'Neurodivergent People Are Misunderstood For the Way They Do Things'

Rachel Worsley  |  31/05/2022

Nicci Richman, a Diversity, Inclusion and Belonging Consultant at Audir, spoke to Rachel Worsley about why many neurodivergent people remain misunderstood in the workplace, and what to do about this challenge. 

What are the biggest challenges that face neurodivergent people working in their profession? 

Every person's experience is different but some common threads include energy management. It could be quite exhausting managing our energy. But for some people, the amount of information that comes into the autistic brain. There's this sensory information and having to think about the social element of communicating.

That is taking up a whole lot more energy than, then might be taken up that would be taken up by a neurotypical person. A person who needs to have meetings all day and be switched on socially as well as cognitively could lead to them going home and just being wiped out at the end of the day and not being able to function at the end of the day and getting recharged for the next day.

People need to be really aware of their energy and how they use it and what they need in the workplace so that they can thrive without burning out.

Differences in communication. There is no one right way of communicating. However, because we are the minority, there is often an expectation that we will communicate the same way as neurotypicals.

That takes effort and energy, it involves masking to a lesser or greater extent depending on the person. And masking in itself can lead to some severe mental health outcomes. So rather than having to adapt to the neurotypical way of being, it’s about understanding that everybody will communicate differently. So having team understandings of common communication methods is brilliant.

I'll go into workplaces for example and we will do the REACH system so that people can have an understanding of how we all communicate differently and that's not personal. It creates an even playing field for people to get along in the workplace without forcing people to adapt to a style that isn't in their nature or that isn't natural to them.

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What kind of strengths do you think ND people bring to the workplace?

There's out of the box thinking. There's creativity, huge innovation, people will take initiative. ADHD is very strongly known for leadership in times of crisis, being very calm in a crisis and just taking charge. Being able to see things from a totally different perspective.

There’s fantastic focus on achieving outcomes and tenacity and willingness to keep going until the job is done. If it's a person's interest, then you are going to get absolutely fantastic things out of that person.

Why do you think it's difficult for neurodivergent people to get career progression in the workplace?

It’s because of many neurodivergent people being misunderstood. Misunderstood for the way they do things. Often progression comes from those who are able to put themselves forward.

Those who are really good at talking about their strengths and their abilities and their achievements are going to be noticed and they're going to be progressed.

There's task management. People can be perceived where if they miss deadlines or be perceived as being disorganised. Some managers will throw a verbal list at people of: “I want you to do this” and for those who need processing time, there might not be enough time to take all that in or to write it all down.

Even small management changes around the person's needs would have taken those challenges away. And the person would have been able to have their strengths noticed as opposed to their deficiencies.

What's your advice for those neurodivergent people who are trying to get into their first job?

I coached a new graduate recently. They were brilliant, technically, they'd learnt everything they needed at uni in terms of technical skills. But what they hadn't learnt at uni and as they pointed out to me, nobody has taught them about this social side. As in what I need to do to thrive in a workplace socially.
I coached them about the employability skills that people need. Those are time management, assertiveness and clear communication. Those core skills that people need that they might not necessarily have learnt at uni and we also build it into the job description.

And once it was there and once he had that list of this is what the expectations are. He was fine. He just didn't know what he didn't know.

Providing opportunities for neurodivergent students to have work placements so that they can see what they don't know and get the development that they need before they're actually in the workplace, even as much as how do you sell yourself on a resume. How do you notice your strengths when potentially a lot of people we see have grown up being shown what their weaknesses are.

So how do we help that person turn that narrative into a “Well, these are the things that are really marketable about me”? These are the things that I will do really well in the workplace.

How can managers improve the hiring practices for neurodivergent talent in the workplace?

We see absolutely brilliant inclusion and diversity practices in the really big organisations and it can lead us to think that you need a lot of money to bring in the neurodivergent talent.
We need to make it easier for all businesses to bring in neurodivergent talent. Having streamlined processes and educating the leadership so the business owners know the value of how they can get the best out of their neurodivergent employees.

Then we build in systems that are straightforward.  Think outside of the box about what skills you need to see. It doesn't have to be a resume. It can be a video application or a poster application. That's where neurodivergent thinking about how to get the best out of the applications comes in. Then when it comes to the interview time, offer accommodations right up front.

That’s to show that we appreciative of neurodivergent skills. Let us know if you need accommodations. Accommodations might be things like having questions in advance and being able to bring in documented responses. It might be having a support person there with them. It might be if a translator is needed, if disability access is needed. It's just thinking about being open to accommodating what that person needs to be able to shine in the interview.