and how we started
Unitopia attained non-profit status in 2019, but the work conducted by our officer team, volunteers and other valuable members of the Unitopia community started much earlier. The support of students on individualized education programs (IEPs), 504 plans, and other neurodiverse individuals began much earlier in Aaryan Shah’s life. Aaryan, the founder of Unitopia, holds a story similar to the passions of Unitopia's executives and volunteers; a matured, intricate bond with the neurodiverse community that developed at a young age, forging friendships and connections from a neurotypical perspective.
As a young child, Aaryan received plenty of exposure to neurodiversity, whether it was visiting separated special education classrooms in elementary school or neighbors and relatives on the neurodiversity spectrum. These experiences outlined the segregation of students with neurodiverse conditions and learning differences, and also the overburdened systems in the Fremont Unified School District, where teachers did not receive enough funding and resources to truly support students. Aaryan believed that as a neurotypical student, more steps towards inclusion and acceptance could be achieved, especially regarding the social interaction with children on the neurodiversity spectrum. This thought process continued throughout elementary and middle school and spurred action in the coming years.
After graduating 8th grade and working closely with Alex Baumgartner, a moderate/severe SDC teacher at his school, Aaryan developed Unitopia, which truly blossomed in July 2018. He networked and connected with a few local students weekly through personal interaction, sensory activities, visiting museums, and other comfortable interests. Over the following months, the organization's development alongside Harshith, Priya, and Michael provided a platform for individualized interaction and direct impact. The initial growth period consisted of an extensive focus on finding volunteers working hands-on with children on a weekly basis.
Now, more than two years later, we have become an international organization with more than 25 volunteers, supporting 200+ families across 8 countries, 125+ sessions, 1300+ hours, and a myriad of programs available for both neurodivergent and neurotypical individuals. You can check out our “Get Involved” and “Programs” pages on our website for more information regarding our volunteer programs, educational opportunities, and peer-reviewed research! You can also learn more about our officer team above.