"Including neurodiverse people will make your events so much better"
To mark Neurodiversity Celebration Week (13-19 March 2023), Bruce Rose, head of audience at Live Group, reveals the things that neurotypical event professionals would find useful to understand about neurodiversity.
Bruce Rose, head of audience at Live Group, is a cis white male and fairly neurotypical.
His wife was diagnosed with ADHD as an adult (certain aspects of events don’t suit her) and his daughter had an early-stage diagnosis of ADHD and is on the autism spectrum. Most event environments don’t – and may never – suit her.
Given his home and work life, it’s no surprise that Bruce is passionate about shaping events around all types of people and has dedicated the last year to developing Live Group’s audience profiling tool – AudienceDNA – which he talked about on a recent podcast for our sister title.
Bruce’s vision is for the events industry to cater to the individual – fitting itself around the audience members, rather than the other way around. He wants people to leave events thinking, "that felt like it was built for me", and for them to feel listened to in a way they’ve not been listened to in the past.
We caught up with him to find out a bit more about how neurodiverse people experience events - and how neurotypical event planners can support them.
AMI: What are the main things that neurotypical event professionals would find useful to understand about neurodiversity?
BR: This a great question. I would say there are five main things.
Firstly, there is nothing abnormal about neurodiverse people. Neurodiversity refers to the natural variation in how our brains work rather than a fixed set of "disorders". Conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and others are neurological differences, not deficits. Including neurodiverse people will make your events so much better, more engaging and rewarding experiences.
2. Neurodiverse individuals may experience the world differently, with unique strengths and challenges.
Sensory processing, communication, social interaction and executive function are all areas that can be impacted, but their perspective and input can be revolutionary.
Three: inclusive design benefits everyone, not just neurodiverse individuals.
By considering accessibility from the beginning, organisers can create events that are more welcoming and beneficial for all attendees.
I think about Rory Sutherland’s point on all of us being differently abled at some point in our lives – a door built for somebody with arm impairments is just as useful for somebody holding two cups of tea.
4. Small changes can make a big difference.
5. Ask for advice. Listen. Be bold about inclusion. Don’t be afraid of getting it wrong provided you’re willing to change.
AMI: Tell me more about how neurodiverse individuals experience large in-person events? How might that be different from neurotypical individuals?
BR: There are two important points to note here. The first is that neurodiverse is an umbrella term, so the individual needs expressed by that group of people will be vast.
Secondly, who is neurotypical within the context of an event? I would argue most events attract an extroverted audience, so while introversion isn’t neurodiversity per se, within an events context, it can be viewed that way. Also, the majority of neurodiverse individuals are likely to be introverts and some introverts will display symptoms typical to the neurodiverse.
Neurodiverse individuals with neurological differences such as autism, ADHD or dyslexia can experience conferences in unique ways that differ from neurotypical peers. The overwhelming sensory environment of large crowds, bright lights and loud noises can cause sensory overload for some neurodiverse individuals, leading to heightened anxiety and difficulty concentrating.
For many neurodiverse people - and this may apply to some introverts too - social interactions such as networking or small talk can be challenging. They may struggle with social cues or have difficulty with communication.
But some neurodiverse individuals may have a heightened ability to focus, particularly on specific topics of interest, and they may approach problem-solving in unique and creative ways.
These points will both impact how event organisers approach networking and education content.
For more from Bruce on how in-person events can better cater for neurodiverse individuals, look out for the upcoming Spring/Summer issue of AMI.