The topic of neurodiversity at work is rapidly gaining prominence. Regardless of whether your own organisation already has a formal neuroinclusion training program, neurodiversity is something that is part of your own work – whatever your industry or role – every day.
In an age where you are increasingly expected to be able to navigate neurodiverse workplaces, but may feel a little underprepared to do so, we’ve put together the following list of key mistakes to avoid in your day to day work. Being aware of these potential pitfalls will help you immediately contribute to greater neuroinclusion.
1. Don’t assume neurodiversity doesn’t matter to your team or organisation
Neurodiversity is a human fact: everybody has their own unique brain, and everybody experiences the world differently as a result. That means every organisation and team is by definition neurodiverse, with a whole varied landscape of brains represented. Many companies, of course, can become more neurodiverse by hiring more neurodivergent people (such as autistic people or ADHDers) over time… but don’t fall into the ill-informed trap of thinking “we don’t have people like that here”. In fact, 90% of people who may be neurodivergent in some way typically choose not to disclose at work, for fear of negative repercussions. The reality is that you work in a neurodiverse context, and that’s why neuroinclusion matters every day.
2. Don’t assume your way is the right way, or anybody else’s chosen way
As humans, our brain wiring shapes how we prefer to process information – for example, you may prefer instant messaging to jumping on a call to discuss something verbally, or vice versa. However, this reality is often overlooked in workplaces. Be cognizant of the fact that while you are bringing your own thinking style to every interaction you have at work… so is everybody else… and don’t just assume your preferred way is necessarily the best way for others.
3. Never ask anybody to disclose to you
You may be well-intentioned, but don’t ask colleagues or job applicants if they think they might be neurodivergent in some way – this is illegal under some disability legislation around the world, and puts undue pressure on the individual to disclose. Being neuroinclusive is not about being an amateur diagnostician. Instead, recognise and respect that everybody has their own thinking style, and show curiosity towards this without specifically mentioning forms of neurodivergence. For example, as a manager, you could say to a direct report: “I normally like giving instructions face to face, but I realise that doesn’t work best for everybody. How would you best like to receive my instructions?”
4. Don’t respond to disclosure with anything but kindness, curiosity and practical support
Disclosure at work can be highly stressful. If a colleague chooses to disclose with you, simply thank them for doing so, and ask them how else you could support them. Don’t make assumptions that they need anything in particular – let them tell you, if they do – and crucially, don’t assume that because somebody has told you that they neurodivergent that they necessarily want you to share this more broadly.
5. Don’t just be reactive – think how you can be more neuroinclusive proactively
As mentioned, disclosure can be stressful, and the majority of neurodivergent workers today generally choose not to disclose at work. That emphasises the importance of what we call proactive neuroinclusion – rather than simply waiting for a colleague or candidate to share with you that they are neurodivergent and require specific support or adaptations. Proactive measures that benefit every type of thinker at work are plentiful: for example, always paying attention to clarity in communication, being as flexible as possible to allow people to work to their strengths, or instilling a meeting structure that ensures everybody can contribute and with space for ample breaks to unwind and refocus attention.
6. Check your biases in hiring, especially if you have a mental picture of the “ideal” candidate
When it comes to hiring, stop and think if you have a specific mental picture of the candidate you are imagining will suit the position. Be honest with yourself as to what this picture looks like – then, as much as you can, try to discard it! Be open to candidates who present in different ways: candidates, for example, who speak with a flatter affect, or even who don’t always choose to speak verbally (or even at all) but prefer to communicate by other means. Focus instead on the true skills and experience you need for the role, and challenge your own biases up front to help avoid unintentionally excluding talented neurodivergent applicants.
7. Don’t think you have to be an expert
Neuroinclusion doesn’t require you or your colleagues to be experts in autism, disability or anything else. What is important is to have the basic awareness and appreciation that you work in a neurodiverse context, that others think differently from you, and to show empathy and curiosity to others that helps put them in a position to optimise for their preferences – not just yours – and succeed.
Interested in learning more about what neuroinclusion could bring to your organization? Book a discovery call today.
can be a significant source of competitive advantage in the years ahead.
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.