This week’s WIIT Radio Show Spotlight highlights a show titled “Audibly Neurodivergent,” run by Estlin Mendez, an electrical engineering student who uses they/them pronouns. The show occurs every Monday from 9 a.m. until 10 a.m., and Mendez explained that the early time slot is in part due to the fact that they needed a reason to “actually get out of the bed in the morning” on Mondays.
This article would be amiss without first a brief explanation of what the term neurodivergent really means. According to Mendez, the word is similar to but not quite synonymous with the term “mentally ill”; while there might be some overlap between the two, there are stark differences as well. For example, Mendez explained, autism isn’t a mental illness in the sense of the term they use, but autistic people may very well refer to themselves as neurodivergent. In addition, neurodivergent is an identity term created by the group of people it describes, whereas many other terms are created by those who do not have personal experience with what they are describing. “It’s nice to have a term that isn’t a clinical term,” they continued, “because a lot of clinical terms have a lot of stigma associated with them.”
The show is structured with alternating commentary and songs, the ratio of the two fluctuating depending on Mendez’s mood. “I have a lot of words inside of me,” Mendez explained, “but sometimes at 9 a.m. you’re just not really into talking.” The primary reason Mendez started their show was a simple wish to sit and talk about their thoughts on the radio for a short period of time, and the fact that it occurs relatively early in the morning lessens the need to have every word perfectly planned out: at 9 a.m., there is a much lower chance that many people will be listening online or walking through MTCC during the show’s duration. “I enjoy talking about weird 'brainthings'; they’re an important thing to talk about,” Mendez said. Talking about neurodivergency can both spread awareness about it to those who aren’t familiar with the term and also help those going through the same struggles or situations feel less alone in them. “I want to put things in the world, into the void, so that way they’re no longer just in me. … Let’s just put them into the airwaves, and the aliens can listen to them, you know? Some alien out there is like, ‘What a weirdo. New favorite radio show.’”
The topics Mendez discusses during the show are often the very same that they talk about during therapy, they explained. For example, a recent show discussed the concept of executive functioning, which, put simply by Mendez, is “your brain’s ability to organize yourself into doing tasks.” When an individual is bad at executive functioning, Mendez explained, they may have difficulty doing their laundry or other similar tasks. Doing laundry isn’t a one-step process; it involves getting off of the couch, walking to the laundry pile, finding and clearing a space to sort the laundry pile, sorting the laundry pile, and so on. An individual might become overwhelmed with all of these intermediate processes and find themselves unable to leave the couch in the first place, Mendez said. Another example of a topic frequently discussed during their radio show is the concept of trauma.
The music played on Audibly Neurodivergent varies widely, Mendez said, and doesn’t adhere to any specific genre. The artist played most consistently is the Mountain Goats, but other artists that make frequent appearances are 4th Curtis (an all-trans indie pop band), It’s a Musical (“pop music, but soft pop,” Mendez described), Cold War Kids (an alternative rock band), Stars (a Canadian indie pop band), Carly Rae Jepsen (a pop artist and “a gay icon,” Mendez explained), Hayley Kiyoko (an indie pop artist who Mendez also described as a “gay icon”), and classical artists such as Luboš Fišer. One struggle Mendez has, however, is that “a lot of the music I like has swear words in it, and then I can’t play it. People don’t make radio versions of songs anymore.”
In addition to a discussion of “brainthings” and the playing of a few songs, Mendez explained that they also occasionally read amusing things they find on the internet or poetry that they particularly enjoy. The content of the show is, truly, very dependent on Mendez’s mood.
Due to the early hour, readers should be aware that the show doesn’t always start promptly, and Mendez explained that listeners should wait around a half an hour before assuming the show isn’t running that day. However, Mendez enjoys running the show, and has no plans of discontinuing it. “I’m going to continue it until they kick me off the radio,” they explained.
As a reminder, all Illinois Tech students have the opportunity to apply to run their own WIIT radio show. Applications can be found at radio.iit.edu, and questions can be directed to [email protected].