UIT's Jennifer Brooks Earns Award in Stanford Neurodiversity Unity Contest

In honor of international neurodiversity celebration week, our partners from the Stanford Neurodiversity Project recently hosted a unity contest to bring attention to and celebrate the advantages of being neurologically diverse. The competition challenged individuals to express themselves creatively in the form of a video, poem, music, story, written word, or poster. 

UIT recognized with second place

Jennifer Brooks, IT quality assurance analyst in UIT, and an amateur playwright, won second place for her play titled, “Problem Girl: A Play in Three Acts.” The play is about a girl in sixth grade named Anne who happens to have Asperger’s, a developmental disorder characterized by significant difficulties in social interaction and nonverbal communication, along with restricted and repetitive patterns of behavior and interests. The play touches on social communication, challenges in accommodating and educating neurodiverse children in public schools and navigating life changes.

Nirmala Balasubramanian, senior director for research administration and middleware services, stated, “Jennifer scooped the first place with her contributions to the Protection of Minors system. An application that was built from the ground up to assist UHR and participating schools, a place to register and track camps and their young participants. Jennifer upheld the quality assurance role and today the application is proud and ready to receive its new users.” 

About the play

“The play was inspired by a song by Rob Thomas, formerly of Matchbox 20, called “Problem Girl.” I started imagining the characters in the song. There’s the “problem girl” who likely has a form of autism spectrum disorder which makes it difficult for her to socialize and make friends with other children. Then there are the “kids on the street” who likely don’t understand why this girl behaves the way she does. Once I had the characters in mind I crafted a story to show how they relate to each other,” stated Jennifer. 

The play details Anne’s struggles to determine whether or not she should attend a middle school that meets her special needs and will help her navigate the challenges associated with Asperger’s. However, she also realizes that in order to do what is best for herself, she will need to leave her best friend behind. 

A diverse ecosystem

Throughout most of the story, many children in Anne’s class do not understand why she is different, though a lesson from their teacher about ecosystems changes all of that. Anne’s teacher explains to the children that they wouldn’t expect a fish to climb a tree, but they would expect it to focus on what it is good at, like swimming. A fish shouldn’t change what comes naturally, and neither should people. 

All components of an ecosystem, no matter how different they are, are equally important because they serve different purposes and help strengthen the ecosystem with their diversity. 

More about neurodiversity

  • Neurodiversity means there are variations in brain function and behavior
  • Some examples include Asperger’s, AD(H)D, autism, dyslexia, bipolar, and Tourette’s
  • One in 59 people are autistic
  • Only 14% of autistic adults have paid employment in a community-integrated setting
  • Strengths of having autism include: attention to detail, deep focus, superior recall, high level of skills, integrity, and a distinctive imagination

The Neurodiversity in IT program advances and promotes the university’s commitment to workforce innovation, diversity, and inclusion.