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Self-Stigma: The Silent Battle and Our Commitment to Strike It Out

Delilah Steinmann, Eye to Eye’s Mentoring Program Coordinator, recently answered questions about this year’s Strike Out Stigma campaign. This annual campaign aims to raise awareness, acceptance, and understanding of learning differences by amplifying the voices of people who learn differently and their allies. We challenge you to spread awareness by sharing experiences, challenging assumptions, rejecting stereotypes, and spreading information! To learn more about our Near-Peer Mentoring program and how to bring Eye to Eye to your school click here.

Strike Out Stigma 2024

What is Strike Out Stigma?

Strike Out Stigma is an annual Eye to Eye campaign that takes place every March, where Near-Peer Mentoring participants from across the country learn about how stigmas about learning differently affect the neurodiverse community. Our Art Rooms create a special project to practice “striking out” stigma that puts a fun spin on a difficult topic: the whole community comes together to create a traditional 9-pin bowling set and takes turns knocking down or “striking out” the stigmas of being neurodivergent. Mentors and Mentees work together to create a set of bowling pins out of cups by taping them together and decorating them with phrases or words that represent the negative stigmas they have heard about neurodivergent people or reflect a negative perception about learning differently that they may believe to be true of themselves. Then, the Chapter comes together to talk about how experiencing stigma can impact people who learn differently and think of positive phrases to counteract the negative stereotypes and perceptions of neurodiversity they identified on their bowling pins, each writing a statement that counteracts stigma on a rubber bowling ball. The Art Room ends with community-wide bowling, where the entire community comes together to practice “striking out” stigma.

How are young people participating this year?

Youth and young adults nationwide participate in our Strike Out Stigma Project throughout March and April.  Eye to Eye Mentors and Chapter Leaders will leverage their lived experiences as young people who learn differently to connect with neurodivergent Mentees and discuss stigma in a relevant and empowering way that emphasizes the importance of positive self-image and community support. Our Strike Out Stigma Bowling Project is an Art Room favorite, and this year, we are proud to share that our communities will discuss not only stigma but the harmful impact of self-stigma too! 

What is self-stigma and why is the focus on self-stigma this year?

Talking about self-stigma is SO important for our middle school Mentees, but has a lasting impact on our high school and college Mentors as well! All too often, neurodivergent youth and young adults encounter negative stereotypes about people who learn differently and internalize those assumptions to be true about themselves. This might be through media, academic success, teacher or peer feedback, or comparison. This is called “self-stigma” and often begins to develop around middle school as young people begin to solidify beliefs about themselves based on their interactions with the world. Encountering stigma (especially in school) leads students to compare themselves with their peers and feel shame or embarrassment, which cultivates negative beliefs about themselves and their potential to succeed.  

In shifting the conversation away from the broader societal implications of how stigma can affect the neurodivergent community as a whole, we are anchoring on addressing the harmful impacts of experiencing stigma by starting from within. Learning to recognize stigma, especially the self-stigma that neurodivergent people can develop as a result of the systems that are not built to support their needs, is critically important to empowering ND youth and young adults. When thinking about how we can support young people to grow up ready to encounter and break down the barriers that often face members of the ND community, supporting their self-confidence and pride in their neurodiverse identity is the first step in the right direction. As our Mentors and Chapter Leaders coach Mentees to recognize and strike out harmful internal stigmas they might hold about learning differently and create safe spaces to celebrate success, our older participants continue to break down the internal barriers they may feel daily in school and develop confidence.

What is something you’ve witnessed that was interesting or empowering when watching young people participate?

Almost without fail, when we ask our Eye to Eye Alumn’Eye what project they remember most from the Art Room, the answer is the Strike Out Stigma bowling project. As we kick off the mentoring program each fall, our returning Chapters and stakeholders ask if and when we will do the bowling project. As a Mentoring Program Coordinator (MPC) for Eye to Eye Chapters in the West, southwest, and Midwest regions of the US, my Chapter Leaders report that Mentees and Mentors both leave the room with their heads held a little higher after this project, which I remember from my time as a Chapter Leader at Gonzaga University.  Knowing and acknowledging just how capable you are is a skill just like anything else– it takes practice. You must continue to grow and believe in your capabilities so that when you face challenges and need self-confidence the most; you can believe in yourself and your abilities. When we can begin to ignite that in our middle school Mentees during their formative years through projects like the Strike Out Stigma bowling project, we equip them with a powerful tool to support them in and far beyond the Art Room. 

Strike Out Stigma 2024

How can we as a society support young people in removing the stigma that comes with ND?

As an ND young adult who works weekly to support ND young people in Eye to Eye’s Near-Peer Mentoring Program, my advice is that we need to listen. Listen to the stories that young people tell you. Listen to what your students have to say. Listen for and contradict the negative remarks that others or themselves make about how they learn. Empowering young people to grow the confidence needed for their success begins and ends with listening to them. You might not see profound changes overnight,  but instilling that pride and celebrating the little achievements makes all the difference in a lifetime.

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