A Guest Blog from FIRST alumni Devin & Eva of Neurodivergent of FIRST
First things First: What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity describes the fundamental differences in how people’s brains work. Specifically, it is used in reference to those with learning or developmental disabilities such as Autism, ADHD, and Down Syndrome., t. This contrasts a model of thinking that might try to “cure” or “prevent” these disabilities, instead of supporting differences and working with neurodivergent people to reach success.
What is Neurodivergent of FIRST?
Neurodivergent of FIRST (NoF) is an organization founded to advocate and create a community for neurodivergent people who participate in FIRST. Our mission is to raise educated acceptance of neurodivergent people in the FIRST community.
Through NoF, we educate and promote acceptance for neurodivergent people in FIRST. Our goal is to promote environments where neurodivergent people feel included with their teams at FIRST events. We hand out pins at events, post blogs, maintain an active social media presence, and more. Additionally, we have and maintain a Discord server where neurodivergent students, volunteers, and mentors can find a community of people like them, and allies can connect with neurodivergent people.
Meet Eva (they/them): Founder of NoF
I’m Eva (they/them), I’m autistic, and am the founder of NoF. I am currently a college junior in construction management at Purdue University.
I was diagnosed with autism in 2008 at the age of six. During that time, the treatment of autistic people, especially children, was vastly different from what we see today. Having been around since the beginning of NoF, it’s been a gift to work with so many people who share a passion for inclusion in all corners of FIRST. Things have changed a lot over the years, but we all need to recognize that there’s still work to be done to ensure that STEM is truly for everybody. The world is still extremely flawed, and injustices are carried out against neurodivergent people all the time. However, knowing that I’m not alone and that I can take action, is an extremely empowering feeling.
Meet Devin (he/they): Administrator of NoF
I’m Devin (he/they), I’m autistic, and have been an administrator for NoF since early 2021. I am also a representative of LGBTQ+ of FIRST and am currently a college freshman in web development at IUPUI (Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis).
Being a part of NoF is especially important to me as someone who has spent most of my life undiagnosed. Sometimes robotics competitions can be really overwhelming, and without the context of why it affects you more than other people, that overstimulated feeling can be isolating. Finding a community in our NoF Discord server, meeting fellow NoF member Eva, and knowing that I’m not only not alone in this, but can do something, is one of the most empowering things I’ve ever experienced.
The Creation of Neurodivergent of FIRST
Back in 2018, I [Eva] was a sophomore in high school. As much as I loved robotics, competitions were often difficult for me because of the lights, noise, and fast pace of activity seen at every FIRST event. At first, I didn’t really do much even though I was struggling while attending the events.
The moment I attribute to the founding of NoF was around May of 2018. One of my older FIRST teammates brought up his work with the early stages of the LGBTQ+ of FIRST group. Someone like that just inspires the people around them to do better and be better.
That summer, I created a Twitter account with the name “Autism in FIRST.” It wasn’t some grand beginning like people may think. It was just a 16-year-old kid wanting to be like someone they really looked up to. As a matter of fact, I was so ashamed of being autistic at the time that I attempted to remain anonymous; just wanted to be a nameless face running things from behind the curtain.
Things laid dormant until February of 2019, when I rebranded to “Neural-Atypical of FIRST” and opened a Discord server. Many people expressed that they disliked the name, so a final rebrand to “Neurodivergent of FIRST” took place. By the end of the competition season, NoF had 30 members worldwide, as well as four student administrators and three representatives.
What’s Next for NoF?
As we gained more partner teams, large plans were made to host conferences at both FIRST Championship events in 2020. Unfortunately, the global pandemic derailed our plans and slowed activity to a standstill. Today, Neurodivergent of FIRST has recovered and continues to educate and advocate for inclusion.
It’s been an unbelievable journey from then to now. Nothing beats overhearing a conversation about NoF at an event or seeing people wearing our pins. Four years later, I’m glad 16-year-old Eva did what they did.
Beyond our overall mission, our current “big” goal is to host a FIRST Championship conference in Houston this coming season. Personally, I’ve [Eva] been setting aside the funds to get there and host the conference. Achieving this would be a major step in our outreach efforts.
To stay connected with Neurodivergent of FIRST, their social media and Discord links can be found here.