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Neuro-affirming strategies
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pRESENter bios

Morénike Giwa Onaiwu (she/they) is a global activist-scholar, author, and community leader who is passionate about human rights, justice, and inclusion. A proactive, resourceful professional and disabled person of color in a multicultural, neurodiverse, serodifferent family, Morénike, who is American-born to immigrant parents, possesses undergraduate and graduate degrees in International Relations, Education, and Interdisciplinary Humanities. Morénike is involved in various social justice advocacy endeavors including neurodiversity, public pedagogy, multimodal learning, anti-HIV stigma, participatory research, technology, disability justice, racial and gender equity, etc. A prolific writer, Morénike has written for and/or been featured in numerous platforms including peer-reviewed journals, books, and digital media, often drawing from professional knowledge as well as personal experiences as a late-diagnosed Autistic/ADHD parent of Autistic and non-Autistic children, a twice exceptional person of color, and a survivor of intimate partner violence. Morénike is also involved in additional projects, including training and consulting. Morénike has been a speaker in the White House, at the United Nations Headquarters, and a keynote speaker and/or presenter at numerous advocacy, education, disability, and research conferences. (biography excerpt from My Bio – Morénike Giwa Onaiwu (


Jenna Meehan (she/they) is an Autistic & ADHD occupational therapist and parent & partner of a neurodivergent family. Her passion is listening, learning, and brainstorming to create and support inclusive, respectful, and authentic community connections, spaces, and systems. 


Jenna loves sharing her love for kids, neurodiversity, pups, chickens, home projects, sometimes gardening, and social justice advocacy. Sharing an article, infodumping, or dropping a meme about any of these things will warm their heart. :)


Bernard Grant (they/them) is a multiply neurodivergent writer, editor, and DEIB advocate.


To learn more about them, visit their website: To learn how you can work with Bernard visit


David James “DJ” Savarese (he/him) works to disrupt ableism as an artful activist, public speaker and scholar, multi-genre writer, and teacher. Co-Chair of The Alliance for Citizen Directed Supports, he designed and directs the Lives-in-Progress Collective, a disability-led national, grassroots project focused on expanding and transforming self-direction. A 2022-23 Iowa Arts Fellow and Zoeglossia Fellow, he is the author of Swoon, Studies in Brotherly Love, and A Doorknob for the Eye. Co-producer, narrative commentator, and subject of the Peabody Award-winning, Emmy-nominated documentary film Deej: Inclusion Shouldn’t Be a Lottery (2017), he teaches inclusive, multigenerational, global poetry writing classes through Listen2Us and poetry writing courses for alternatively communicating autistics through the LYNX Project in Chicago. An advocate for the communication and literacy-based educational rights of all students, he founded Listen2Us: Writing Our Own Futures as an Open Society Foundations Human Rights Initiative Community Youth Fellow. Before moving to Iowa City, DJ graduated with a double major in Anthropology and Creative Writing from Oberlin College in 2017. Relevant publications include the following: “Unearthing the Concepts that Bury Us” (forthcoming in Disability in Dialogue, John Benjamins Pub., 2023);  “Disrupting the Garden Wall” ; “Disrupting Ableism Through Artful Activism. ; “Coming to My Senses,” ; and  “Passive Plants”.

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Kris McElroy is a biracial Black autistic transman living with multiple disabilities. Kris is an advocate, human services professional, public speaker, writer, artist, and living in Maryland with his wife and daughter. Kris earned his bachelor’s degree in Psychology from the University of Maryland and his master’s degree in Multidisciplinary Human Services from Capella University.

Since 2009, Kris has been a dedicated advocate and human services professional serving in many different capacities to support various communities. Additionally, he has been a cast member of the Telling This Truth Theatrical Production for trauma survivors; has self-published several books & workbooks.

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Gerald Parrish is an Autistic Adult who is passionate about empowering neurodivergent and disabled people and amplifying racially minoritized people. He is a trainer at the Ability Leadership Project NC, founded by Disability Rights NC and NC Council on Developmental Disabilities. His past work includes Travel Trainer/Community Inclusion Specialist at Alliance of Disability Advocates, a Center for Independent Living in Raleigh, NC. He serves on the Autistic Advisory boards at Autism Society NC and Autism Support and Advocacy Center. He is also a board member at B3 Coffee. His special interests and values include diversity, inclusion, and the power of music. He lives in Raleigh, NC with his family.


Willow Wilder, LCSW (she/they) is a transfemme AuDHD therapist in Raleigh, NC. Willow graduated from NC State University with their MSW in 2020 and began clinical practice in September 2020. Willow specializes in working with fellow LGBTQIA+ and neurodivergent folx with complex trauma. Outside of session, Willow enjoys spending time with her partner and dog, reading, writing, art, singing, gaming, and leading D&D sessions.


Emily Hotez, Ph.D. is an Assistant Professor and developmental psychology researcher at the University of California, Los Angeles, David Geffen School of Medicine. She currently leads research and other collaborative activities within two national autism research networks: The Autism Intervention Research Network on Physical Health (AIR-P) and The Autism Transition Research Project (ATRP). In these roles, she prioritizes research that promotes the health, well-being, and thriving of autistic individuals across the life course. She is particularly interested in identifying strategies that address neurodivergent individuals’ experiences of lifelong stigma and marginalization across interpersonal, educational, and healthcare contexts. Her work in this area includes leading a series of research studies focused on identifying opportunities to enhance both undergraduate and medical education as well as creating and evaluating strategies to promote health during key developmental transitions, particularly emerging adulthood. Across all of Dr. Hotez’s research, she relies on methodologies that are driven by the individuals, communities, and populations that the research seeks to serve. As a sister of an autistic adult, she is both professionally and personally committed to her efforts in these areas. Dr. Hotez received her B.A. in psychology from George Washington University and her Ph.D. in developmental psychology from the Graduate Center of the City University of New York.


Hello, my name is Hendi Berrios and I am a Pediatric Behavioral Health Resource Nurse at Duke University Hospital. I'm a general pediatric nurse by trade, however, pediatric behavioral/mental health has been a passion for many years. In my early years as a nurse, I realized how little education, training, and advocacy there was for this population of hospitalized patients. I began an initiative through a multidisciplinary team, unit based "Mental Health committee"; with the goal of providing staff with more education, standard processes, and training in efforts to provide consistent and effective care to this underserved population. This initiative quickly began to weed into other units and that's when the real work began. It's no secret that there's been an increase in behavioral/mental health needs, not only in the community, but in the hospital settings as well. With the support of my institution, I started developing this one-of-a-kind role a little under a year ago with the goal of implementing interventions that would lead to true change in the care of patients with behavioral/mental health needs. I also recently joined the American Academy of Pediatrics' Mental Health Project Team to help develop a project that will positively impact pediatric patients with behavioral/mental health needs nationwide. My hope is that with my real-life experience and additional learning experiences, I can inspire others to provide more wholesome and compassionate care for those pediatric patients struggling with behavioral/mental health issues.


Navya Adhikarla: I'm a committed advocate for fostering inclusivity of all kinds in education, the workplace, and the larger community, driven by a belief in enhancing human flourishing through a sense of belonging. In past roles like program manager at an education non-profit, I've been actively engaged in impactful gap-bridging and community-building initiatives. Furthermore, in my role as a student consultant for a professional coaching platform, I've contributed significantly by offering valuable perspectives to enhance neurodiversity inclusivity and delivering personalized life coaching. I am also involved with several advocacy initiatives through Duke Neurodiversity Connections.


Drawing from my personal journey as someone on the autism spectrum and living with ADHD, I'm particularly passionate about promoting understanding and acceptance for neurodivergent individuals.


Sam Brandsen is an autistic parent of an autistic child. He completed his Ph.D. in physics at Duke University, and afterwards switched his focus to autism research. He currently works for the Duke Autism Center and absolutely loves anything related to neurodiversity and autism advocacy. He is especially interested in developing more accessible healthcare systems and educational practices, as well as learning about how research and the neurodiversity movement can better address the needs and perspectives of individuals with intellectual disabilities.


Tisha Shah was raised in Durham/Raleigh NC and she graduated from NC State University with a B.A. in Communications with a Concentration in Communication Science and Disorders and a minor in Psychology. She then received her post-graduate degree in Speech-Language Pathology from the University of South Carolina, where she also completed a specialized certification in the rehabilitation of neurogenic disorders. This specialization fueled her desire to help empower each individual to utilize their strengths to overcome challenges through client-centered therapy.  Building relationships with clients and families is her greatest joy and she believes is the foundation of successful therapy. Throughout her career, Tisha has enjoyed a variety of pediatric settings that have shaped her professional practice, has gained valuable experience in Montessori education, and is a Natural Language Acquisition trained clinician. She is currently serving as adjunct faculty for North Carolina Central University's Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders as a Clinical Educator. Tisha is a licensed SLP in North Carolina and Georgia and is also licensed as a professional educator by the North Carolina State Board of  Education/Department of Public Instruction. She is often found engaging in continued educational opportunities and supporting social justice initiatives. Tisha also enjoys traveling, exploring our wonderful community, and spending time with her husband, three children, and two dogs.

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Tara Chandrasekhar is a psychiatrist at Duke University, where she works in the autism clinic and directs a training program for child and adolescent psychiatrists. She values justice and equity, and is committed to creating spaces that are affirming of neurodiversity.


Jordan Grapel is a Research Interventionist at the Duke Center for Autism and Brain Development. His duties include assisting in the conduction of various ongoing EEG and eye-tracking studies. He is also a member of the Neurodiversity Board at Duke. Jordan graduated from Skidmore College in 2016 with a Bachelor in Arts degree in Psychology. During his time at Skidmore, Jordan volunteered at the annual Autism Awareness Fair, interned at Saratoga Bridges, and was Vice President of Skidmore’s musical theater club: Cabaret Troupe. In 2018, Jordan graduated from the University of Massachusetts in Lowell with a Master in Science degree in Autism Studies. During his time there, Jordan completed his ABA practicum at Bridgewell, conducted a Master’s thesis entitled The Effects of the Type of Stimuli on Performance on Global and Local Processing in Autism, and received the ASD Graduate Student Research Award. Jordan is also a Board Certified Behavior Analyst (BCBA).

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