The 3Ws: What, Why, and When – A Guide to Supporting Neurodivergent Brains

Understanding the 3Ws


The 3Ws - What, Why, and When - are fundamental questions that help structure information and tasks in a clear and inclusive way. This approach is particularly beneficial for neurodivergent individuals, who may experience challenges with processing and organising information. By breaking down tasks and expectations into these three components, we can create a more inclusive and supportive environment.

To see the 3Ws in action, look for the underlined text throughout this blog.

What are the 3Ws?

What: Defining the Task


What refers to the specifics of the task or information. It answers questions like:

  • What needs to be done?

  • What are the steps involved?

  • What resources or tools are required?

For neurodivergent individuals, clear and concise instructions are essential. Ambiguity can lead to confusion and anxiety. By explicitly stating what is expected, you reduce uncertainty and help them focus on the task at hand.

Why: Explaining the Purpose


Why addresses the reason behind the task. It answers questions such as:

  • Why is this task important?

  • Why should it be done in this particular way?

  • Why does it matter in the larger context?

Understanding the purpose behind a task can be incredibly motivating for neurodivergent individuals. It provides context and meaning, making it easier for them to see the value in their efforts. This can enhance engagement and commitment to the task.

When: Setting the Timeline


When specifies the timing and deadlines. It answers questions like:

  • When does the task need to be started and completed?

  • When are the check-in points or milestones?

  • When will feedback be provided?

Having clear timelines helps neurodivergent individuals manage their time and workload effectively. It reduces the stress associated with last-minute tasks and allows for better planning and organisation.

Why are the 3Ws Important?

Why the 3Ws are Important for Neurodivergent Brains

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Neurodivergent individuals, such as those with ADHD, autism, or dyslexia, often process information differently from neurotypical individuals. 

They might struggle with executive functioning skills, such as organising, prioritising, and managing time. The 3Ws framework addresses these challenges by providing structure and clarity.

  • Reduces Overwhelm: Clear instructions (What) and timelines (When) help break down tasks into manageable pieces, reducing the feeling of being overwhelmed.

  • Enhances Understanding: Knowing the purpose (Why) behind a task can make it more meaningful and easier to understand.

  • Improves Focus and Efficiency: Structured information helps neurodivergent individuals stay focused and work more efficiently.

When To Use the 3Ws

When to Use the 3Ws

The 3Ws - What, Why, and When, are particularly useful when you need to provide clear and concise instructions, especially for tasks that require straightforward execution. 

They are ideal for situations where simplicity is key, such as in quick team meetings, project kick-offs, or when communicating with neurodivergent individuals who benefit from structured information. 

The 3Ws help ensure that everyone understands the task, its purpose, and the timeline, reducing ambiguity and enhancing productivity. 

However, if a situation demands more detailed information, you can expand to the full 5Ws to cover additional aspects like Who and Where, see below for more on the 5Ws..

How the 3Ws Help


Implementing the 3Ws in your communication and task management can have several positive effects:

  • Increases Productivity: Clear and structured tasks are easier to tackle, leading to higher productivity.

  • Boosts Confidence: When neurodivergent individuals understand what is expected of them and why, they feel more confident in their abilities.

  • Create Independence: By providing the necessary details upfront, you empower neurodivergent individuals to take ownership of their tasks and work independently.

  • Enhances Communication: The 3Ws promote open and transparent communication, reducing misunderstandings and creating a more inclusive work environment.

Positive Impact of the 3Ws

Adopting the 3Ws framework can lead to significant positive outcomes for both neurodivergent individuals and the organisation as a whole:

  • Better Work Quality: With clear guidance, neurodivergent employees are more likely to produce high-quality work that meets expectations.

  • Reduced Stress: Structured tasks and timelines help alleviate the anxiety that comes with ambiguity and last-minute changes.

  • Increased Engagement: Understanding the purpose behind tasks makes work more engaging and meaningful, leading to higher job satisfaction.

  • Stronger Team Dynamics: Clear communication and understanding create a more supportive and collaborative team environment.



The 3Ws have been adapted from the 5Ws, a checklist used in journalism to ensure that the first paragraph (the "lead") contains all the essential points of a story.

As far back as 1913, reporters were taught that the lead should answer these questions:

  • Who?
  • What?
  • When?
  • Where?
  • Why?
  • How?

Which was subsequently named the 5Ws. To find out more about the 5Ws in journalism, this PDF may help. 

Personally, I find the 3Ws much easier to remember - my dyslexic brain prefers easy and simple frameworks. However, if a situation or client needs it, we can expand it to the 5Ws. What do you think?


The 3Ws—What, Why, and When—are powerful tools for creating an inclusive and supportive environment for neurodivergent individuals. By providing clear instructions, explaining the purpose, and setting timelines, you can help neurodivergent brains process information more effectively, reducing stress and increasing productivity. Implementing this framework can lead to better work quality, higher engagement, and a more positive and collaborative workplace.

If you'd like to explore more strategies to support your neurodivergent team members or to help yourself, I invite you to book a free 20-minute session with me. Schedule your complimentary call here

Tamzin, Founder, The Neurodiversity Academy