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Neurodivergent folks experience many workplace challenges, including...
About 30-40% of people with Neurodivergence are unemployed (Source).
One thing that gives me hope, is seeing more members of the Neurodivergent (ND) community expanding their view of what’s possible. Another is seeing more companies proactively seeking to include Neurodiverse folks in their workforce. I’m even more grateful a few companies have sought me out to help guide this effort.
To help with self-advocacy and accommodation, here are some challenges ND folks may experience in the workplace.
Sensory overload: This is a biggie, and can happen quickly. I’m sensitive to bright lights, light touch, certain frequencies of sound. Many ND folks can be hypervigilant waiting for a sensory assault to happen. This makes focus and productivity difficult to maintain.
Communication gaps: Missing nonverbal cues is the tip of the iceberg. There may be literal thinking, all-or-nothing thinking, overthinking. I routinely got in trouble early in my career by calling out office politics as “stupid”.
So many misunderstandings, conflicts and hurt feelings stem from these communication gaps. Self-awareness work, self-advocacy and skill building can go a long way in reducing misunderstandings.
Executive function blips: Executive function skills, such as time management and planning, can be a challenge for some ND folks. This can make it difficult to complete tasks efficiently or meet deadlines. These challenges can be particularly disabling in the following ways:
- Discrimination: The dynamic nature of ND conditions can send mixed messages about what a person is capable of in the workplace. They can be labeled lazy, accused of making excuses. This can lead to friction with co-workers, poor reviews and prevent growth opportunities with their employer.
- Lack of accommodations: We may need accommodations, such as flexible work schedules or quiet workspaces, to perform our best in the workplace. However, many employers may not be aware of these needs or may be resistant to making accommodations.
- Mental health challenges: The stress and pressure of the workplace can exacerbate mental health challenges that ND folks may already face, such as anxiety or depression.
- Job interviews: The job interview process can be particularly challenging for ND folks. Difficulty with non-verbal cues, auditory processing issues, or difficulties with social interactions can make someone appear undisciplined and unconfident. But in the right environment, with the right supports, they can be some of your best and most dependable employees.
Overall, a commitment to continued education by employers, and a dialogue with employees about what’s working, and what could work better. Are keys to creating a win-win environment where everyone feels seen and supported.