Neurodiversity Week events promote awareness among student body

Kristine Lin, Managing Editor

In an effort to celebrate neurodiversity, clubs from Palo Alto High School will host a Lantern Night 7 p.m. Thursday on the Freshman Quad at Gunn High School, providing the opportunity for visitors to learn more about the community of students with learning differences.

Earlier in the week, the Neurodiversity Resource Fair, hosted by several of Paly’s clubs, featured a variety of neurodiversity and mental health organizations to promote awareness among the student body.

Lauren Sims (center) and her group inform students about their organization, the Children’s Health Council, at lunch Friday on the Quad during Palo Alto High School’s Neurodiversity Resource Fair. According to Sims, the organization is geared towards helping all students. “We have different resources for kids that you don’t have to have a learning difference to use our services,” Sims said. “Keeping up with your mental health is very important. It’s important for school. It’s important for athletics. It’s the most important thing.” (Photo: Kristine Lin)

According to sophomore Joshua Kao, who helped arrange the events, he was inspired to help the community of students with learning differences, as he had a relative with autism.

“My cousin is on the autistic spectrum, and when I visited him at his home, that’s how I first got introduced to neurodiversity through him and his friends,” Kao said. “After that, someone gave me the idea of doing neurodiversity events for Neurodiversity Celebration Week.”

The Neurodiversity Resource Fair featured a variety of organizations sharing neurodiversity information and offering mental health services, including Allcove and Ada’s Cafe. According to Elise Bernal, who was in charge of the Palo Alto City Library’s booth, she participated in the fair to share different books intended to raise awareness.

“We have some [book lists] that are focused on neurodiversity or mental health,” Bernal said. “We also have a ton of books in the library that offer those resources as well.”

Bernal said she appreciates the opportunity to inform students about the library’s resources.

“I’m just grateful for a space to share because a lot of times people don’t know what resources are out there,” Bernal said. “It [the fair] is a good way to do that. I’m excited that it’s organized by teens, because I feel like it’s really great that they’re offering resources to their friends and people in their community.”

Kao said the clubs are also working with several programs to carry out this year’s Lantern Night. One of the clubs helping out with the event is Paly’s Best Buddies Club, which focuses on partnering students with intellectual disabilities with other Paly students, according to the co-president junior Grace Gormley. The club is working with the Gunn and Los Altos High School Best Buddies chapters, Gormley said.

“I met the Best Buddies president from Los Altos, and we thought it would be a really good opportunity to unite our three schools to have this night, celebrating inclusion and neurodiversity and just raising awareness,” Gormley said. “There’s a little bit of competition [between schools], but that goes to show that Best Buddies and valuing inclusion is a powerful force to bringing people together and creating community. That’s the main idea of Lantern Night—to foster a community that’s bigger than just ourselves.”

According to senior club founder Ila Perinkulam, the PAUSD Respect, Inclusion and Compassion through Education Club is also involved in efforts to raise neurodiversity awareness and increase inclusion. Perinkulam said communication was crucial to prepare for Lantern Night.

“We have a team of 10 people, and me and Josh are the only people from Paly,” Perinkulam said. “We’ve been working with them [Gunn students] to synchronize the neurodiversity events.”

Similar to last year, participants will be able to hear speeches, light lanterns, enjoy boba and snacks, and celebrate neurodiversity, Kao said. Through the clubs’ efforts, Perinkulam said she hopes people will be more informed on neurodiversity and take action to help.

“One of the big things that I want people to take away is just to listen to others, listen to different experiences, and don’t judge a person for what they have,” Perinkulam said.