Is there a player in your group who always shows up late to the table, no matter how hard they try? Do you have a PC that struggles to keep up with the dice rolls during a fast combat round? Do you have someone in your party who forgets important details and often needs a reminder? Is there someone who attempts — but fails — to keep track with accounting or bookkeeping in the game? Do you have a player who accidentally pressed the delete button on the online character sheet before saving?
If you have experienced one or several of these as a DM or a fellow gamer, you may be running a game for — or playing with — someone who struggles with neurodiversity. In this article, I will discuss neurodivergence and neurotypical brains, and then will provide some helpful tips for both neurodivergent and neurotypical players in RPG.
Neurodivergent and Neurotypical Brains
The Cleveland Clinic provides a useful definition: “The term ‘neurodivergent’ describes people whose brain differences affect how their brain works.” Examples of neurodivergence include but are not limited to ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Autism, Down Syndrome, and Dyslexia. Neurotypical people do not have these differences.
I am well versed in neurodivergence. I write about this topic as one of those people who struggle to navigate a neurotypical world. Diagnosed later in life at age 38, it was a relief to discover that ADHD is not a gigantic character flaw but rather a cluster of symptoms of a medical diagnosis that needs to be managed. I still struggle with executive functioning. Like with all other things I either must do or like to do, executive functioning affects how I show up to the RPG table and participate.
Tips for Neurodivergent Players
As a neurodivergent player, I believe that there are two elements I need to bring to the game: accountability and communication. Under these elements are some tips that may help new or seasoned players have successful gaming sessions.
- Although we struggle with neurodivergent brains, we still need to abide by the rules (within reason) of the game and of the group.
- As an example, if struggling to arrive on time to a session (this is a condition called time blindness), find out when is the best time to leave home or log on to a Zoom session and set an alarm. It is generally better to be early so the rest of the group isn’t kept waiting. If you’re playing a one-shot game at a con, timeliness is imperative. If you’re late, your spot may be given to someone else.
- It’s okay to ask for clarification in a session, even if others do not need to. (I usually need assistance if there are multiple steps involved.)
- It may take longer to fill out the character sheet, and if you need more time, you can ask to meet with the DM or another player in advance. There’s no shame in asking for help.
- Having said that, if the DM or other players are disrespectful, exclusive, or insensitive, it’s a good idea to have a discussion or find a more inclusive group.
- Depending on how well you know the other gamers at the table and how severe your symptoms are, it may be a wise idea to communicate with the DM and/or the group. If they do not know, they will not be able to accommodate you.
- I am open about ADHD and communicate with the DM and other players, not to expect special treatment, but to let others know that executive functioning is slower, my responses may be slightly delayed, and I get overwhelmed easily. This may provide some understanding with others.
- Be mindful of symptoms pertaining to communication. If you tend to interrupt or blurt while someone is talking, find a way to pause until the person is finished. (Sometimes I count to myself) If you make a misstep, apologize.
Tips for Neurotypical Players
Although I am unable to write from a neurotypical perspective, I can communicate what can be helpful for a neurodivergent player. I write this with both DMs and players in mind:
- If you’re one of the lucky ones who have a neurotypical brain, that’s awesome! Please try to be patient with gamers who are a couple paces slower, who ask you to repeat something, or forget a detail. We are also painfully aware of these differences and still attempt to dig our self-esteem out of the mud, so please be kind.
- If you see another player struggling to keep up with the mechanics of the game, please help.
- If the DM is running a game for a large party, offer assistance and encouragement. Even a simple “good job” or “way to go” means a lot.
- If you have PCs with sensory issues, consider dimming the lights. Keep music to a background level. If possible, have comfortable chairs for the group, especially if the session is lengthy.
- Sometimes, neurodivergent players move more often or use stim tactics (I draw while I’m listening). If they are not disrupting gameplay, consider allowing them.
- If you are teaching something new to a player, handouts are helpful.
What are your experiences? Are there any helpful tips you would like to share?