12 Ways to Support Your Neurodivergent Colleagues

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Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

Neurodiversity refers to the concept that there are differences in brain functioning within the human population and therefore there is no “right” or “normal” way of thinking, processing, or behaving. This is especially important to understand when reflecting on the stigma that is often associated with people who have autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurocognitive differences. 

Neurodiversity pushes us to not think of differences as deficits and to shift from what and who is “inherently normal” to what and who is neurotypical. Being an ally to neurodivergent colleagues involves recognizing their unique strengths and challenges and actively working to support their success and well-being at work. Here are a few strategies to help you become a more effective ally to your neurodivergent colleagues.

  1. Recognize the Value of Neurodiversity
    The first step in being an ally is to understand and appreciate the value that neurodiversity brings to a team. Neurodivergent people often have unique skills and perspectives that can be a tremendous asset. For example, someone with autism might have an exceptional ability to focus and pay attention to detail, while someone with dyslexia might excel in creative problem-solving and spatial reasoning.
  2. Educate Yourself and Others
    It’s important to educate yourself about neurodiversity and the specific conditions that fall under this umbrella. Many resources, including books, articles, and podcasts, can provide valuable insights. Share what you learn with your colleagues to promote a more informed and empathetic workplace culture.
  1. Listen and Learn from Neurodivergent Individuals
    One of the most impactful ways to be an ally is to listen to and learn directly from your neurodivergent colleagues. Everyone’s experience is unique, and understanding their specific preferences, challenges, and strengths can help you provide more effective support. Encourage open dialogue, ensure your workplace practices confidentiality, and respect everyone’s privacy.
  1. Create and Support an Inclusive Environment
    Creating an inclusive environment means making adjustments to the workplace that accommodate neurodivergent individuals’ needs, helping them to perform their best. We include some examples below! If you want more information, check out our free upcoming webinar on Creating a Culture of Inclusion and Belonging.
  1. Flexible Work Arrangements
    Offer flexible work arrangements, such as the option to work from home, flexible hours, or quiet workspaces. This can make a significant difference for some neurodivergent employees who may find typical office environments challenging.
  1. Sensory-Friendly Spaces
    Consider the sensory environment of your workplace. Bright lights, loud noises, and even certain smells can be overwhelming for some neurodivergent people. Small changes, such as providing noise-canceling headphones, adjusting lighting, or creating quiet zones, can make the workplace more comfortable for everyone.
  1. Clear Communication
    Clear and direct communication can prevent misunderstandings and reduce anxiety for neurodivergent employees. Avoid ambiguous language and be specific with instructions and feedback. Visual supports, like written emails or task lists, can also be helpful.
  1. Training and Awareness Programs
    Support or initiate training programs that raise awareness about neurodiversity and teach employees how to be supportive colleagues. Training should also address unconscious biases and how to mitigate them.
  1. Inclusive Hiring Practices
    Encourage your organization to adopt inclusive hiring practices that recognize the strengths of neurodivergent candidates and provide accommodations during the interview process. This could include providing questions in advance or allowing for alternative interview formats.
  1. Support Structures
    Promote the establishment of support structures within the workplace, such as mentoring programs or neurodiversity support groups. These can provide valuable support and advocacy for neurodivergent employees.
  1. Embrace and Encourage Strengths and Assign Meaningful Roles
    Recognizing and leveraging the unique strengths of neurodivergent people can lead to more innovative and productive teams. Assign roles and projects that align with a neurodivergent people’s strengths and interests. This not only boosts productivity but also enhances job satisfaction and engagement.
  1. Continuous Learning and Adjustment
    Being an ally is an ongoing process that requires continuous learning and adjustment. Get feedback from neurodivergent colleagues on how your workplace can improve, and be willing to make changes based on this feedback.

Being an ally to neurodivergent individuals in the workplace involves a commitment to understanding, inclusion, and advocacy. By educating yourself and others, creating an inclusive environment, advocating for supportive policies, and embracing the strengths of neurodivergent colleagues, you can contribute to a culture that values and benefits from neurodiversity. Remember, not all neurodivergent people are the same. Be sure to ask questions and be open to various needs. The goal is to build a workplace where everyone feels valued, understood, and empowered to succeed.