by Jennifer Thompson
Rock Valley College
I spent years on the sidelines of neurodiversity as a parent and advocate. That all changed in February 2023 when I received my own diagnoses. Yes, plural. You see, many neurodiversities do not come alone. Most come with at least one comorbidity.
Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning and behaving. It commonly refers to individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD, and other learning disabilities.
As a neurodivergent individual, it’s not unusual to take a deep and sudden dive into a topic of interest – it’s like a side quest if you will. My latest immersive interest is digging deeper into how to navigate the workplace with this new knowledge about myself. I have ADHD. And, I know I am not alone.
According to the National Institute of Health, approximately 15-20% of the United States population is neurodivergent. That means nearly 1 in 5 have a neurodiversity. Fun fact: about 34% of marketers identify as having neurodiversity – I’ll save that side quest for another blog.
I’ve become fascinated by how we, as marketers, can use neurodivergent strategies for accessibility to better target our messaging and meet our goals. Here are five tips we can use to be more effective in communicating with and marketing to neurodivergents:
1. Keep it simple. Avoid using jargon, higher-ed lingo, acronyms or idioms. Focus on one call to action. If it’s complicated, hard to read, or has too many options, you will lose us. Be clear with your communication, and give us a deadline.
2. Stay consistent across platforms. Like neurotypicals, we often need to hear messages multiple times before they either sink in or we act on them. Don’t rely on just one communication channel. Why not take the same message and use a variety of tools to push that out to us? For example, use email, post a flyer, send a text, add it to the website and send me a postcard mailer.
3. Use visual formatting. Please don’t give us long blocks of text. Use bullet points, compelling images, and iconography. For the love of all things holy, stop fully justifying your text. This creates uneven spacing between words, and many of us struggle to comprehend this – especially those with learning challenges like dyslexia.
4. Stop calling. We will not pick up the phone if you are not in our contacts. Sorry, not sorry. Not only can it be challenging for us to be interrupted, we tend to be impulsive. Therefore, we prefer to connect after we have an opportunity to plan for the conversation and formulate our thoughts in a meaningful way. That’s why we prefer other communication channels like email and text.
5. Normalize reminders. This isn’t because we can’t focus. It is often because we are focusing on so many things simultaneously. Don’t communicate with us once, and expect us to act on it. Please give us a deadline, and be sure to follow up using different channels when possible. (See #2)
While there is no one-size-fits-all for communicating with folks with neurodiversities, there are things we can do to be more impactful in our work and relationships with others. After all, if our communications and marketing strategies are not accessible to 1 in 5, are we really creating an inclusive and accessible environment where all students can be successful? And at the end of the day, isn’t that at the heart of our community and technical college missions?
Jennifer Thompson is the executive director of college communications and adjunct theatre faculty at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Illinois. She holds degrees in theatre (BA, MA) and is a certified digital marketing professional. Prior to her ADHD diagnosis, she spent years advocating for special education access for her neurodiverse children. As a result, she is a champion for access and accommodations in the workplace for those with different abilities.