LaFetra College of Education hosts its annual Neurodiversity Symposium

Rebecca Keeler
Staff Writer 

A highly interactive symposium, which included brain-based activities that model the best practices for diverse learners, highlighted the sixth annual Neurodiversity Symposium held in the Abraham Campus Center Ballroom on Saturday. 

The eight-hour event, organized by the LaFetra College of Education’s Center for Neurodiversity, Learning and Wellness, advanced dyslexia policy and practice as its theme. The day-long conference provided University of La Verne students and community members the opportunity to discuss and explore current practices, interventions and legislation concerning one of the most prominent learning challenges in the country. 

“I came here today hoping to learn how to become more aware of how to help students with dyslexia since I work with a rather large community of dyslexic individuals on a daily basis,” Shaquera Hatchet, paraprofessional in the San Bernardino Unified School District, said.

The symposium was divided into a number of sessions, including a dyslexia simulation, speakers, panel presentations and a mind-body practice session.

“I hope that people have a better understanding of what dyslexia is, including the neurology behind it, and what kind of support kids will need to learn to read if they have dyslexia,” Marga Madhuri, featured presenter and director of the ULV dyslexia teacher training program, said. 

Dyslexia is defined as a specific learning disability that is neurobiological in origin and is  characterized by difficulties with accurate and fluent word recognition, as well as poor spelling and decoding abilities. These difficulties are often unexpected in relation to other cognitive abilities and the quality of classroom instruction. As of 2023, dyslexia affects one in five people in the world. 

“We also want them to understand what kind of assessments it takes to determine whether a child is dyslexic,” Madhuri said. “Most importantly, I hope they walk away with an interest in finding out more.” 

The symposium was targeted toward people interested in dyslexic students such as teachers, school psychologists, parents, therapists, students, administrative professionals and legislators. 

“I hope to apply the necessary knowledge I have learned from today’s event to my future career in psychology, as well as to inform teachers and staff of the ways to help neurodivergent students thrive in their community,” Genesis Jovel, freshman psychology major, said. 

The goals of the event were to spark state-level conversations that advance dyslexia policy and practice, shape the direction of education research and policy nationwide, cultivate partnerships between families, educators and legislative professionals, establish an approach to supporting dyslexic learners, inspire a tribe of community advocates who champion the cause of social equity for dyslexic learners and honor the voice and innate gifts of dyslexic learners by assisting their efforts to thrive in the classroom, at home and in the community.

“School itself can be a very traumatic experience, and it is important to teach students different techniques in order to help them keep their composure,” Niki Elliott, clinical professor and director of the center for neurodiversity, learning and wellness, said.

For neurodivergent students, the brain is triggered into survival mode, creating a state of hopelessness that makes the brain shut down and conserve energy.

“We need students to feel a sense of safety to get out of the nervous system mode and into learning mode,” Elliott said. “A combination of breath, movement and sound exercises will help settle hypervigilance and relieve stress, allowing for neurodivergent students to better thrive in their educational studies.” 

The LaFetra College of Education’s Center for Neurodiversity, Learning and Wellness aims to create transformative learning experiences that inspire students, educators, families and community leaders to value neurodiversity and maximize their human potential. 

The Center and its faculty value the lived experiences of neurodivergent learners by giving voice to their needs and unique worldview, and are committed to redefining special education at the highest levels and to seek and address the spirit of the learner before the diagnosis.

Rebecca Keeler can be reached at rebecca.keeler@laverne.edu

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