“So what’s your experience of neurodiversity? Have you say, worked with anyone who is neurodivergent?”
The question hung in the air for a few seconds and I was grateful that on a Zoom call, it could be passed off as a slight time delay.
“Well, umm not that I’m directly aware of. Definitely in my personal life, some of my closest friends are ADHD or on the autism spectrum. I know they’ve struggled in workplaces before, even though they’re some of the most creative and insightful people I know.” I offered, thinking it was a fairly lacklustre answer for job interview.
I decided to simply be honest.
"I’ve never even done any formal training on neurodiversity. But it strikes me that’s exactly why your business should exist in the first place.”
Rachel Worsley, my soon-to-be Neurodiversity Media (NDM) boss, nodded. “Well that’s it—us neurodivergents—we’re already in your workplaces. We’re your friends and family. And it’s not like we’re somehow going to disappear.”
About a month into working as a journalist at NDM, I was interviewing an Australian researcher who had created a manual to help managers better accommodate their autistic staff. At one point, I grumbled about how many workplaces seemed to just be pay lip service to diversity. She agreed, but qualified that, “It often becomes lip service by default because even if there’s a genuine desire to help, in most cases the organisation doesn’t know where to even begin.” This really struck a chord with me.
The longer I’ve worked at NDM, the more I’ve come to appreciate how staggering this knowledge-gap is in most workplaces. There’s a palpable dearth of awareness and accessible information about how to work well with anyone not cut from a neurotypical cloth.
Considering my own experience, I’ve worked in various professions—law, research, the arts and archives—that are known colloquially to be a magnet for neurodivergent individuals. Yet this community had been an almost invisible factor in how management had expected us to relate to our colleagues and get on in our jobs.
I’ve always considered myself to an informed and good ‘ally’ to diversity. Hell, I’d even sat on one organisation’s Diversity Committee. Although somewhat revealingly, neurodiversity had never been spoken at any of our meetings, not even once!
Despite these personal leanings, my understanding of neurodiversity had remained surface-level. I knew I had much to learn. Yet it was only after getting elbows-deep into peer-reviewed papers for NDM, that I realised how persistent misconceptions about some aspects of neurodivergent conditions had coloured my views. Being open to diversity was a core part of my values, but without that insight I’d ended up occasionally pigeon-holing people.
But beyond just absorbing what the science says, it’s seeing how effective the accommodations that NDM offers my neurodivergent teammates that has won me over the most. I’ve also benefitted from policies like flexible working hours, and being part of a neurodiverse team means our strengths and working styles are balanced.
At NDM, neurodiversity-positive adjustments even featured in my hiring process. Along with an interview, I’d been required to complete a writing test to rate me on my competencies, not just how well I could spin a curly question or two!
De-mystifying the practical steps that organisations can take to be more accommodating to neurodiversity is a big part of what we do at NDM. And with a significant portion of employees moving to their home office during the COVID pandemic, we’re seeing workplaces become more receptive to more neurodiversity-friendly modes of work.
Our 2021 NDM program of masterclasses will help workplaces to build-on this momentum to create cultural change. They empower neurodivergent professionals, and their supporters, to drive the changes they want to see to their working lives by providing access to experts and a community of peers.
Participants can get customised feedback and develop their own strategies in areas like communication, leadership, psychological safety and teamwork. For Pro Members, we’re also launching new features like our dedicated neurodiversity job-board for professionals seeking opportunities at verified ND-Aware Organisations.
While I’ve been extremely grateful for my six-month journey in better understanding neurodiversity, it’s unlikely that most neurotypical professionals can have this same immersive learning opportunity. NDM short-cuts this experience by telling the stories that matter in ways that everyone can understand. And I’m immensely looking forward to seeing NDM continue to make inroads into changing conversations and about neurodiversity in 2021.
Pro Membership Benefits
Take your professional development to the next-level through extra personalisation of resources and professional development opportunities based on your career stage (for neurodivergent individuals) or on specific topics of interest (for friends, families and employers).
Save hundreds of dollars on learning and development through Pro-exclusive discounts (ranging from 10-50% off) on practical, evidence-based resources such as templates, questionnaires, and masterclasses.
Make a real difference to the employment prospects of neurodivergent individuals. We divert 10% of your Pro membership fee to our Jobs Trust Fund, to create jobs and paid internships for unemployed neurodivergent individuals with creative arts backgrounds to produce resources for the Resource Library.