are proud of what he does in anything. When he puts his mind to it, he can do anything,” said Keagan’s mother.

Haley Moss is a name in the autistic community that every young girl will be able to look up to. From Florida, Moss was diagnosed with autism at the age of 3. However, now 27, she is traveling across the country as a keynote speaker, writing a book, and being the first ever openly autistic person admitted onto the Florida Bar.

Moss graduated from the University of Florida, with two bachelors in psychology and criminology. As well as the University of Miami School of Law, and was the Class of ’18 commencement speaker. She was sworn in on January 11, 2019, by Miami-Dade Circuit Judge Lisa Walsh.

Her legal and personal background allows her to be a consultant to many companies that need to be educated on how to treat their neurodivergent employees. It also allows her to write a book on neurodiversity for lawyers and other professionals, called Great Minds Think Differently. Moss’s background is allowing her to share her stories on many different platforms, like Instagram, her website, and even a TED Talk with TEDXUMiami. When asked about her time at TEDXUMiami, Moss said she had lots of fun.

“I loved it! I had so much fun, and felt like it was a new format and way to engage with more folks about neurodiversity and challenge some closely held assumptions,” Moss said.

Unlike other neurodivergent content creators or activists, Moss likes to focus on professional growth, not so much societal. This means she wants to educate companies, schools, higher educators, and coworkers about those who interact with neurodivergent individuals.

“I think having a legal background makes me more informed of how activism works, why public policy is and isn’t effective in some instances, and what resources we have through the justice system. Having a legal background also teaches you how to be a stronger advocate and communicator on behalf of yourself and others,” said Haley Moss.

In addition to the training for professionals, Moss also has a large portfolio of artwork on her website of art. As well as photos of her artwork being held by former President Clinton, Jennifer Lopez, and John Legend.

The same artwork is in her book, Middle School – The Stuff Nobody Tells You About: A Teenage Girl with ASD Shares Her Experiences, one of her first publications sharing her story of being an autistic person. The story is allowing students in middle school to feel heard, understood, and motivated.

“​​Embrace your passions! You aren’t “weird” or a “failed version of normal.” And your concept of self-identity and disability/autistic identity will change over time – that’s okay. When you know better and learn more about yourself, you’ll do better, become more self-aware, and become a stronger advocate,” is the advice Moss would give to neurodivergent students.

Haley Moss is one of the leading advocates for the autistic community. Her individual experiences and transparency with them allow the general population not just to understand what neurodivergent individuals are going through, but break down hurtful stereotypes that say neurodivergent individuals are less than their peers. Haley Moss is a clear example that autistic individuals may be different from their peers, but are just as able to reach amazing achievements in an ableist society.

Haley Moss wrote on her website, “I speak, share, and advocate to create change because I believe the world needs to be ready and accepting of all kinds of bodies and minds. The future begins now. The future is neurodiverse. The future is accessible. The future is people with disabilities. I’m ready. Are you?”

Aishah Nyeta-Brown is a graduate of George Mason University, with degrees in Fine Arts and Climate Change. She is passionate about social justice and showcases that on her Instagram, aishah_nyeta. Posts range from climate advocacy, racial injustices, and her autism. 

“I created the account for myself, not for others…so everything I post is what I care about and what I believe in,” said Aishah. 

Aishah spent time speaking about her experiences as a late-diagnosed autistic female, as well as being a black autistic female.

“I believe the color of my skin will be a part of everything I do. If I post about me being autistic, everyone will also see that I am black,” Aishah said. 

One of the posts pinned on Aishah’s profile is Non-Violent Communication and Autism which is a post advocating for a deeper look into how autistic individuals struggle with communication. The post is asking autistic individuals to reflect on how they communicate with others, as well as listen to what the others are saying. 

“Communication is reciprocal and conceptual. So be sure that you have consent before starting deep conversations with other people. Also, be sure that the other person is reciprocal and receptive to what you are saying, otherwise, you could be stepping on their boundaries and them very upset,” the post states. 

This type of post isn’t common in the autistic community online. Many creators are focused on educating the general public on how to help autistic individuals in the workplace, educational spaces, and public spaces. But not many creators try to educate autistic individuals themselves. The post received a lot of praise in the comments and created a place for neurodivergent individuals to have a conversation.

“I currently use my voice on social media to help people understand Autism better and help people accept themselves and late-diagnosed AFAB individuals. Climate advocacy is a vital part of my social justice work. I am constantly finding myself at exciting intersections; intersections of race, invisible disability, womanhood, science vs. art, class, and privilege,” Aishah has written on her website.

However, not everything Aishah posts online receive the same amount of positive praise, just like every other creator. Aishah told a story about a post she made on Instagram Reels. It was a short video with text on top of it. 

“The words were moving too fast is what a lot of the comments said. I was hoping people would pause and read the information, but I didn’t make that clear,” said Aishah, “It is surprising how critical autistic people are to other autistic people. We all struggle with different things.” 

The posts didn’t hurt Aishah’s following at all but made Aishah more aware of what she is posting since she does have a large following. She makes sure there is enough contrast from the text to the background, and she still shares her experiences as a black autistic female.

“I don’t see my work on social media as influencing for several reasons; who am I to believe I can “influence” those with free will? It’s giving evil. What I am doing has a higher vibration than control and power; it is all about authenticity and vulnerability; when we can achieve this with ourselves as Autistic people, we can achieve this with others,” said Aishah on her website.

Aishah Nyeta-Brown will continue to create, advocate and share with those with autism or the general public who are looking to be educated. She hopes that her content will create awareness of not just topics of autism, but climate change, racial injustices, and sexist injustices as well.