Fairfax County Public Schools Hires ‘First-in-Nation’ Neurodiversity Specialist

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This article was originally written by Will Vitka in Northern Virginia Magazine on April 14th, 2023.

Fairfax County Public Schools added three specialists to its roster in an effort to better meet the needs of neurodivergent students. One of the new hires, Kristen Haynor, “is believed to be the first Neurodiversity Specialist in a U.S. K-12 public schools setting,” the system said in a Wednesday announcement.

Neurodiversity, according to Harvard University, is the idea that there is no right way of thinking or learning, and often is used within the context of learning disabilities. Among other things, it encourages the use of inclusive, nonjudgmental language and the acceptance of people who have neurological differences.

Haynor joins Nonye Oladimeji and Rachel Rubio within the school system.

Oladimeji started as FCPS and Virginia’s first public school Twice Exceptional (2E) Education Specialist. 2E students are “academically gifted” and have a disability. Rubio is the school system’s new dyslexia specialist. The school system said the reading and writing disability affects roughly 20 percent of the population.

“My role does not exist in another U.S. public K-12 education setting and I go to bed every night giving thanks for this opportunity, this equity work is essential,” Haynor said in a news release.

“In some respects, public education has an outdated idea of what success looks like and the approaches to get there. My work is to support the process of changing attitudes and beliefs around what people are capable of, especially neurodivergent individuals,” Haynor said.

Haynor will host a a webinar for high school families of neurodiverse students at 10 a.m. Friday, April 28. She will talk about how to set up a child for success, how to advocate for a neurodiverse child, and how to collaborate with schools. Registration is required.

Haynor’s neurodiversity role and Oladimeji’s 2E role and new and “were created to begin the work of reframing the understanding of neurodiversity and change long-held attitudes and beliefs about ability and achievement limitations.”

School Board Chair Rachna Sizemore Heizer, who has a neurodiverse child, is credited as the “driving force” behind Haynor and Oladimeji’s roles.

“This is about changing commonly held negative assumptions about neurodiverse students which too often hold children back,” Heizer said in the release.

Fairfax County Public Schools settled a lawsuit in 2021 brought by parents and disability rights activists over the system’s use of restraint and seclusion for special needs students.

“Seclusion has been prohibited in all FCPS base schools since January 1, 2021, and will be banned in all FCPS schools, including private schools with whom FCPS contracts, by the start of the 2022-2023 school year,” FCPS said in a joint news release with the plaintiffs at the time.

Featured photo courtesy Fairfax County Public Schools

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