Empowering neurodiversity in Glen Cove


Luz Hurtado first became aware of her son’s autism when he was 2 years old. She noticed James had certain behaviors that seemed unusual, such as lining up objects by size, and he often didn’t respond to his name. These early signs prompted her to seek medical advice, leading to a formal diagnosis of autism spectrum disorder. Despite initial disbelief, Hurtado eventually accepted the diagnosis as she learned more about autism and recognized the need for early intervention and support services for her son.
“I started crying,” Hurtado said. “I didn’t believe it, and I never knew what autism was. The doctor said that I needed to go through all these things so he can get services even though I didn’t think he had autism, but she was right.”
When James asks for something, he will say, ‘pizza’, instead of saying, ‘’Can I have some pizza?” If Hurtado asks James about his school day, he won’t respond. She said she prefers James stay in the city’s school district instead of attending the Boards of Cooperative Educational Services.
“He’s very smart, he knows how to multiply, he knows how to read and write, but when they ask him questions, or to read or write, he doesn’t respond very well,” Hurtado said. “If I put him in BOCES, they’ll really want to focus more on the social parts and his behavior, but not really on the academics.”
April is dedicated to autism awareness, which aims to put a spotlight on the daily hurdles that people with autism and their families face.

Autism spectrum disorder is a developmental disability, and people with autism often have problems with social communication and interaction, and restricted or repetitive behaviors or interests. They may also have different ways of learning, moving, or paying attention. According to autismspeaks.org, one in 36 children in the United States have autism, and 1 in 45 adults in the U.S. have autism. Boys are nearly four times more likely to be diagnosed with autism than girls.
The journey towards official recognition of the Neurodivergent Strength Awareness flag is gaining momentum, thanks to the efforts of Assemblyman Charles Lavine and Josh Mirsky. Mirsky, a 31-year-old Jericho man on the autism spectrum and elected officials in Glen Cove raised the flag in Village Square on April 25 as state lawmakers continue to consider the flag’s potential as an official state emblem.
Mirsky, drawing inspiration from the Pride flag’s impact on LGBTQ+ acceptance, created the Neurodivergent Strength Awareness flag to combat stigmas surrounding neurodivergent individuals. The flag symbolizes equality for neurodivergent people and features an infinity symbol to represent the diverse ways they think, learn, and behave.
“I was bullied tremendously; I already faced all this bigotry when I was a kid,” Mirsky said. “There are deep seated societal stigma’s, and these are the kinds of things I’m trying to change. People don’t want to talk about it because quite frankly, lots of pf people feel embarrassed. Some people tell me, they’re ashamed. But to change stuff, you need to talk about it.”
Each autistic child is unique, but there are some common areas where many autistic people struggle. In Glen Cove, the Tiegerman School District, founded in 1985, has grown to become a leading institution in neurodiversity education. Recognizing the unique strengths and challenges of each student, the district tailor’s instruction to meet individual needs. With a focus on empowering students intellectually and emotionally, Tiegerman has achieved success, with 70 to 80 percent of high school students graduating with diplomas. Serving over 500 children aged 3-21 and 135 adults, Tiegerman’s impact extends beyond Glen Cove, drawing students from the five boroughs and Nassau County.
“What we’ve come to learn with autism is it’s a developmental disorder disability, rather than it being just viewed as a deficiency,” Jeremy Tiegerman, the school’s chief operating officer, said. “It’s on a spectrum of functioning, and everyone has their own strengths and weaknesses, and we’re really looking to find out and determine what one’s strengths, weaknesses are and then tailor that instruction to meet the individual’s needs.”
Mirsky offered this advice to those experiencing stigma, and who internalize their diagnosis negatively.
“Don’t hate yourself because you can always figure stuff out,” he said. “I taught myself social skills. You always teach yourself something new. There’s lots of autistic people or ADHD, OCD people, whether it is online or social groups. Reach out to other people, but don’t hate yourself. Lots of times people hate themselves because they internalize all the stigma and that never turns out well.”