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Celebrating Neurodiversity, Improving Health Equity

Mel Luna web

image courtesy of Dr. Melissa Houser

“One size fits all” does not work for all. Neurodivergent Vermonters are all too commonly struggling to have their needs met by the defaults of society—in health care, education, employment, and society at large. This grant has allowed us to expand our capacity to serve 25% more patients. ~ Dr. Melissa Houser

In the midst of the pandemic, while caring for sick patients in the hospital and homeschooling her neurodivergent preschooler, Dr. Melissa Houser had an idea.

What if preschoolers were taught about neurodiversity? What if they learned from an early age that all brains think, learn, play, and communicate differently? Would that understanding help to build a more inclusive community where everyone felt safe and free to be their true selves?

The founder of All Brains Belong VT, Dr. Houser decided to find out. With funding in part from the Health Equity grant program at the Community Foundation, she launched a nonprofit organization dedicated to celebrating and understanding neurodiversity in health care, education, and community connection.

All Brains Belong is reimagining healthcare delivery and building community. In 2022, the organization served more than 250 patients whose needs were not met by traditional healthcare systems, developed free social connection programs for families, and delivered monthly neuro-cultural competency / neuro-DEI training to healthcare practices, schools, and employers.

Dr. Houser and All Brains Belong VT were among 30 organizations around the state to receive a Health Equity program grant in 2022. The goal of the grants—for every Vermonter to have access to the health care they need—was supported by multimillion-dollar COVID-19 funding to the state from the Centers for Disease Control to address persistent health disparities. In partnership with the Vermont Department of Health, the Community Foundation has made $4.7 million in grants to improve health equity in Vermont.

Health and wellbeing are foundational to every individual’s life. The pandemic revealed that many of the health systems we rely on every day contribute to inequitable health outcomes, especially for historically marginalized groups. Forging new, more inclusive health systems helps to close the opportunity gap by allowing more Vermonters to live a full life and achieve their own potential.

Read more stories from our 2022 Annual Report