EPIC coordinators Lauren Mathews and Demetria Ennis-Cole
DENTON (UNT), Texas — The University of North Texas launched a new program in August to provide organized social, philanthropic and learning opportunities to young adults over age 18 who are neurotypical and neurodivergent.
Neurodivergence refers to individuals with conditions like attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, Tourette syndrome and other variations in neurocognitive function.
The Empowering Personal Interactions in the Community program reduces barriers for young adults to meet, engage with and establish relationships with peers. Activities provide opportunities for increased friendships and exposure to a variety of social settings, rules and people through different activities. Due to restrictions because of COVID-19, all meetings and activities are currently planned as virtual only.
“Like a rocket, this program is designed to carry its participants to another world by engaging them in social and philanthropic service-learning activities in the Denton community and promoting social wellness through personal connections and collaboration,” College of Information Professor and EPIC Research Coordinator Demetria Ennis-Cole said. “EPIC is designed to enhance students’ growth, collaboration and emotional well-being through a combination of activities. This work is especially important now because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of the virus, students have been required to shelter in place, reduce in-person contact and practice social distancing. These practices are necessary for their health and physical safety, but can impede their social connections and negatively affect their mental health.”
The EPIC program is part of the campus-wide, collaborative UNT Neurodiversity Initiative, intended to organize programs and services within UNT and the community that focus on research, faculty and staff awareness and training, and supporting neurodivergent student, faculty and staff. UNTEPIC was made possible due to a $120,000 pledge from donor Jean Ann Brock, a longtime friend of the university.
The program was preceded by the Tuesday Night Flights student organization in 2014 and the 2017 student support program, UNT Embracing Neurodiverse Groups in Academics and Gainful Employment (ENGAGE).
“Programs such as UNT EPIC are a rarity in that most enrichment and social activities out there are for children,” said Lauren Mathews, a College of Health and Public Service clinical associate professor and EPIC program coordinator. “We are proud of the program’s focus to reduce barriers for neurodivergent young adults to socialize with others like them who are accepting and understanding. The social, philanthropic and learning activities planned are intended to be engaging, enriching and, most of all, fun!”
The program will also provide research evidence in an underrepresented population and offer opportunities for UNT students in various “helping profession” majors such as audiology and speech language pathology, rehabilitative and health services and applied behavior analysis to interact with neurodivergent individuals. Participants will have the opportunity to form meaningful relationships, broaden their interests and daily activities and engage in and give back to the Denton community.
For more information on joining the program, email UNTEPIC@unt.edu.