According to Neurodiversity Media, at least one in eight people are neurodivergent. Yes, you read that right, that’s 12.5% of the world’s population. Is your gym or studio designed to accommodate this large group of people? What does it even mean to be neurodivergent? It’s far too big of a topic to cover in one article, but I’ll break it down and give you a few key points to consider that would help make your space more welcoming to all.
Neurodiversity celebrates the natural, mental differences in the human population without judgement. When referencing the term neurodivergent, you typically include but are not limited to the following: ADHD, Autism Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia.
With such a wide range of neurodiverse people represented, how do we begin to create space that supports each? Two fairly common traits between people with these divergences are having sensory processing differences and using physical activities to help maintain structure, focus and for some, to help reduce stress and improve their sense of balance. Given this, it’s safe to say you already have clients on the neurodivergence spectrum in your facilities and you may just not know it.
This article is going to focus on ways to help those with hypersensitivity, who can often feel overwhelmed by space and those around them. Mike Pribek, who experiences hypersensitivity, told me that when he goes to exercise, “that is all he’s focused on, so he tunes anyone out that tries to speak to him while he’s working out.” For Mike, the sounds of “loud music, machines operating and talking” can lead to over stimulation. By becoming more aware of how others experience our spaces, we can create a more inclusive wellness community.
So, let’s look at five ways we could improve your space for neurodiverse clients with hypersensitivity:
Excess movement and bright lights in one’s line of sight can be distracting. If you can see everyone moving in a mirror, it can not only cause distraction but could cause some to have vertigo as well.
Consider things like placement of equipment, lighting and mirrors. Is there an area of your studio where you could rearrange the mirror placement, remove a single light fixture or add a dimmer switch to reduce the overall brightness in order to make individuals feel more comfortable?
Touch is a sense that is extremely personal and has a wide range of preferences. Before you offer someone an adjustment to their form or to the equipment they are using, ask if they are comfortable with you entering their space and/or touching them. It may seem simple, and it is but it can also make a world of difference, to neurodiverse and neurotypical clients.
When it comes to equipment, not everyone will like gripping the rough metal handles of some weights and machines. Consider having some softer grips or gloves that people can check out to use for their workouts if they prefer a softer touch.
Is your gym one that has specific shoe requirements? Shoes are often a very personal thing and can take individuals years to find the perfect pair that is comfortable for them. For a spin studio, is it possible to offer a few bikes that can be used with street shoes versus having to use the clip-in shoes provided at the studio?
Does your studio not allow outdoor shoes to be worn in? Is there an option to allow people to clean the bottom of their shoes prior to entering so they could still wear the shoes that they feel most comfortable in?
Like Mike mentioned, loud and excessive sounds can be extremely distracting and sometimes, debilitating. Is there a small area of your gym or studio where you could buffer the sound by either removing a speaker or adding some sound-absorbing panels to the walls and/or ceilings? Do you have a separate room you could offer to outfit for those who need more privacy? If that isn’t possible, could you offer the option to borrow sound-canceling headphones to your members?
Potent smells are often extremely unsettling to many people with high sensitivity. That air freshener you put in the bathroom or that room spray you just spritzed all over the studio could actually be causing those who are highly sensitive greater distress than whatever you were trying to cover up. Scent is very personal, so it’s best to avoid adding any.
Strict adherence to a schedule and liking to know what to expect is not uncommon for neurodiverse individuals, and sometimes arriving at the gym only to find the area you wanted to use is occupied can cause extra stress. Allowing people to schedule use of the equipment, lockers, shower rooms, etc. can help mitigate frustrating encounters and allow your occupants a greater sense of safety. This may not be possible for your entire facility, but could one treadmill, one bike, one yoga mat and one set of weights be reserved for those who want to schedule them? Also, offering private tours of your space allows individuals to get to know the layout and better understand where things are located giving them a sense of comfort prior to arriving for their first workout.