Sarah Principato (left) and Brady Webster (right) participated in the REU 2022 summer program at USU under the mentorship of Dr. Marissa Tsugawa. Together, Principato and Webster collaborated to explore what it means to be neurodivergent based on social media content. Neurodivergent is a relatively new term that describes people with brain structures and functions that vary from the social "norm" including those who are autistic, ADHD, bipolar, anxiety, dyslexic, and more. Neurodiversity celebrates and accepts the intellectual and neurological differences from “typical” human functioning and reframes such differences as diversity as opposed to deficit.
The strengths of neurodivergent people are often desired in engineering such as creativity, unique spatial thinking, and attention to detail. However, neurodivergent students tend to drop out of college at higher rates than their neurotypical peers due to trouble with transitioning into adulthood, an increase in severity of challenges, and stigma against asking for help. Further, many neurodivergent students may not be diagnosed due to the limited access to diagnoses especially for those in marginalized groups (e.g., women, people of color, low SES). As such, a new perspective is needed to recognize and characterize neurodivergence. Tsugawa chose to explore social media to understand how neurodivergent people describe their experiences with their own terms.
For the REU 2022 project, Principato and Webster collected and transcribed publicly available neurodivergent content from the popular social media app, TikTok. They then coded the transcripts and generated a codebook of neurodivergent terms and characteristics. From the codes, they developed three major themes that described neurodivergent the experiences from the data. The first theme was classification of neurotypes. The second theme was neurodivergent manifestation. And the third theme was societal perceptions of neurodivergence. The team is currently working on a journal article to report the findings to an academic journal.