Neurodiversity can be a challenge for both employers and employees. How can companies address a workforce that is increasingly neurodiverse, and when should you disclose your diagnosis?

What do we mean by neurodiversity?

In short, neurodiversity refers to people who exhibit atypical brain functions as compared to the standard (neurotypical), in terms of thought processes, behaviour and communication. It is an umbrella term that encompasses a range of divergent cognitive and behavioural differences that impact the way someone sees the world and interacts with it. Although neurodiversity originally referred only to those with autism, it has evolved in recent years to encapsulate those with ADHD, synesthesia, Tourette’s, dyslexia and other learning and developmental differences.

It is through understanding, empathy and affordances that neurodiverse individuals will be able to navigate our changing world and succeed within it as full members of society.

Importantly, the mental health industry has moved away from pathologizing neurodiverse people, opting instead to view those with neurological differences with an equal standing in society. Underpinning this paradigm shift is the perspective that there is no disorder to cure, but rather, the neurodiverse population should be accepted, respected and supported. It is through understanding, empathy and affordances that neurodiverse individuals will be able to navigate our changing world and succeed within it as full members of society. It’s an important distinction, one that is still gaining acceptance in many industries.

A challenge for employees (and employers)

Unfortunately, and despite progress, the stigma of mental health persists in many areas of society. One such challenge for neurodiverse persons involves the workplace, a setting where we spend a large portion of our time throughout our lives. For many, it can be difficult to know whether or not to reveal your diagnosis, or even how to start that conversation.

Business owners face their own challenge, in that the workforce is becoming more diverse with each passing year. Any company looking to attract and retain quality talent will need to incorporate strategies which help to meet the needs of neurodiverse people whilst making the workplace more accessible and flexible. Changes to recruiting, onboarding, working hours, protocols and performance metrics could help break down the barriers to entering the workforce for neurodiverse individuals. By some estimates, over 80% of people with autism remain unemployed. Post-pandemic advances in remote and flexible working can help to address this, but only if reinforced with hiring initiatives and support groups that foster a safe and inclusive environment.

The good news is that many companies are beginning to shift their strategies and are growing their employment rates among an increasingly neurodivergent working population. Likewise, non-profit organisations that specialise in training, recruitment and career pathway programs are helping to further assist neurodiverse job seekers find placement with partner-companies that will embrace their unique talents.

Workers who feel included have better career outcomes. Credit: Jason Goodman/Unsplash.

Should you reveal your diagnosis?

Before deciding to disclose your diagnosis, it is worth understanding the possible benefits, and risks, which may eventuate. Employers have embraced diversity of culture, thought and gender to varying degrees, but not all workplaces are on equal footing on this topic. Whilst mainstream attention has helped bring more awareness and understanding to neurodiversity, the fact remains that stigma and descrimination by neurotypical persons may persist.

With this in mind, some may feel hesitant to share their neurodiversity, or even approach an employment opportunity at all. For many, descrimination in the form of inadequate workplace accommodations, denial of career opportunities and public displays of criticism have all come to pass.

Ultimately, the choice to disclose is a personal decision, as is the timing of such a discussion. Some may decide to be immediately upfront, as early as the recruitment stage, whilst others might decide to settle and build a relationship first. Then there is the question of who to reveal this information to – limited to your direct superior, close colleagues or a wider circle of co-workers?

The ability to think-outside-the-box is a cherished skill, and one that companies are always seeking.

The benefit of revealing your diagnosis is that your employer will be better suited to understand your unique strengths, opportunities for development, and ways in which they can help maximise your potential. There is also the opportunity for you to help support other neurodivergent people in your company and get involved in advocacy programs if available (or perhaps start one).

How to go about it

If you do decide to inform your employer, there is no one right way to broach the subject. However, it may be advantageous to first gauge how receptive your manager or colleague is, in order to help identify how they may react.

Firstly, observe how they respond to similar topics, such as mental health, diversity, disability and inclusiveness. If you work with a colleague who is neurodiverse, how do others interact with them? Does your workplace have an employee support program (or similar resources) for neurodiverse individuals? Check your company’s training portal for any content on neurodiversity or speak to the people and culture team to see if there is any training material they can share with you.

Take mental note of what affordances you think you may reasonably need, and how these might help you in your daily life at work. Remember to be flexible with your requirements and prepared to trial any solutions that are offered, just as you are asking for flexibility as well.

Employing some (or all) of these techniques will let you assess the inclusivity of your workplace and may also help identify any opportunities for affordances as required. There’s also the chance that you will tap into an existing support community through your conversations.

And beyond that, wouldn’t you want to enjoy the freedom that comes with working at a company which accepts you for you are?

Neurodiversity in the workplace benefits all

Research has shown that companies which embrace neurodiversity are better off. Employers who adopt neurodivergent-friendly strategies can access (and retain) workers who can offer different strengths, viewpoints and bring value in many non-traditional ways. The ability to think-outside-the-box is a cherished skill, and one that companies are always seeking.

Organisations that opt to create a culture of inclusivity and acceptance set their employees up with the best chance to succeed at their profession. Workers who feel that their individual needs are being met are happier, more productive and invested in their career.

The upside of a more inclusive workforce is infinite. By fostering an enjoyable work environment, neurodiverse individuals can contribute their unique talents and provide essential creativity, innovation and novel solutions.

The one-size-fits-all model of working is long past expired. By investing in an environment where all employees feel welcomed, everybody wins.

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