How to Make the Workplace Friendly for the Neurodiverse


As an Autistic and ADHD business founder and mental health advocate I have spent the majority of my life learning to navigate social and professional situations where I have not particularly fit in. I have built an ethics-based and neurodivergent friendly caregiving business that grew from one person with two clients to 20 teammates with dozens of clients in under four years.

WATCH: DEI: Creating a Culture of Belonging

This all happened while I was being told that I’m too strange to succeed, that I think too much, and that my ideas of pro-social workplaces and reasonable accommodation are more than individuals can expect to receive while earning their living. My workplace philosophies are exactly progressive enough.

Empowering Your Team

When you give your teammates the space to be their genuine selves while fulfilling crucial roles, you unlock their ability to navigate difficult situations, ask for what they need, and engage their expertise and strength with your organization. When you support your teammates, so they can be their authentic selves, neurodivergence and all, your business will fulfill its role to a higher degree and thrive in its mission to contribute to society.

Neurodiversity is by definition: the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population, according to Oxford. The term was coined in 1997 by sociologist Judy Singer and gives space and context to open our perspective and recognize that not everyone functions the way that the status quo supposes we ought to. This functioning through alternative methods does not make us “lesser-than”, lazy, unmotivated, unfeeling, or bad.

Being neurodiverse comes with challenges in societies, where we are expected to follow social norms, and those of us given a platform have a responsibility to break down misconceptions. One main misconception is that neurodivergent people should change how we act, as opposed to society cultivating spaces where we are accepted and can shine.

READ: HR Guide to DEI: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion 

Here are quick tips on how to make your business more Autistic and neurodivergent friendly in the different stages of the employee lifecycle:

Recruitment and Hiring 

In the first phase of employment, it is important to consider how to show the neurodiverse population that your business is neurodiversity friendly. There are a number of steps you can take.

Inform prospective teammates of your business ideals and demonstrate compassion in your workplace. Use words like neurodiverse, inclusive, equal opportunity. Share clear examples of how you can work with teammates’ needs. For example, use descriptions like remote work available, hybrid position, flexible hours, flexible break times in the office, wage transparency, etc. Bonus: If you have people working out of an office, you can note ways that you make the workplace sensory friendly. Some examples are sharing that there are no strong smells or fluorescent lighting.

Have a clear job description and use simple language that is easy to understand. Those of us who are neurodiverse can see words melt into a page and become increasingly overwhelmed.

Do not gloss over points that would be important to incoming teammates. If a job is misrepresented, you are setting up yourself and the job candidate for disappointment and tension. It is crucial to start a new business relationship with transparency and honesty.

READ: HR Resources: Accessibility for Disabled Employees

In the Workplace

Those working in offices can make the workspace more comfortable:

A good rule is that if a change will help one group and will not negatively impact another group, make the change. It will benefit everyone by making those who are more challenged, feel less strain and more support. Some examples are minimizing bright lighting, strong smells, and loud noises.

Be accepting and supportive of teammates adaptive equipment. Autistic and other neurodiverse groups may have heightened sensitivity. This means that we may need tools to dampen our sensory experience and focus on the task at hand. Some examples of adaptive equipment to accept and support are ear plugs, sunglasses, and fidget tools. Sometimes, we need access to our own safe noises, such as our music, etc.

If you have work uniforms, find ways to make them sensory friendly. For example, remove tags or choose seamless options. Also, let people have multiple fit options.

In addition, run an inclusivity workshop, so that people have a better understanding and refrain from judgment. You should also mediate if teammates come to you with problems related to unfair treatment because of their sensory needs.     

READ: PRIDE Month: 6 Ways to Show Up for Your LGBTQ+ Colleagues  

Work Sustainability

For neurodiverse individuals to have a sustainable working experience, we must feel safe to express our needs and share our strengths:

Many Autistics and otherwise neurodiverse individuals rely on our schedules and routine. We need to know what is happening, so that we can best prepare ourselves to fulfill our responsibilities. This means empowering us to create our own schedule, letting us know the limits to this process, and giving us time to acclimate to the new schedule and meet expectations.

READ: How to Ensure a More Inclusive Workplace

In addition, let us work from home if the work permits it. In the home, we have better control and understanding of our surroundings, so we can set ourselves up for success.

We can become easily overwhelmed, and vague instructions are hard to follow. Be specific in your instructions. Give us options on how to learn something, offer multiple training formats if possible, and be patient. We can learn, but sometimes it takes us more time.

We know our strengths, weaknesses, and capabilities. Work with us on developing our job responsibilities as opposed to just telling us what to do. If we say that we absolutely cannot do something, believe us, and see if you can find an alternative responsibility that will benefit the team to take the place of the other task.

Remember just because we are different does not mean we want to be difficult or that we are lazy. When you cultivate neurodiversity friendly workplaces and bring us into your team, we can work together to find solutions that benefit us all.

Photo by Tara Winstead for Pexels

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