Neurodiverse team members can bring unique skills to an organization. Research shows that neurodiverse teams are 30% more productive than others (source). As more and more people are diagnosed (formally and self-diagnosed) as neurodiverse, creating systems in your online business to support your neurodiverse team members or CEO will set you up for success.
Or, as a service provider, you may work with a neurodiverse client. It’s important that you create a supportive environment for anyone you work with. This starts with understanding and encompasses all the different areas of your business.
Neurodiversity includes autism, ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette’s, dyspraxia, synesthesia, dyscalculia, Down syndrome, epilepsy, and chronic mental health illnesses such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, and depression.
Neurodiversity is a difference in the brain and mind that varies from the mainstream. It is not a deficit or something that needs to be fixed. It is a difference in how people process, perceive, or how they present themselves. Neurodiversity covers a wide range of issues from difficulty concentrating to being non-verbal (source).
Support Neurodiversity with Systems
Today, companies are interested in hiring neurodiverse people. While this is one way to support neurodiversity, it’s not enough. First, start by learning more about neurodiversity. Follow #actuallyautistic and neurodiverse people on social media. Educate yourself without putting the burden on neurodiverse folks to teach you.
Hiring a Neurodiverse Team
There are many stereotypes surrounding neurodiverse teams which negatively impact neurodiverse folks. Not all autistic people are like Rainman. Not all ADHD folks are like your favorite TikToker. Not all people who struggle with anxiety are like your aunt.
It’s become trendy for big companies to hire neurodiversity people who have autism. JPMorgan Chase, Dell, and Goldman Sachs all have neurodiversity hiring programs. While some companies note that they have “redesigned” the hiring process, many of them have not. They fail to provide training to the interview on how to interview neurodiverse folks. They force the candidate to disclose their diagnosis (and completely ignore the self-diagnosed). Some companies do not provide enough support for the new team member after they are hired.
Create a New Application Process
Many neurodiverse folks have taken nontypical education or career paths. Many have taken a special interest and turned that into a career. While some neurodiverse folks have a natural talent in tech or coding, not all do. Be careful of stereotypes.
Create a new application process that values non-traditional education and experience. Write a clear job description and application questions. Don’t require the candidate to select a 4 year college from a list. Allow the submission of alternative and creative forms of resumes.
Stay on top of diversity, equity and belonging (DEB) initiatives. Don’t write off a qualified candidate because they don’t interview perfectly. Evaluate them based on their skills and record and what they could contribute to the company mission and vision.
Onboarding a Neurodiverse Team Member
When you hire someone new, it’s important to make them feel welcome. Before their first day, you should share the schedule with them. It’s helpful to have a schedule because it reduces anxiety. Break the day down into sections so they know what they have to do and when and allow plenty of time for breaks and alone time. I like to create this whole process in ClickUp and share a video and written instructions on how to follow it.
Take care of any accommodation paperwork and other HR paperwork in spurts – don’t do it all at once. It’s too much and many neurodiverse people find this very stressful.
Design an orientation session without forced participation in ice breakers or small talk. This can be a challenge for many neurodiverse people. Instead, plan simple activities in smaller groups.
Offer any onboarding materials in a variety of content types: short videos, to the point text, and graphics. Keep the materials easy to understand for people with dyslexia or processing challenges. Make sure any responsibilities or procedures are clearly documented and kept in an easy to find location.
Encourage team members to book informal 1:1 “get to know you” meetings with each other to connect in a casual, safe environment. This also gives provides an opportunity to learn each other’s soft skills.
Create a Neurodiversity-Friendly Company Culture
Create a company culture which values neurodiversity by hiring, promoting, and valuing your neurodiverse team members.
Commit to reexamining outdated practices. Make it easy for all employees to have difficult conversations.
Encourage personal growth by hosting regular workshops on tough topics, preferably led by #actuallyneurodiverse folks.
Familiarize yourself with autistic traits and especially how they can present differently in women.
Learn about masking and the trauma it can cause.
And always approach people from a place of kindness and support.
Understand that many neurodiverse folks are not comfortable disclosing their neurodivergence. And that’s fine. But create an environment of support for all.
Redesign your HR Systems
Make it company policy to recognize invisible disabilities and self-diagnosed neurodiversity. Understand the barriers to diagnosis that exist for many.
Institute a flexible work policy that allows flexible hours, work from home, mental health days, sufficient time off, and good health insurance.
Include neurodivergent folks in planning on neurodiversity initiatives (you wouldn’t have a committee about women made up of all men, right? right??). Recognize coexisting conditions. Respect triggers and don’t take them personally. Create a supportive system that values each individual as well as intersectionality.
“While it’s important to highlight the potential of a people/person, it’s also important not to generalize a people, to avoid “inspirational porn” and depicting a people as having advanced abilities or all the same abilities, or highlighting a person’s worth merely based on what they can do instead of their inherent value as a living being. They understand navigating neurodiversity is tricky because every human suffers and has challenges; every human has strengths and weaknesses—every person has a set of distinguishing attributes. And every human is worthy of having a space held for their dignity” (source).Marcelle Ciampi (aka Samantha Craft)
Be wary of the “superpower” view of neurodiversity and TikTok ADHD trends. Don’t expect everyone to disclose. But everyone needs to be supported.