I was so thrilled in April to bring my book, A Hidden Force, to the world. The book – 3 years in the making – was the result of substantial research (both by Uptimize and by me personally) and reflects my and Uptimize’s experiences working with organizations to develop greater neuroinclusivity over the past few years.
I was lucky to be able to use Uptimize’s own research library for the project, and of course had many views and insights I knew I wanted to share.
But the process of researching, writing, editing and publishing A Hidden Force also served to teach me some new lessons, and/or significantly reinforce others. So here are five things that come to mind that I learned when writing the book:
1. Age is overlooked when it comes to neurodivergence
Thankfully, intersectionality has become a hot (and belated) topic in DEI and neurodiversity-at-work circles, and it is clear both that no DEI initiative is complete without an understanding and appreciation of the complexities (and potential barriers faced as a result) of multiple, intersecting identities. I do believe, though, that with diagnostic rates changing so rapidly (and children remaining the major focus of diagnoses), and the focus by many of the pioneers in this field on junior hiring, that age is an overlooked factor here. I talked to an interviewee in my book who had an entire career as an autistic woman without being diagnosed (until after retirement). This came with challenges relating to how she was perceived by others. Another interviewee in his 50s talked about his long periods of underemployment, and being dismissed as “over-qualified” as he applied for jobs, in vain, where he might be accepted and appreciated. Organizations looking to be truly neuroinclusive must recognize that neurodivergence can be a reality for all staff, young or old.
2. Neurodivergent people are found at the very top of every professional field
Much high-profile neurodivergent self-advocacy has come from people like Richard Branson, who has stated simply “the world needs a neurodiverse workforce to help try and solve some of the big problems of our time”. Branson has credited his own powerful dyslexic brain as a key reason for his business success, while noting challenges (and accommodations he required from colleagues) along the way. Many other top businesspeople are, famously, neurodivergent, and I had heard of a few other celebrities in other fields, notably some neurodivergent actors and entertainers (Daryl Hannah, and Dan Aykroyd, of Ghostbusters fame). So, I knew I wanted to have a chapter in the book highlighting this. What I didn’t expect was how, in almost any field, the very top performers are so frequently neurodivergent: it’s hard to find a more eminent sportsperson than Michael Jordan, more celebrated Olympians than Michael Phelps and Simone Biles, more respected Directors than Steven Spielberg… the list goes on. And – while not wanting to focus too much on celebrities – I do believe the achievements of neurodivergent people across so many diverse areas are notable and important to celebrate, in the light of so much negativity towards neurodivergence and the neurodivergent community over previous decades.
3. Cultural forces have fuelled negative stereotypes
Speaking of which… many distorting cultural representations of neurodivergence are well-known, such as that of the character Raymond Babbit in the 1988 film Rainman, and these are cited with an eye roll within the neurodivergent community as frequently being inaccurate and misleading. As we researched cultural portrayals of neurodivergence in film, theatre and literature, it was extraordinary to see the consistency and weight of such negative or warped depictions, and not difficult to see how – in a vacuum of more accurate and informed information on the topic – such portrayals could both fuel and perpetuate damaging misconceptions. When a neurodivergent professional describes to us at Uptimize the puzzled, sometimes hostile, and often patronizing response they receive from colleagues and managers upon disclosing, these cultural representations seem at least partially responsible. Even recent TV series featuring neurodivergent characters have received some criticism, but it is clear that cultural consciousness is shifting, and we all hope that future cultural representations are increasingly balanced and informative.
The lesson for organizations, of course: neurodiversity education is needed to help correct these.
4. In the workplace, flexibility is essential
Switching gears a little here… one thing we have learned, of course, from our work (and focus groups) at Uptimize is that no two people are alike. One person may have very strong preferences in how they organize their work, or where they work – for another, communication channels are the critical deal-breaker for productive work. Thus, flexibility, particularly in management, was always going to be a key theme of the book. I remember, though, when editing the book and trying to avoid repetition, noticing just how many times I’d used this same ‘flexibility’ word, and how this particular repetition ultimately seemed unavoidable (and valuable!) in hammering an extremely important point home. People do not think alike, and they don’t work alike as a result. Good managers listen to their direct reports and allow their direct reports themselves to be masters of their own journey.
5. Empowered neurodivergent self-advocacy is key to organizational change
Again, of course, to some extent I knew this already, and yet the development of the book (2020-23) really coincided with the explosion of self-advocacy in organizations and the rise and rise of the Neurodiversity ERG (enterprise resource group). In researching the book, and through my work with Uptimize, I was lucky enough to talk to many ERG builders around the world, and it was only late in the process – in 2022 – that I first met Pierre Escaich of Ubisoft, found out that he and his team had 400 members in Ubisoft’s ERG, and ended up featuring the Ubisoft story as the very first part of the book. At Uptimize, we continue to support and learn from neurodiversity ERGs, and will continue to focus on and highlight the achievements of ERGs that have helped to mainstream the neuroinclusion conversation and facilitate transformative change in their organizations.
For more about A Hidden Force, click here.
To learn more about how Uptimize can help your organization with their neuroinclusion efforts, through our neurodiversity training and consulting solutions, please contact us to schedule an initial discovery call.
Ed Thompson is the CEO and founder of Uptimize – a unique corporate training platform that helps organizations attract, hire and retain talent that thinks differently. Uptimize works globally with organizations like Salesforce, JPMorgan Chase, Deloitte and IBM, building robust and impactful neurodiversity at work programs. Ed has also become a frequent speaker on the topic of neurodiversity in the workplace. His book, A Hidden Force, is available now.