This webinar was moderated by Davis Erin Anderson, Assistant Director for Programs and Partnerships at METRO Library Council. The panelists include Stephanie (Cole) Adams, Lawyer at the Law Office of Stephanie Adams; Timothy Furgal, Procurement Consultant, Southern Tier Library System; Lauren Comito, Neighborhood Library Supervisor at Brooklyn Public Library; and Halley Eacker, Director of NYSED’s Safe and Supportive Schools Technical Assistance Center.

See a transcript of this conversation here.

The discussion started with our panelists sharing their personal definitions of neurodiversity. “For me, neurodiversity acknowledges and recognizes that everyone’s brain works in a different way,” Lauren Comito said. Halley Eacker echoed this by saying, “we’re all built differently and there’s a lot of different ways in which our brain can function in terms of how we learn, how we communicate, and even how we process sensory information.” Our panelists agreed that there is no universal way of thinking, feeling, or reacting; the idea of neurodiversity is meant to explore this and embrace it. 

“Neurodiversity asks that you be able to listen attentively to the person who’s sharing their experience with you and to sit in that shared humanity for a while. When there are bridges or gaps, it’s up to you to do the work. No matter what shows up, it doesn’t diminish the value of the person sitting in front of you.” -Timothy Furgal

Our panelists acknowledged from the outset that neurodiversity is challenging for everyone, though it gets even more complex at the intersection of race, gender, and socioeconomic standing. This is particularly challenging when it comes to the diagnosis of any type of neurodiversity within BIPOC kids and adults. Systematic oppression and environmental factors play a huge role in exacerbating the ways we are different, and this can cause a negative impact in how we live our everyday lives. However, when neurodiversity is highlighted in a positive way, it can unlock an abundance of creative potential. 

Each of our panelists took time to speak about their personal experiences with neurodiversity and discussed how this has shaped their work and daily lives. All of our panelists talked about communication: how do we want to communicate with our staff or peers? What are our communication preferences? It’s important to have open and honest conversations about preferred methods of receiving information. An example of this could include teaming up with a staff member who is more task oriented (e.g. works well with charts, spreadsheets, lists) or one that needs more space and freedom to develop ideas (e.g. someone who needs creative time to think and process). This starts with cultivating real relationships, practicing empathy, and rejecting a rigid approach to “success.” This could happen in a multitude of ways; everyone has something to offer. This continual process requires us to take a deep look at ourselves. Our panelists recognized that library systems have a real opportunity to improve when it comes to nurturing neurodiversity in the workplace.

Neurodiversity and environment are inextricably linked. This includes the physical space at cultural centers (including libraries). Stephanie (Cole) Adams emphasized this by urging cultural workers to challenge architects to design spaces that encourage neurodiversity. “[Architects] need to design something that meets the functions that your organization demands. Those functions are going to be evolving rapidly in the next few years. Demand the best from them and be relentless,” she said. Adams gave the example of having one board room with brighter colors, another with white walls, and another in earth tones, or allowing your co-worker to decorate their desk however they want. These important decisions consider your staff and peers’ personal needs and temperament on a daily basis. 

At the end of the webinar, the panelists offered advice for staying on task when everything feels urgent and important. This is a topic we can all relate to. Our panelists advised keeping a notebook, making priorities, making deadlines (if you need them), and making lists if that’s reinforcing for you. Sleep more. Drink more water. Self care is essential when the world feels like it’s changing nearly constantly. Lastly, and most crucially for those of us in the world whose brains work a little differently, practice radical acceptance. As Furgal said, sit in that chair of humanity and realize that being able to bridge the gaps between us humans is a true gift.

Many thanks to our panelists for sharing their time and insights with us. Please join us at one of our future events; a full listing can be found at metro.org/events.