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Tips for Supporting Neurodiversity in Student Associations

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Julia Sachs
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Those with sensory disorders or social disabilities may feel intimidated by requirements from some associations, but there are ways to help make neurodiversity in student associations more inclusive.  

Many student associations are not equipped to handle neurodiverse members, and these students can often be alienated from what may be seen as commonplace practice. Those with sensory disorders or social disabilities may feel intimidated by requirements from some associations, but there are ways to help make these environments more inclusive.

About Neurodiversity

Colleges adapt coursework to help neurodivergent students, and this same assistance could be applied on a smaller level in organizations. Adapt presentations to be positive for neurodivergent students to ensure they can learn what is being taught.

Often, these individuals either focus on many things at once or can only hyper-focus on one thing. Club leaders can adapt activities around these focus levels, whether in an advocacy group, an academic club, or a hobby organization. For example, for a crafting club, you can give neurodivergent students a single task to work on such as a particular sewing process, or many tasks, such as making something from start to finish.

Overstimulation

Another way to directly benefit neurodivergent students is to prevent overstimulation. Overstimulation occurs when an individual becomes overwhelmed by their surroundings and either shuts down or begins to panic. This issue has a simple solution, but not one that an average club may consider. Avoid bright, flashing lights, such as RGB strips, or flickering, broken lights. Keep the volume level down; ask members not to shout and keep music or videos on a lower volume setting.

Try not to physically place neurodivergent students in the center of things. Too many conversations at once can often lead to overstimulation from the neurodivergent student trying to keep up with all of them at once. One way to accommodate neurodiverse students is to discuss their boundaries with them beforehand or warn them ahead of time that they may be entering a stimulating environment.

Leadership

Organization leaders are responsible for ensuring all students feel welcome, involved, and, most importantly, comfortable. This extends to those who are neurodivergent. There are many types of neurodivergence, each with their own triggers. Ask these members for individual advice and apply it to the club where possible. If necessary, see about introducing them to the club, so that all members can be on the same page to keep that member comfortable. Make sure their voices are heard, and that they are not being talked over.

Specialized Student Associations

Outside of general organizations, specific organizations for neurodivergent students should be established. These should be welcoming places for those who are neurodivergent to find others like themselves just like any other cultural club. If available, it could also be used as an advocacy organization for students to combine their voices into one much more significant one to advocate for change on campus. Inside non-neurodivergent-focused clubs, consider appointing someone who is neurodivergent to a leadership position to give them representation for the club itself. This will increase the comfort of other neurodivergent students and give them a direct pipeline to the club leadership to talk about possible issues.

For clubs with specific requirements, flexibility should be established for those who are neurodivergent. Whether there is mandatory club participation, prerequisites for attendance, or simply a requirement to speak, there should be a way for those who need it to circumvent things they simply cannot do or find ways to participate in a way that is not distressing.

Mental Health Resources

Outside of clubs, universities can allocate mental health resources for those who are neurodivergent. These members can be prone to stress and other mental health issues, so resources can be established to let them recover in a personalized way. Clubs can make sure all of their members are doing well, especially those with neurodivergent minds, and make sure they recommend adequate care.

When it comes to those who are neurodivergent, small gestures could mean the world. Whether it means taking those who suffer from overstimulation seriously, providing lessons and teachings in a way that is comfortable to these members, offering flexibility for some requirements, or simply providing them with a personalized home outside of the home. Colleges and students can all work together to make sure everyone is welcome, regardless of how different their brains may work. As with all forms of representation, neurodivergent people deserve to be seen, too.
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