• Katie Vahey Gaebler

Introducing: Moon West joins AutismNERD

My name is Moon West, I’m a senior at Beloit College, and have teamed with Dr. Katie here at AutismNERD to bring about stories from the Muse front. At Beloit College I’m majoring in Psychology and Education with an English minor. I have a passion for community care, education, specifically educational spaces, and human stories. Katie and I share a view of research as storytelling: Research being a formula to provide a story of data and found facts, which can be quite beautiful. My interest in contributing to AutismNERD is because I, myself, am neurodiverse; my written outlets encompass neurodivergent themes among educational settings and therapeutic practices. My interest in these topics stem from my own life experiences and those I’ve witnessed of my peers. I've observed how living in today’s culture is a challenging experience as access isn't always accessible. How it can seem neurodiverse voices aren't always heard, even when we are screaming. I find this heartbreaking, and I aim to bring awareness to these issues through my writing and lived experiences.

Over the summer of 2022, I intentionally sought contacts in the world of Autism and Neurodiverse learning. Simultaneously, Katie, as a Beloit College alum and new Autism Advocacy business founder, was activating her networks as a GenX/Millennial cusp might: one lengthy phone call at a time. A mutual BC friend was able to connect us, and I am so glad he did. We share passions for neurodiverse advocacy, for research as storytelling, particularly among education spheres. As a neurodivergent learner, I’ve first-hand had to self-advocate, to converse with my teachers on the accommodations I have as my right, and worked to maintain lifestyle options essential to the care I need in and beyond a classroom setting. Regularly, I've had to share the story of my disabilities to ensure inclusion and access, essential to play out my own educational investments.

I was first diagnosed with dyslexia in 2nd grade and received years of tutoring and classroom accommodation plans. These plans followed me through middle school, high school, and college. For me to continually receive necessary accommodations, I had to undergo psychoeducational testing every 5-7 years. Psychoeducational testing, although necessary, is exhausting, often expensive, and time consuming. I am grateful for the resources and community I had through these processes. Implementing accommodations in college can be a drastically different process from seeking accommodations in primary school settings. In college, the student must be driven to take agency, direct support conversations with faculty and staff, and incorporate one’s own accommodations. This need for self-advocacy can be a giant undertaking. I, thankfully, had a supportive, loving community encouraging me throughout this process. One of my main goals in advocacy is to create this same community for others. Asking for help is a challenge and a real obstacle; yet with productive dialog among a supportive community, it can be surmountable.

Given my background and desire to create community, I am eager to collaborate with Dr. Katie in her work as an educational advocate. Katie and I came to educational and neurodiverse advocacy differently; for her, it was first as a parent and then with post-40th birthday reflection on professional challenges that led her to diagnosis, while I as an elementary student had family who advocated for and encircled me with community encouragement in promotion of my ability to self advocate. Together we recognize that the range of our experiences, both individually and collectively, can substantially help people who need it. A tag line for AutismNERD is “from PK to PhD” because Dr. Katie has breadth and depth of personal experience supporting others at every educational level from early infant care to beyond a completed doctorate, and in speaking about how to support these needs with any type of influencer from organization leaders and policy makers. With considerable networking over 20 years in Colorado and beyond, across collegiate, school district, policy, family, and neurodiverse communities, and among organizations that could better recognize neurodiversity, the need for her service consistently rings evident. Yet to translate her capacity to any scale beyond current efforts, strategic incremental build with right-fit human resources is essential. Katie is no stranger to putting out a proverbial vision board, and she relayed that her ask was answered when I scheduled a video call. We discussed a scope of work and schedule appropriate for a college senior, and the fit seems natural. Through the end of this academic year, we’ll collectively determine whether right-fit still applies for specific brand writing goals assessed in approximately 6-week cycles, and see how much we can accomplish in that time. Katie’s efforts- one individual meeting at a time- has started traction for community building, and my focused goal is to further that dialog through written blogs that build opportunities for extended communication.

Together we’ll find similarities among our advocate experiences and explore this commonality. Through our conversations targeted themes will emerge flowing into written anecdotes, growing the Muse section of AutismNERD. As someone interested in developmental psychology and education, I look forward to learning more about Dr. Katie's experience as an advocate and resource for families and students. I see this relationship as an insight into a business startup process and the opportunity to be mentored. My interests within this position are to broaden my understanding of educational access at a state policy level, and with the challenges parents experience when advocating for their child(ren). Additionally, I’ll learn more about how Katie guides academic transitions from primary through post-secondary ed levels, and facilitates among families the excitement/challenge paradox in determining right-fit choices. There are so many topics we can explore, and where this can take us is mutually exciting.

AutismNERD now needs another writer, a collaborator as a reflection tool, and I’m thrilled to be added into the fold. While 3 years ago writing the AutismNERD story was the first goal, Katie's time now spans meeting with partners, engaging dialog among her communities, developing relationships among her children’s many teachers as she supports their educational communities and learning progress, and broadening her reach in what she refers to as a “slow growth spinal alignment” for business. But the story is ongoing and its evolution needs to be documented. Further, as Katie continues her 4th decade on earth with new self-recognition in needing tangible neurodiverse lifestyle supports, my position as a reflection collaborator helps essential checks and balances to ensure AutismNERD can progressively rise to its potential. Through our shared passions for neurodiverse advocacy and storytelling, I know we’ll make a great team. I’m honored to be working with Katie and feel as though our connection is an incredible testament to what true community connectedness has the potential to be.

Finally, our shared connection to Beloit College and having this partnership span current student + alum adds a layer to this introduction story that makes this stage feel meaningful. I view Dr. Katie as truly practicing a liberal arts lifestyle; having a hand in a variety of settings from being a startup business owner, a mother, an educational advocate, furthering state policy, being a resource of families, and as she calls it “foremost, a change agent.” I’m eager to dive in with AutismNERD, to learn more about educational consulting startups broadly, and the opportunities of storytelling as advocacy. Let’s get to it!



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