Understanding Spoon Theory to Effectively Support Neurodivergent Staff in Your Workplace

As leaders, understanding the unique challenges faced by neurodivergent staff is essential for creating an inclusive, supportive and high-performing workplace. One concept that can help leaders grasp the daily struggles of neurodiverse individuals is Spoon Theory. 

Originating as a metaphor for managing chronic illness, Spoon Theory has been adapted to illustrate the limited energy reserves of neurodivergent individuals. Let's explore Spoon Theory in the context of neurodiversity (ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, AuDHD, ADD - to name a few) and how leaders can use it to better support their team members.


What is Spoon Theory?

Spoon Theory is a metaphorical framework that helps to illustrate the finite energy reserves of individuals, especially those living with neurodiversity.

It conceptualizes energy as 'spoons,' with each spoon symbolising a unit of energy available to complete daily tasks and activities. As individuals go about their day, they gradually use their spoons, and once their spoons are used up, they may experience fatigue or find it challenging to accomplish additional tasks.

Here's how Spoon Theory works;

  • Limited Energy Reserves: Spoon Theory highlights the fact that individuals, particularly those with neurodiversity, have a limited amount of energy available to them each day.

  • Daily Tasks and Activities: Each spoon represents a unit of energy required to complete tasks and activities throughout the day. Simple tasks, such as getting dressed or making breakfast, may require one spoon, while more demanding activities, like attending meetings or running errands, may require multiple spoons.

  • Depletion of Spoons: As individuals go about their day, they gradually use their spoons to complete tasks and activities. Once their spoons are depleted, they may experience fatigue, exhaustion, or difficulty focusing on additional tasks.

  • Managing Energy: Spoon Theory encourages individuals to be mindful of how they allocate their spoons throughout the day. By pacing themselves and prioritising tasks, they can conserve energy and avoid running out of spoons prematurely.

  • Accommodations and Support: Understanding Spoon Theory can help individuals, as well as their friends, family members, colleagues and leaders better appreciate the challenges faced by those with limited energy reserves. It can also inform the development of accommodations and support strategies to help individuals manage their energy more effectively.


Overall, Spoon Theory serves as a valuable tool for understanding and navigating the daily challenges of individuals with neurodiversity, emphasising the importance of conserving energy and prioritising tasks to avoid exhaustion.

Applying Spoon Theory;

Neurodivergent individuals navigate a unique set of challenges stemming from cognitive processing differences, sensory sensitivities, and social interactions. These challenges can significantly deplete their energy and resources throughout the day, making it difficult to maintain productivity and engagement.

Spoon Theory offers a practical framework for understanding the limited energy reserves of neurodivergent staff. By conceptualizing energy as finite 'spoons,' leaders can grasp the daily struggles faced by neurodivergent individuals and tailor support strategies accordingly.

For example, tasks that may seem straightforward to neurotypical individuals can require significantly more effort and energy for neurodivergent staff due to cognitive processing differences. 

Similarly, sensory sensitivities can lead to sensory overload in stimulating environments, further draining energy reserves. 

Additionally, navigating social interactions can be exhausting for neurodivergent individuals, particularly in fast-paced or high-pressure settings.


By acknowledging the impact of neurodiversity on daily functioning and recognising the finite nature of energy reserves, leaders can implement accommodations and support mechanisms to help neurodivergent staff manage their workload more effectively. 

This may include offering flexible working arrangements, providing access to quiet or sensory-friendly spaces, and promoting open communication to discuss individual needs and preferences.

Ultimately, by embracing Spoon Theory and considering the unique challenges faced by neurodivergent staff, leaders can create a more inclusive and supportive workplace environment where all team members can thrive.

Let's meet Mark;


Meet Mark, one of my coachees, an ADHD software developer with 7 years of experience working for my clients. When Mark first joined my coaching sessions, he confided that by lunchtime, he felt utterly drained. 

Throughout the morning, Mark encountered challenges such as sensory overload, processing information, and navigating interactions with colleagues, all while juggling various meetings and high-energy tasks, depleting his 'spoons' or energy reserves.

By lunchtime, Mark often found himself mentally exhausted and overwhelmed as his spoon count rapidly diminished. Despite his talent and dedication, Mark struggled to maintain productivity and engagement as the afternoon wore on and his energy levels continued to decline.

To manage his energy more effectively, Mark now ensures that his spoons are distributed evenly throughout the day. He schedules periods of downtime in between meetings, limits himself to one face-to-face meeting in the morning and one in the afternoon, and gives his brain a break by walking to the water fountain every 90 minutes or whenever he feels drained. 

Mark's journey shows the importance of understanding and accommodating the unique needs of neurodivergent employees in the workplace.


Using Spoon Theory to Support Neurodivergent Staff:

Understanding and supporting neurodivergent staff is crucial for creating an inclusive and supportive workplace environment. 

By embracing Spoon Theory, leaders can gain valuable insight into the daily challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals and implement strategies to better support their team members.

  • Acknowledge and Respect: Recognise the limited energy reserves of neurodivergent staff, understanding that their neurodiversity may affect their productivity and engagement levels.

  • Flexible Working Arrangements: Implement adjustable schedules or remote work options to accommodate the fluctuating energy levels of neurodivergent staff, allowing them to manage their workload more effectively.

  • Open Communication: Create a culture of open communication where neurodivergent staff feel comfortable expressing their needs and concerns without fear of judgement or stigma, fostering trust and understanding within the team.

  • Additional Support and Resources: Provide assistive technologies, sensory-friendly workspaces, or other resources to help neurodivergent staff manage their energy levels and optimise their performance, ensuring they have the tools they need to succeed.

  • Regular Check-Ins: Schedule regular check-ins with neurodivergent staff to discuss their workload, energy levels, and any additional support they may require, demonstrating your commitment to their well-being and success.

  • Educate and Raise Awareness: Educate yourself and your team about neurodiversity and Spoon Theory, raising awareness about the unique challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals and the importance of supporting them in the workplace.

  • Promote Self-Care: Encourage neurodivergent staff to prioritise self-care and establish boundaries to prevent burnout, emphasising the importance of self-awareness and self-management in managing their energy reserves.

  • Lead by Example: Lead by example by demonstrating empathy, flexibility, and inclusivity in your interactions with neurodivergent staff, setting a positive tone for the entire team and fostering a culture of acceptance and support.

Using Spoon Theory to support neurodivergent staff is not only beneficial for individual employees but also for the overall success and inclusivity of the organisation. By acknowledging and respecting the limited energy reserves of neurodivergent staff, leaders can create a workplace where every team member feels valued, understood, and empowered to thrive.


Spoon Theory offers valuable insight into the daily struggles faced by neurodivergent staff and provides a framework for leaders to better understand and support their team members. 

By embracing Spoon Theory and implementing appropriate accommodations and support mechanisms, leaders can create a more inclusive and supportive workplace environment where neurodivergent staff can thrive and reach their full potential. 

If you would like further support in managing your team's spoons or helping them reach their full potential and beyond, let's chat. Email us today at hello@theneurodiversityacademy.com. 

The Neurodiversity Academy is here to be your partner in creating an environment where your neurodivergent team members can truly thrive. Together, let's build a workplace where every individual is valued, understood, and empowered to succeed.