Neurodivergent people are naturally wired to think and to process information differently than our neurotypical peers. This often lends itself well to problem solving. We’re able to think ‘outside the box’ to seek out creative solutions to issues. However, the paths we take to arrive at these solutions can sometimes prove to be frustrating or stressful for us. We may also struggle to maintain productivity in the workplace, as we face sensory issues, schedule changes, etc., and certain tools may be helpful in helping us to navigate these sorts of challenges.
While not all neurodivergent people prefer to process and problem solve in a visual manner, a penchant for visual processing is common among neurodivergent people. An excellent visually oriented tool for assisting us in problem solving and completing tasks is something known as ‘mind mapping.’
Mind maps are a way for people to visually outline their ideas by organically brainstorming without regard to any sort of particular structure or order. They literally map out your ideas, extracting information from your brain and laying it out in a visually comprehensible way. They’re essentially diagrams intended to represent items, concepts, tasks, or words relating to a primary concept using a fluid arrangement which allows the user to create a framework around that concept.
They’re not only beneficial for brainstorming, but also for note taking, organizing a workload, planning and breaking down tasks, presenting and communicating ideas, and arranging written work. Mind maps can transform long lists of information into highly organized diagrams that work with the brain’s natural inclinations.
For neurodivergent people, mind maps can be particularly effective at assisting us in expressing ourselves and our needs to employers. They can allow us to more clearly see challenges we may be facing and potential solutions to those barriers, so we can adjust our workplace schedule and environment to more adequately meet our needs and highlight our strengths.
Collaborative mind mapping sessions between employees and managers can help to bridge communication gaps. Mind mapping can allow us to communicate in writing and images, in ways we might not necessarily be able to clearly do otherwise, particularly if we are nonspeaking or have difficulties verbally conveying our thoughts. In these sessions, goals can be set, as well as outlines of achievable steps to reach them.
Mind mapping also provides managers with the ability to orient both neurodivergent and neurotypical employees around objectives, set timelines, and delegate tasks. Because mind mapping mimics the brain’s natural ways of comprehending and organizing information, it’s particularly effective at enhancing both individual responsibility and mutual understanding.
All mind maps have the same general elements and structure, including:
- A main idea or focus in the center
- Main themes radiating from the central idea, forming offshoots, or ‘branches.’ These ‘branches’ indicate a keyword or topic image indicated on their correlated lines.
- Topics or ideas of lesser significance are indicated by ‘twigs’ in related ‘branches.’
- Together, these ‘branches’ form a complete structure or organizational plan.
As an example, to execute a mind map with neurodiversity as a topic example, you might:
- Place ‘neurodiversity’ in a center circle
- Create a branch coming off the center circle saying ‘autism’
- Create branches for other neurotypes like ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, etc., each with their own line or branch extending from the center ‘neurodiversity’ circle
- Begin adding twigs to each branch, such as the information about autism coming from the ‘autism’ branch, and so on for each neurotype
Overall, these things together create a visual picture of what someone might want to demonstrate about neurodiversity. It allows the user to easily see the larger picture and how the concepts relate to one another. Also, by making it visual and actively engaging with the information, there’s a greater likelihood that the information will be understood and retained.
After getting the basic structure of the mind map down, it can be color-coded, coded with shapes, or used in conjunction with other tools such as sticky notes or assistive technology.
Color-coding or using symbols for mind maps can be helpful so users can see at a glance exactly what points are being made. For example, if all action points are circled in blue, you can see what needs to be done, without having to go through the entire mind map.
Sticky notes can be useful when creating mind maps if you’re unsure exactly how concepts relate to one another, or if you want to get the layout right before putting anything down on your paper. They can also be helpful when working as a group, as they can be moved around on different surfaces, like a whiteboard or the wall.
In terms of assistive technology, there are various mind mapping software available that can assist in electronically creating mind maps. These programs allow users to more easily edit their mind maps as they navigate through the brainstorming process.
Overall, mind maps lend themselves nicely to a variety of thinkers, providing a beneficial tool for collaboration, problem solving, communication, and planning.