As the neurodiversity movement gains momentum in the corporate world, you’re learning that autistic employees can be strong assets due to their out-of-the-box thinking, deeply-focused attention to detail, and heightened pattern-recognition abilities.
Therefore, if you’re currently working with (or plan to work with) autistic and other neurodivergent people, it’s important to know how to be a good ally.
After all, the advantages of hiring a neurodivergent employee will only go as far as your willingness to provide a supportive and beneficial work environment where all brains belong.
If diversity and inclusion initiatives open the door for neurodivergent talent, it’s effective allyship that offers them a seat at the table, ushering in a new era of innovation and long-term success.
Below are some tips to help you do just that.
Recognize and Understand Neurodivergent Traits
The first step to becoming a good ally is to recognize and understand neurodivergent traits. A neurodivergent person is someone whose brain, nervous system, and body operate differently from those of a neurotypical person. These differences are natural variations, not signs of illness or personal failing.
Unfortunately, neurodivergent traits are still deeply misunderstood by neurotypical people who frequently misinterpret them as signs of toxic behavior.
Autistic people are often seen as rude or selfish due to their inability to naturally pick up on non-verbal social cues from neurotypical people.
Those with ADHD are often viewed as lazy or flighty due to forgetfulness, hyper-focus, and time blindness.
Dyspraxic people can be seen as careless due to their inability to maintain balance or accurately judge how far their bodies are in relation to an object.
Dyscalculic people are seen as dumb due to their brain’s inability to comprehend math and numbers.
- Auditory Processing Disorder/Difference
Those who have typical hearing but cannot easily distinguish the meaning of spoken words without taking extra time to process and/or reading captions are also put into the category of “dumb”.
- Auditory Processing Disorder/Difference
Again, these traits indicate differences in cognitive function but none are signs of low intelligence.
Provide Implicit Bias and Inclusion Training
The next step in becoming an effective ally to neurodivergent employees is to provide and/or attend implicit bias and inclusion training, which has been shown to yield favorable results!
From the National Autistic Society:
“Non-autistic adults in the autism acceptance training condition reported more positive impressions of autistic adults, demonstrated fewer misconceptions and lower stigma about autism, endorsed higher expectations of autistic abilities, and expressed greater social interest in hypothetical and real autistic people.”
Neurodiversity inclusion training should be part of the onboarding package for all new hires and provided in tandem with sexual harassment and race discrimination training.
Update Bullying and Harassment Policies to Include Neurodivergence
If your current bullying and harassment policies do not include verbiage about neurodivergence, update them as soon as possible. This change, coupled with inclusion training, can help reduce incidents of bullying and discrimination against neurodivergent employees.
Be Empathetic and Inclusive In a Way That Benefits Neurodivergent Staff
Another way to be an inclusive and supportive ally to your neurodivergent staff is to learn about and practice showing empathy in a way that benefits their neurology–not just automatically doing what has worked in the past for you and your neurotypical staff.
You routinely show appreciation to your neurotypical co-workers by buying coffee and snacks and setting up spontaneous “chat-and-eat” breaks a couple of times a week. Everybody relaxes, has fun, blows off some steam, and then they’re back to work feeling refreshed.
For your autistic or ADHD co-worker, however, being empathetic to them may be honoring their need to stay hyper-focused on a task and not be offered food or conversation (especially if they’ve previously mentioned that they find it very difficult to return to a task once they’ve been interrupted).
You usually create connections with co-workers by having face-to-face conversations, but you work with someone with an auditory processing difference. To honor their neurology and show empathy and connection in a way that supports them, you engage in conversation over email or texts instead. Or, you have video chats with captions!
Being a good ally to your neurodivergent staff will set you apart from other companies whose DEI efforts focus primarily on optics, metrics, and getting bodies in chairs. Go further by examining your own biases, learning more about neurodivergence, and stretching past your comfort zone. When you do this, you’ll not only be more inclusive, you’ll be that much closer to the business model of tomorrow, today!