How to plan events for neurodivergent attendees

Bruce Rose, head of audience at Live Group, shares how event planners can support such clients.

Two's company, three's a crowd: neurodivergent participants value sensory-friendly spaces to rest after sensory overload.
Two's company, three's a crowd: neurodivergent participants value sensory-friendly spaces to rest after sensory overload. Photo Credit: Adobe stock/KOTO

Bruce Rose, head of audience at Live Group, shares how neurotypical event planners can better cater to neurodivergent individuals.

Get feedback

The first thing most organisers can do is to get feedback on their offering and action change. Events should be inclusive and collaborative, enable people to have their say and see the change their voice has affected. This is critical to bringing people on board. Be caring and considerate for the full spectrum of attendees instead of offering a one-size-fits-most solution.

A retreating room

Providing a sensory-friendly space where attendees can rest in case of sensory overload can be helpful and simple to organise, but is often be overlooked by planners. It should be a quiet and calm space with dimmed lights and comfortable seating.

Clear communication

Attendees can be offered simplified versions of event communication. Marketing talk tends to use exciting words or similar, and are unsuitable for the neurodivergent.

  1. Use clear and concise language, avoid complex words or phrases.
  2. Break up information into small, manageable chunks – no huge paragraphs.
  3. Use visual aids to explain certain concepts.
  4. Focus on one or two follow-on actions that you need the audience to take, do not overload them.
  5. Do not expect an immediate response – allow processing time.

Buddy up

Introducing a buddy system that pairs attendees with a volunteer can help them navigate the event and lessen networking challenges. Attendees can also be given alternative participation methods: note-taking, video recordings or live transcription. These can help attendees who struggle with verbal communication or have difficulty with memory recall.

Advance information

Offer a schedule or agenda in advance, with expected capacities and noise levels to help attendees better prepare and plan their day, reducing anxiety and confusion. Something as simple as offering ear-defenders, noise cancelling headphones or earplugs can make all the difference in the world.

Challenging content

ADHD individuals can find content especially challenging. Offering PowerPoint with a bionic reading font, for example, is helpful and simple to do, yet rarely seen at events. Bionic reading works by strategically bolding parts of words to make text easier and faster to process by letting one’s brain fill in the rest of each word. Experts claim that dyslexic users understand such texts more quickly, helping them to focus.


Neurodivergent individuals prefer more frequent and lengthier breaks to process the content they have just engaged with. Planners can provide more opportunities to recharge in quiet and safe spaces.

Online events

The digital world allows neurodiverse individuals the opportunity of greater control of their experience. Having standard captions, volume control, and text-only networking – these are huge benefits for people who dislike the noise and thunder world of in-person events. Thus, online offerings do provide a refuge from big noises, wow factors and intense networking.

Hybrid events are enabling neurodivergent and neurotypical people to be on a level playing field, as both groups are able to interact and have their say in a way that suits them both.

Broadcasting events

While the “flash and bang” stream have a place in a traditional broadcast, it is advisable to create a second stream that includes the following:

· Removing background music

· Offering a dark-mode viewing page

· Removing on-screen information other than the speaker

· Providing bigger captions and louder speaker volume

· Removing flashing lights.

Said Rose: “At Live Group, we even change the breaks in these streams, removing all information other than a clear instruction to take a break and when to be back. We’ve also started experimenting with making these features modular – for example, allowing all users to remove background music or enter dark mode.

What language you use to describe the streams is also important and should be obvious for viewers. For example, you could use 'Broadcast’ for the main stream, and ‘Accessible/Inclusive/All-abilities Broadcast’ – or even ‘Everyone’s Channel’ for your second.”

Source: M&IT