The New York City skyline from Washington Square Park.

NYU is for everyone, but living in New York City can lead to sensory overload—especially for students who identify as neurodiverse. Yet over the last three years, the number of neurodivergent NYU students who participate in the NYU Moses Center for Student Accessibility’s Connections Program for Global Students with Autism has increased by 45 percent. In response NYU has created dedicated spaces and programs to ensure every NYU student can learn in a way that works for them.

The lobby of the NYU Bobst Library.

The Space to Thrive

Bobst Library is located in the heart of NYU’s Washington Square campus. Here, every student is welcome to take a break, pick up a book, or settle in for an evening of studying. But for neurodiverse students, the space often felt overwhelming. So NYU decided to do something about it. “Essentially, the NYU Division of Libraries is trying to provide as much universally accessible space as possible. At the same time, we want to offer supplemental spaces for students with a heightened need for additional accommodations,” explains Lauren Kehoe, an accessibility and accommodations librarian. “Although this is the first full student-centered sensory space on campus, it doesn’t need to be the only one. I can envision a future where there is a similar space in all buildings.”

Now Bobst’s first floor offers a more welcoming and inclusive experience for everyone, with a lounge and two individual sensory rooms for those with acute needs. Based on focus groups, surveys, and countless conversations, the new spaces offer adjustable lighting, temperature control, touch-friendly materials, and quiet. “Once you get into the room, it’s really transforming. It’s a nice, peaceful environment,” says Erik Anaya. He’s a first-year graduate student getting his master’s in Higher Education and Student Affairs at the NYU Steinhardt School of Culture, Education, and Human Development. What’s more, starting this fall, neurodiverse students will have access to sensory kits, with items like fidget spinners and noise machines.

Students walking down a street on NYU’s campus in New York City.

The NYU Connections Community

In addition to the new low-sensory space, students will find a myriad of resources through the NYU Connections Program for Global Students with Autism. Managed through the Moses Center, it offers individual and group meetings about a range of topics. Michael John Carley runs the program, noting that he is “one of three or four people with autism who run college autism programs. And that’s got to change.”

At individual meetings with students, Michael John runs through three questions: First, how’s your academic life going in conjunction with your autism since the last meeting? Second, what’s your social life like since the last meeting? And third, do you have any burning questions for an older person with autism? Additionally, he runs weekly group meetings to foster a sense of community. “When you know that the person running the group has the same juice as you, you trust them. You share with them. Plus, you won’t feel the obligation to educate the person who’s in charge,” Michael John adds.

“My undergrad institution didn’t have any programs like this,” recalls Erik. “I tried to start my own program, but it was so hard. When I met Michael John, we talked about my condition and how I was nervous about this and that. He’s a fellow neurodivergent person, so I feel like we have a connection. Also, a lot of programs I’ve seen or heard about are led by nonneurodivergent people who don’t really understand us. But he makes it so easy. He gave me a lot of great resources, especially about New York City.”

A seating area at the NYU Moses Center for Student Accessibility.

An NYU Built for You

At NYU, students who are neurodiverse will find everything they need to succeed in and out of the classroom. Some resources include:

“We are an inclusive and welcoming environment, and we value autism as part of our diversity fabric,” adds Robyn Weiss. She’s the assistant vice president of student accessibility at the Moses Center. “As a result we work hard every day to create an environment where you will feel appreciated and accepted. We are working to create an environment where you can be successful. But we are also working on a culture shift.”

If you’re a neurodiverse prospective student and want to know more about what NYU may be like for you, Michael John and Robyn encourage you to get in touch—they’re happy to talk with you if you email them at [email protected].