Video games are often considered to be a safe outlet for neurodivergent individuals to escape the pressures and stresses of everyday life, providing a form of escape to a safe environment over which they have greater control. As a result, 41% of children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (a common form of neurodivergence) spend most of their free time playing video games.

This increased representation of neurodivergent individuals in the gaming world is also seen in the video game industry, where 18% of game developers in the UK identify as neurodivergent compared to 15% of the overall UK population.  

Therefore, providing safe, positive, and supportive environments for neurodivergent gamers is vital to helping them explore the benefits of video games and the many places games can take them. At the New Meta Academy, we have been exploring how to make our space accessible for everyone, no matter what challenges they face on a day-to-day basis. 

two people sit at gaming stations playing a video game

What is neurodivergence, and why is it important?

Neurodivergence refers to the natural differences in brain development and how our brains function. Diagnosed neurodivergent conditions include Autism (also known as Autistic Spectrum Disorder or ASD), ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, and Dyscalculia. When considering how to make our space as accessible as possible, at the New Meta Academy we are focusing particularly on supporting individuals with ASD and ADHD, as these tend to provide the most challenges for our Academy students. 

Understanding neurodivergence and how people experience the same environment in different ways is important. Some people may find bright lights, loud music, and potent smells disturbing, distracting, or off-putting, preventing them from enjoying and relaxing in a particular space. Identifying and acknowledging these barriers helps us to plan how to help those who may find our space at the New Meta Academy overwhelming.

How are we increasing accessibility for neurodivergent children at the New Meta Academy?

We spoke to Oscar from the New Meta Academy to discover how we are maintaining accessibility for neurodivergent children in the present and our plans to increase accessibility in the future. 

So what are safe spaces, and how do they help our kids?

Safe spaces are areas that our kids can retreat to whenever things are getting too much – if they are becoming overwhelmed or facing whatever triggers they might have. They are places where they can go to take care of themselves, with their parents if necessary too. Ultimately, it’s just a safe haven where they can go inside each of our lessons. 

What are our passports, and how do they help us get to know our kids and their needs before they show up for their first class?

Our passports are an intermediary between the children and the coaches. When they first arrive, during their inductions, we have a collaborative session between them, the coach, and their parents. This is so we can understand the child and their needs as best as possible. So, if they do end up feeling overwhelmed, we understand how best to deal with that. It is essentially a record to help us collaborate as best as possible with that child. In the event that we do need to bring their stress down a couple of levels, maybe because of a meltdown or a shutdown, they can go to the safe space, and we can take care of them in a way that they appreciate.  

How do we help kids feel more familiar with the space before they arrive?

The first and most important thing to help encourage familiarity with the space is ultimately for them and their parents to come to the New Meta Academy and have a tour themselves, right? We want you to experience our environment, whether it be the sounds or any smells, which we as staff may not notice but can be more of a trigger for others. 

We want you to be able to experience as many of these as possible so you can let us know why this may or may not be the right place for you, and we can understand how to mitigate any concerns before the first trial session. 

How are coaches prepared to best manage children’s individual needs? 

First and foremost, every coach has a DBS verification. We make sure they are well equipped to deal with young people. There are also certain procedures that help us in more or less any given situation. 

When it comes to neurodiversity training, this is something that we are very keen on doing. This is a way for us to open our eyes to things that neurotypical people may not be as sensitive to, such as certain smells or sounds that we don’t understand or realise are there until they are explained to us. It is a way for us to become more sensitive to problems or objects that may hinder our students from getting the best possible outcome for their learning. 

What can you do if you want to access our space, but you or your child face challenges due to neurodivergence?

The first step to ensuring we can help you and your child feel comfortable with us is to tell us how best to accommodate any particular needs you may have, particularly requirements you or your child may have due to neurodivergence. We want to work with neurodivergent individuals to ensure they can benefit from gaming and learning here just like anyone else. 

If you plan on bringing your child to a trial class at the New Meta Academy, we allow people to disclose any support and access needs when they sign up. You are also highly encouraged to contact our Academy via email or phone so that staff members can tailor their approach to you or your child’s visit as accurately as possible to what you need. 

We welcome guidance and feedback from anyone from any background who uses our space.