Support neurodiverse employees. Harness unique talents. Champion inclusion.
One of the hottest topics in DEI conversations right now is how to support neurodiversity in the workplace.
But what exactly is neurodiversity, and how can organizations take a neurodiverse lens on inclusion to create work environments and social settings where all employees can be accommodated for and included?
We went to the experts to learn about neurodiversity, discuss how to foster neuroinclusion and share more on this important topic.
In our recent webinar, Creating a Culture of Inclusivity: Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace, Louis Chesney of RethinkCare provided eye-opening insights into neurodiversity and actionable strategies for HR leaders.
Here are our top 3 takeaways from the interactive session.
Takeaway 1: Focus on Employee Strengths
Neurodiversity refers to natural and biological differences in the brain.
Up to 20% of people are neurodivergent, meaning their brains process information differently and impact how they think, work, learn, and socialize. This can include Autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, to name a few.
When we recognize that everyone’s brain works differently, we open the door to seeing the unique differences and strengths individuals have.
So how do we view this in the workplace?
The Medical Model of Disability focuses on something a person has and the challenges that it presents. Whereas the Social Model of Disability shows that the real issue individuals face isn’t necessarily their medical condition; rather, it’s how society can make their experiences more difficult for them.
- Medical Model asks: What is the impairment an employee faces?
- Social Model asks: What are the barriers to accessibility and inclusion? How can we address these barriers and better support our employees?
With this understanding, it’s important that we celebrate the natural parts of being human and highlight strengths.
For example, neurodiverse employees excel in creativity, innovative thinking, and focusing. When given the space and opportunity to highlight these areas, employees are empowered to reach their full potential.
Takeaway 2: Facilitate Inclusion Through the Entire Employee Experience
How can organizations create more inclusive environments for neurodivergent employees?
Louis shared tangible tips and accommodations for each stage of the employee lifecycle.
Here are four areas of consideration:
- Update your hiring practices to attract neurodivergent candidates. This includes showcasing your neurodiversity initiatives in job postings, leveraging specialized hiring networks, and ensuring assessments and interview questions focus on relevant strengths.
- When onboarding new hires, explain accommodations, support, and company resources available to their success. You can also encourage employees and managers to discuss work preferences and challenges proactively.
- Career development and evaluation should also be taken into consideration. You might offer training tailored to different learning styles, provide equal access to upskilling opportunities regardless of role, and allow trial/error in skill building by leading patience and support.
- Lastly, foster supportive relationships throughout your organization. Educate employees on neurodivergent experiences, challenge misconceptions when you hear them, and listen actively to help teammates who need a hand.
To see Louis’s full list of recommendations and breakdowns for each, jump ahead to the 8-minute mark in the replay.
Takeaway 3: Make Adjustments to Better Accommodate Unique Needs.
Neurodivergent individuals often make adjustments on their own to “fit in” with neurotypical people. This concept is called “masking” or “camouflaging”, and it aims to hide certain traits to avoid being recognized or labeled as a neurominority.
By adjusting and accommodating, organizations can promote neuroinclusion—helping them to take off the mask and remove the camouflage.
Louis emphasized that meaningful inclusion is more than accessibility measures alone. Organizations must foster a culture of belonging where all employees feel welcomed, valued, and heard.
Accommodations that celebrate and cater towards neurodiversity have a big impact. And attendees agreed!
Here are four strategies directly from attendees shared in the chat for adjustments that make a difference:
- When hosting employee meet ups, one participant recommended hosting social activities instead of general socializing time to take the pressure off for neurodiverse employees. Painting classes, trivia, scavenger hunts, and “get-to-know-me” prompts are great ways to get to know one another in a more structured setting.
- One attendee shared how acceptance and empowerment has impacted them. “Learning that I am on the spectrum as an older adult has given me permission to ask for more clarification on things that seem obvious to everyone else in the room.”
- A psychologically safe workplace encourages employees to do what works best for them. One attendee shared “During meetings, I am usually doodling and, luckily, I feel safe enough to just tell my colleagues I’m paying attention and that this helps me focus!”
- If you’re in the office, you may offer a sensory room where employees can go when they’re feeling overwhelmed and overstimulated. If this isn’t an option, you could allow schedule flexibility, options to work from home, or encourage noise-cancelling headphones, especially in noisier work settings.
By demonstrating the humanity in each of us, these practices cultivate an environment where people of all neurotypes can thrive as their true, authentic selves.
Join the neurodiversity movement with these additional resources:
- From RethinkCare: Neurodiversity in the Workplace
- From RethinkCare: How to Attract & Retain Neurodiverse Talent
- From Virgin Pulse: Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Toolkit
- From Virgin Pulse: Wellbeing Washing: Why Box Ticking is Never Enough