It’s all very well reading about Neurodiversity, but there are many people who contact me and ask “but what can I do to drive inclusion?”
In some ways the answer to this question is simple; doing anything is better than doing nothing. But what are some tangible things we can do to actually make a difference?
Talking about Neurodiversity is the beginning of the inclusion journey. Because by talking about it, we are acknowledging that it exists. So ask questions like “is this a good place for us to chat?” And don’t be afraid to say a space is too loud or too bright, for example, because this normalises the neurodivergent experience.
Talking also includes asking questions and listening to the lived experiences of other people and applying what they have said even if they aren’t there. For example, asking a new colleague not to sit at a particular desk because that’s where Alan sits; asking someone who wears headphones how they would prefer you to attract their attention; or ensuring that any hiring and promotion you are involved in is fair to neurodivergent candidates.
No, not in the catwalk sense!
Practicing neuro-inclusive behaviours is not only beneficial in itself, it also provides an opportunity for others to see inclusivity in practice and to adopt some of those behaviours themselves.
At work, this might include:
– Varying opportunities for social interaction among the team (if you always take 20 people to that noisy, overcrowded bar, the same people will opt out every time)
– Encouraging and modelling good meeting discipline like sharing meeting agendas in advance, starting and finishing on time, and giving participants a few moments to process their thoughts
– Acknowledging and leveraging your team’s strengths, rather than highlighting their weaknesses. Perhaps Alice writes that paper and Bill proof reads it? Or maybe Charlie writes a process and Dave runs the training? If each person in the team is enabled to contribute their strongest skills, we can generate the best possible outcome.
You can read more about “spiky” profiles and why they are important here.
Challenge behaviours that undermine and invalidate neurodivergent experiences, for example if you hear someone say: “He’s clearly on the spectrum”, “I’m so OCD about this” or “It’s just bad parenting”. These sorts of statements perpetuate stereotypes, but more than that can actually be harmful because they deny the challenges that neurodivergent people can have.
Equally, questioning why colleagues are afforded a particular accommodation should be discouraged. If you hear someone saying “I don’t understand why they wear headphones all the time… It’s not that loud in here” a gentle “Perhaps they find it easier to concentrate that way” normalises the headphones without identifying the colleague as neurodivergent.
It’s easy to worry that we might be getting neuro-inclusion wrong. But at the end of the day, any action we take to keep the dialogue open and the smallest of steps in modelling inclusive behaviours are exactly that – steps forward. And the more of those we take, the quicker we get to a place of acceptance and inclusion.