Teaching to Respect Intersectional Neurodiversity in LIS Classrooms and Practice


  • Laura Ridenour University of Missouri
  • Heather Hill Western University
  • Amy Waldman Milwaukee Public Libraries
  • Denice Adkins University of Missouri https://orcid.org/0000-0002-0023-9914




pedagogy, neurodiversity, strengths-based instruction, equity and intersectionality, invisible diversity


  • “Being a librarian is a people-person job….” – Xavier Ateneo Senior High Library, Facebook, 2020
  • “…libraries are actively trying NOT to recruit people who don't enjoy working with the public…” – iBrarian, r/librarians, 2020
  • “All I know is that if the jobs of the future depend on "likability," (and the corollary of being a "people person") I may as well give up now. That's the one skill I neither I or people like me cannot learn.” – pigbitinmad, Library Journal comments, 2017

The LIS profession, and in many cases, our textbooks, instructors, and professional guidelines, tend to frame librarianship as an exclusively social profession. For instance, a reference librarian has to be a good “people person” who can intuit patrons’ verbal and nonverbal communication and make others feel welcome. This devalues the skills and strengths that those for whom this is not a default bring to the LIS profession and is exclusionary or traumatizing to neurodiverse students (McCulloch, 2021). In this panel, we propose strategies for reframing instructional practices to allow all students to demonstrate their strengths and find a
path in the LIS professions. Even as our profession aspires to adopt a growing definition of diversity and equity and recognition of intersectionality, invisible disabilities are often overlooked. This panel addresses issues of invisible diversity, social interaction, and ways to create an equitable classroom and work environment in which all voices, perspectives, and selves are valued.

Previous works have presented the lived-in experiences of neurodiverse information professionals (Bonanno et al., 2018), and explored the potential for autistic university student inclusion in academic libraries through the development of guidelines for librarians (Anderson et al., 2018). Our panel delves into both the lived-in experiences of neurodiverse individuals in ALA-accredited master’s programs and the workplace, how best to support neurodiverse students, and preparing neurodiverse individuals for the information workforce in the face of employers averse to hiring “non-people persons1.” We do this through a moderated discussion revolving around the following critical topics in relation to neurodiversity and invisible
1. Reframing deficit thinking to asset-based thinking, grounded in ALA policy
2. Modification of teaching practices and policies in LIS classrooms, wording of policies, and acknowledging the “neurotypical professor1” perspective
3. Modeling productive and positive interactions for neurotypical LIS students to build and strengthen the ability to interact with neurodiverse classmates, coworkers, and patrons and for neurodiverse LIS students to do the same in the opposite direction
4. A discussion of potential holistic accommodations, strengths-based capacity building, and teaching to articulate translatable skills in professional library and information workplaces

Our panel opens with a discussion of ALA “behavioral guidelines” and the impossible precedents they set for neurodiverse employees of information organizations. Takeaways for the audience, in addition to the outlined discussion points, include curated documents for the audience related to the panel to discuss with their institutional peers and management, available at https://bit.ly/3QBNaWZ; lived-in experiences of neurodiverse individuals in ALA-accredited masters programs who have gone on to information professions; and examples of how to 1) modify course documents to clarify expectations for neurodiverse students, 2) create an atmosphere of trust with students, 3) normalize asking for help and using resources (for students and faculty) and 4) how to respond appropriately to a private disclosure.

We strive to impress upon attendees the importance of recognizing and honoring invisible differences, but recognize that as white, Jewish, and Hispanic women we can only acknowledge that the experience and reality of disability is different for BIPOC and LGBTQ+ members of society. Intersectional identities play an important role in neurodiverse communities, and the
racist origins of autism and Asperger’s diagnoses still influence what we know of neurodiversity today (Botha & Gillespie-Lynch, 2022). This panel serves as a starting point in LIS education, and through informing our teaching with empathy, compassion, and acceptance for neurodiverse students, we hope to also improve teaching in LIS education for all students.


Anderson, A., Gibson, A., Wyss, P., & Remy, C. (2018). Autism Spectrum Disorder and iSchools: Expanding the Possibilities through Research. Association for Library and Information Science Education Annual Conference, Denver, CO. https://alise2018.sched.com/event/D7ca

Bonanno, R. J., Remy, C., Burks-Abbot, G., Diorio, S., & Miller, E. (2018). Panel discussion on helping make libraries inclusive. [Panel]. Targeting Autism forum, Springfield, IL.

Botha, M., & Gillespie-Lynch, K. (2022). Come as you are: Examining autistic identity development and the neurodiversity movement through an intersectional lens. Human Development, 66(2), 93-112. https://www.karger.com/Article/PDF/524123

McChulloch, A. (2021, February 20). Libraries are for everyone! Except if you’re autistic. Lissertations. https://lissertations.net/post/1626






Panels (Juried and SIGs)