Honoring Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Recent and ongoing conversations at Rowan University have shifted toward making the university more friendly for neurodivergent students, staff, and faculty. The increased conversations, events, and awareness around neurodiversity on campus are exciting and needed. In addition to providing more support and inclusion for neurodiverse students, we also need to place our focus on neurodiverse faculty and staff, who are an integral part of the university community. The question then is how do we make offices, meetings, and events more friendly to neurodivergent employees? There are some easy ways to be more supportive of our neurodivergent colleagues. Many of the tips here can benefit both neurodiverse and neurotypical employees.

Written by Erica King, Technical Trainer and Instructional Designer for Rowan IRT

For more information on the Neurodiversity Movement, please visit our previous DEI Prof-Spectives post on Defining and Celebrating Neurodiversity. 


Accommodation - An accommodation is a modification, whether in the classroom or in the workplace, that ensures that a person with a disability can complete required tasks and functions as those without disabilities.

Invisible Disability - Disabilities that are not immediately apparent. They can be physical, mental or neurological conditions that limit a person’s daily functions. They are also sometimes referred to as hidden disabilities.

Neurodivergent- Refers to a person with a brain/mind that functions differently than socially established norms.

Neurodiverse - Refers to a group comprised of both neurodivergent and neurotypical people; group diversity.

Neurodiversity - Neurodiversity is the full range of variations in cognition, learning, behavior, and socialization that exists within the population. Individuals identifying as neurodivergent may include those labeled with dyspraxia, dyslexia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyscalculia, autism, and Tourette syndrome.

Neurotypical - Refers to a person with a brain/mind that functions in alignment with socially established norms.

Person on the Autism Spectrum/ Autistic person – Refers to a person who identifies as having a form of autism or Asperger’s. Some persons on the spectrum prefer to say “Autistic Person.”

Person with a Psychiatric Disability – Refers to a person with a disability that involves emotional and/or psychological issues. Examples include persons with anxiety disorders and persons with depression.

Universal Design - refers to the design and composition of an environment so that it can be accessed, understood and used to the greatest extent possible by all people regardless of their age, size, ability or disability.


neurodiversity in the workplace

Way to provide support to neurodiverse communities and meet universal design principles in the workplace: 

  • Where is the agenda? Before any meeting send out an agenda and stick to it. Knowing what to expect in a meeting helps neurodiverse employees come prepared and reduces anxiety. It also provides the opportunity to ask for breaks ahead of time if someone thinks they will need one.

  • Breaks are important. Consider building breaks into any meeting longer than 30 minutes, even if it’s a 5-minute water break.

  • Provide water. Hydration helps focus, memory, and concentration. People may continuously forget to drink water. Your event could be a good reminder. This can be as easy as a small pitcher of water in the room. You can also ensure the meeting is in a location with a water cooler. Need an idea for promotional items for your department? A water bottle is a great option.

  • Chunk it. Consider dividing up any long meetings or training, especially if they are covering important information. Did you schedule a five-hour training program delivered in one session? Consider replacing it with a week-long series of one-hour focus sessions. Neurodiverse and neurotypical employees naturally learn better when information is presented in small chunks.

  • Have snacks. Perhaps someone was rushing out the door and couldn’t grab something to eat. Maybe someone got hyper-focused on a task and forgot to eat. Just a basket of healthy granola bars and some bananas are a great addition to training or meetings. No one can learn or focus if they are hungry. 
  • Have a basket of fidgets in your room. Ask everyone to pick one out when they enter the room to reduce the stigma around using or needing one. Those who don’t need want to use them don’t have to. If you are looking for a promotional item or item to give away at an event, fidgets are another great option. 

  • Know your exits. Publish room exits on your agenda or point them out at the beginning of your meeting or event. Colleagues with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) or Anxiety may want to be aware of the exits before the event starts. They may also prefer to sit near or face an exit. Panic attacks can happen and knowing where the exit is can provide support for those that experience panic attacks and need to leave. Publishing the exits for everyone is a good safety measure for all. 

  • Any resources you share, or presentations given, should be made available after the meeting or event. Announce this prior to starting the meeting. Employees can focus on your content better knowing they may not need to take notes. Some retain information better when they’re actively listening. They will not need to divert focus away to taking notes and instead can focus on the content knowing they will have a copy to refer to later.
  • Provide paper and pens when you start a meeting, training, or event. Do not be alarmed if people are drawing on them while they are listening. Doodling helps some people focus on the content being presented while keeping their hands busy and their minds sharp. 

Providing accommodations for everyone instead of waiting for those who require them to ask is an example of a universal design for work. Try:

  • Providing lists of tasks that need to be completed or creating them with the employee in touch-base meetings or project meetings.

  • Providing calendars of important dates according to projects or events. A list view and a calendar view together are also helpful. Always provide information in multiple ways for multiple types of brains. For offices, this may be sending out due dates in outlook to be added to employee calendars while providing a list of all the important dates for that project in the body of the Outlook calendar event.

  • Noise-canceling headphones are amazing for those who have trouble focusing. You don’t need to invest a lot of money, there are many brands that are not expensive available through online retailers and marketplaces like Amazon. Make these available to everyone in your office. This way those who don’t need them can decline, but those who do need them don’t have to ask. When accommodations are provided for everyone, the stigma is taken out of needing to ask for accommodations.

  • Turn on closed captioning in online meetings. This is a great feature for those with hearing or processing difficulties, but also for people working from home. You never know when Fido will bark at the exact time you said something important. Captions help improve understanding and retention for all participants.

Rowan University Community of Support for Neurodivergent Individuals:

Neurodiversity Faculty and Staff Affinity Group: All Rowan University faculty and staff are invited to join the Neurodiversity Faculty and Staff Affinity Group, which strives to engage across departments, Rowan University, and the community to strengthen relationships and further efforts of diversity, equity, and inclusion. The affinity group is open to all current and interested faculty and staff.

The Center for NeurodiversityThe Center for Neurodiversity was established as a result of the work of the Neurodiversity Taskforce, a task force comprised of neurodiverse faculty, staff, students and community partners. Neurodiversity, simply put, is recognizing mind differences as natural human variation and as valuable. Foundational to the work of the Center for Neurodiversity are shared tenets of neurodiversity culture:

  • valuing neurological differences as diversity and as one of many aspects of identity,
  • recognizing that a variety of minds benefits society,
  • viewing neurodivergence from a strength perspective, and
  • understanding that neurodiversity and disability co-exist

Rowan University Office of Accessibility Services: The Office of Accessibility Services provides accommodations and assistance to students with various documented disabilities in accordance with Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) of 1990. 

SJICR Sensory Room: The Office of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution offer a sensory room on Rowan University's main campus in Hawthorne Hall, Room 202. The goal of the sensory safe room is to provide students, faculty, and staff who may require a low stimulating sensory environment with a space to decompress, stim, and soothe while in a safe and affirming atmosphere. For more information, please email Roxie J. Patton, Director of Social Justice, Inclusion, and Conflict Resolution Initiatives, at patton@rowan.edu

For all student complaints involving discrimination and harassment, please visit go.rowan.edu/titlevi 

Resources for continued learning:

Workplace Accommodations from Understood

Neurodiversity in the Workplace and Inclusion

Addressing Neurodiversity Through Universal Design