Find Mediators Near You:

Neurodiversity in Mediation 

This is a brief introduction to neurodiversity and reflection about potential applications.

According to the Stanford Neurodiversity Project, neurodiversity is a concept that regards individuals with differences in brain function and behavioral traits as part of the normal variation in the human population. The concept of neurodiversity increases understanding and representation opportunities for those who experience neurological differences, either consciously or unconsciously, suggesting that these variations in human brain wiring have their own unique strengths and challenges and should not be seen as deficits.

It is estimated that one in every seven individuals is potentially neurodivergent. As a representative example, among individuals identifying as neurodivergent, it is possible to find those who might experience specific learning differences, autism, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). In contrast, persons who acquire different brain functioning from a post-birth brain injury could be referred to as neuro-acquired.

Individuals identifying as neurodivergent and neuro-acquired possess brains that present unique strengths and challenges due to their functioning. These challenges are unlike those experienced by the majority of the population. Furthermore, neurodivergent individuals might experience more than one type of difference in their brain functioning at once, as their co-occurrence is not uncommon.

Neurodiversity greatly impacts the workplace and its experience. It is known today that neurodivergent and neuro-acquired individuals possess characteristics due to their unique functioning that can result not only in specific challenges but also in potential advantages when it comes to developing unique perspectives and problem-solving abilities that can enhance team performance, among other aspects relevant to mediation scenarios. It is estimated than, by 2027, 25% of Fortune 500 companies will actively recruit neurodiverse talent to improve business performance.  

How neurodiversity affects mediation

Neurodiversity significantly influences mediation, particularly because it affects how individuals perceive, process, and communicate information and sensory inputs in a conflict resolution setting and context. That said, it is important to remark that – alike in the workplace – the experience of autism, dyslexia, or other co-occurring neurodiversity traits is unique for every individual and is greatly influenced by the socio-cultural context in which they are living at that time, and by their individual state of health and well-being.

While the interplay of such variables has to be considered holistically and on a case-by-case basis, it is possible to propose a universal guideline for better understanding the influence of such effects in order to support parties in becoming more aware of their position and interests, and consequently to raise the possibility of settlement. 

Among the various ways neurodiversity can impact the mediation process, we acknowledge the following:

  1. Communication Styles: Neurodivergent individuals may have distinct communication styles. For instance, an individual with autism might prefer direct, literal communication and may struggle with metaphorical language and the interpretation of emotions, which can lead to misunderstandings.
  2. Information Processing: Neurodivergent people often process time and information differently. For example, an individual with ADHD might have difficulty focusing on lengthy discussions due to the experience of racing thoughts as part of the brain’s self-regulating process. In this case, they might benefit from additional time and different mediums to better understand complex concepts.
  3. Sensory Processing: Sensory processing differences are common not only in neurodivergent individuals and can significantly impact perceived comfort and concentration. Stimuli from the five senses can be overwhelming and, at times, it might be necessary to implement recovery strategies to avoid sensory overloads potentially leading to meltdowns. Among the possible options are allowing room for practicing sensory decompression exercises and the use of fidget toys.
  4. Emotional Responses: Neurodivergent individuals may exhibit different emotional responses to stress, conflict, or misunderstanding. These responses are not always aligned with neurotypical expectations and can be misinterpreted. This can sometimes be directly dependent on challenges in reading emotional reactions in others or in expressing emotions.
  5. Social Interaction and Rapport Building: Some neurodivergent individuals may find social interaction and rapport building more challenging, especially in stressful situations like mediation. Mediators can facilitate this by establishing clear expectations, offering reassurance, and creating a supportive, non-judgmental space.
  6. Patience and Pacing: The pace of mediation might need to be adjusted to accommodate the needs of neurodivergent participants. Rushing through discussions, figures, or numbers can be overwhelming, so allowing more time for processing and decision-making can be beneficial. Offering the possibility to implement compensatory measures, for example, the use of calculators, process maps, or other tools to organize information could also greatly help.
  7. Stress Management: Neurodiverse individuals can have a lower stress tolerance and a different reaction to stress. Stress can also be induced by environmental factors out of their control, impacting sensory stimulations. Allowing for the use of weighted garments, in combination with the practice of sensory recovery strategies described above, could also provide great relief to neurodivergent parties.

Implementing a neurodiversity perspective in mediation

Implementing a neurodiversity perspective in mediation is not merely about accommodating differences but about enriching the mediation process by recognizing and leveraging the diverse cognitive and communicative styles present in neurodivergent individuals. This approach aligns with the broader societal shift towards inclusivity and recognition of diverse perspectives as valuable and essential to problem-solving and conflict resolution.

The integration of a neurodiversity perspective in mediation involves a nuanced understanding of how neurodiverse individuals perceive, process, and express information and emotions. It necessitates tailored communication strategies, environments, and methodologies to ensure that all parties can participate fully and effectively.

As we delve into the specifics of implementing a neurodiversity perspective in mediation, it is crucial to consider these evolving understandings and practices. This not only ensures that the mediation process is fair and effective for all participants but also opens up new avenues for creative and empathetic problem-solving, grounded in a deep appreciation of the diverse ways in which we all experience and interact with the world.

The following are potential ways a mediator can take into account the neurodiversity element in a mediation scenario:

  1. Identifying Neurodiversity Among Parties: Before or at the beginning of the mediation process, mediators can politely inquire if any participants (including lawyers) identify as neurodivergent. This awareness would allow mediators to adjust their approach to ensure inclusivity in their approach. It is important to mention that not all individuals might be aware of their neurodivergent status, while others might not be comfortable disclosing it in public. For this reason, we suggest conceiving an appropriate process for disclosure.
  2. Manage Sensory Sensitivities: Creating a sensory-friendly environment can significantly improve the ability of neurodivergent parties to participate effectively in the process. A mediator, for example, can favor the use of facilities which allow easy adjustment of lighting, elevated thermal and acoustic comfort, and are easy to access; ideally located in the proximity of spaces where neurodivergent parties could practice sensory decompression exercises.
  3. Leverage the Added Value That Neurodiversity Brings: Whether we are speaking about perspective-taking or problem-solving, neurodiversity can bring unique perspectives to the mediation process. For instance, an individual with dyslexia might approach problem-solving in a creative, non-linear fashion, offering novel solutions to conflicts. Valuing and integrating these diverse perspectives can lead to more innovative and satisfactory outcomes.
  4. Allowing for Confidential Disclosure and Assessment: Devising specific procedures for confidential disclosure of neurodiversity or in facilitating access to diagnosis whilst undertaking or preparing for a mediation process could help reduce the risks of failure, ensuring increasing understanding of the interplay of cognitive and sensory factors of the parties during the process.
  5. Adopting Varied Methodologies: Utilizing different methodologies can accommodate various neurological needs. For instance, some people may benefit from visual aids, while others might prefer verbal explanations.
  6. Ensuring Clarity of Information: Repeating and rephrasing key messages can be important to ensure that all parties fully understand the information, especially when it involves complex or nuanced details.
  7. Adopting Varied Communication Styles: Recognizing that some participants may be verbal thinkers and others visual thinkers is important. Modifying communication styles to cater to these differences can enhance understanding and participation.
  8. Creating a Safe and Equitable Environment: A key element of supporting neurodiversity is establishing a trustworthy and comfortable environment for all parties. This includes respecting each individual’s unique needs and contributions.

Neurodiversity and game theory

The intersection of neurodiversity and game theory presents a fascinating area of study, particularly in the context of mediation. Game theory, traditionally used in economics and political science, analyzes strategic interactions where the outcome for each participant depends on the actions of all involved. When neurodiverse individuals are part of this dynamic, their unique perspectives and problem-solving approaches can significantly influence outcomes.

Incorporating neurodiversity into game theory not only broadens the range of strategic approaches in mediation but also promotes a more inclusive and comprehensive understanding of conflict resolution. It underscores the importance of diverse cognitive styles in strategic thinking and decision-making, paving the way for more innovative, equitable, and effective solutions in various negotiation scenarios.

Neurodivergent individuals often approach problems and strategic thinking differently than their neurotypical counterparts. For example, someone with autism might excel in identifying patterns and logical inconsistencies, which can be a tremendous asset in strategic negotiations where identifying underlying patterns is key. In contrast, individuals with ADHD might bring a level of creative and divergent thinking that challenges conventional strategic approaches, leading to innovative solutions.

Consider a mediation scenario involving resource allocation. A neurotypical individual might approach this through traditional negotiation tactics, focusing on compromise and incremental gains. However, an individual with autism might utilize their strength in predictive modeling and pattern recognition to devise a strategy that maximizes resources more efficiently for all parties, identifying solutions that others might overlook. Individuals with ADHD could excel due to their ability to rapidly shift attention, create solutions, and think flexibly. This can be advantageous in scenarios that require quick adaptation to changing conditions and the ability to consider multiple possibilities simultaneously. Even in crisis negotiations, their ability to quickly analyze various scenarios and react dynamically can lead to unexpected but effective resolutions.

Neurodiverse perspectives can also enhance collaborative outcomes. In a situation where collaborative strategies yield the best results (a characteristic of many cooperative games), neurodiverse individuals might approach collaboration in unique ways, fostering more creative and inclusive solutions.

Conclusion

Incorporating a neurodiversity perspective in mediation not only fosters inclusivity but also significantly enhances the overall effectiveness of the mediation process. By recognizing and accommodating the unique needs and contributions of neurodiverse individuals, mediators can create a more equitable and productive environment for conflict resolution.


[3] Gartner Top Strategic predictions for 2024 and beyond,  online available here.

                        author

Marco Imperiale

Marco Imperiale is the founder and managing director of Better Ipsum, a benefit corporation focused on legal design, legal innovation, and legal wellbeing. He has extensive experience in legal design, legal tech, and in the interplay of copyright law and the entertainment industry. He is also a mediator, a mindfulness… MORE >

                        author

Tommaso Davi

Tommaso Davi | Founder Neurosive | ESCP EMBA, RIBAI | Neurodivergent Tommaso founded Neurosive to help profit and non profit organizations to develop neuro-equity through education, digital solutions and strategic consulting so that fair treatments and opportunities  for all can be ensured independently from the variation in individuals brain functioning and dependent… MORE >

Featured Mediators

ad
View all

Read these next

Category

Fairness v. Neutrality

The “Rules” (What is known). The Model Standards of Conduct for Mediators, (hereinafter Standards) prepared by the American Association Arbitration’s Section of Dispute Resolution and other organizations, is a good...

By Ricardo Padilla
Category

Lynn Merle Johnson: 1947 – 2023

Lynn Merle Johnson, 75, of Corvallis, Oregon, died on January 28th, 2023 after complications following a heart procedure. Lynn was adopted by Lulu Belle and Floyd Johnson and raised in...

By Lynn Johnson, James Melamed, J.D.
Category

What Do Mediators Do?

If mediation were limited to only commercial transaction, these would be the functions of a mediator.What do mediators do? In figuring out what "mediators" means, one can stumble upon two...

By Melissa Marzett
×