As part of our Employee Speaker Series, we held an online workshop on neurodiversity in the workplace.

Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace is crucial for fostering an inclusive and thriving environment. When employees don’t feel free to be themselves at work, we miss out on more than just their unique personalities. We lose out on the boundless creativity, sharp critical thinking skills, and resourcefulness that come hand in hand with feeling safe in our work environment. 

At InCheck, we’ve held workshops called Days of Understanding, where we invite speakers to educate us on topics related to workplace inclusion. In our latest workshop, Matt Juzenas, Director of Strategic Operations at Islands of Brilliance, discussed neurodiversity at work. Islands of Brilliance (IOB) provides unique learning and social engagement opportunities for neurodiverse students through a person-centered approach that allows individual interests and capabilities to flourish. 

The InCheck team was eager to learn more about neurodiversity, the daily struggles and challenges that neurodiverse people face, and how they can be allies. Before diving into that answer, Matt shared a few insights on how to rethink neurodiversity.

Reframe Your Thinking

Neurodiverse people experience the world around them in different ways. There’s no wrong way to experience the world. Neurotypical people often perceive behaviors like stimming, jumping, and rocking as unusual. In reality, those behaviors are a result of overstimulation or pent-up energy. 

Matt challenged us to consider our reaction to those behaviors. Is that pent-up energy “negative” or just different? We should embrace that difference, welcome it, and make communication, understanding, and relationship-building easier.

There Are Differences, Not Deficits 

Neurodivergence is often described as a spectrum, but it’s not linear. Terms like ‘high-functioning’ and ‘low-functioning’ do little to describe the individual. It’s a web, not a line. And they’re not autistic traits; they’re human traits. If we think of neurodivergence as a human trait, it broadens our approach to making our communities and workplaces more inclusive and accommodating. Inclusion is about creating spaces and opportunities where all people can access and enjoy them.

Inclusion Through Universal Design

Matt introduced us to the concept of Universal Design, the design of buildings, products, and environments to make them accessible to all people, regardless of age, disability, or other factors. Universal Design also applies to building design (e.g., wider hallways accommodate wheelchairs and strollers, and more people can move safely.) and can help improve our approach to the workplace environment.

Applying Universal Design in your Workplace More for neurodiverse Thinkers

Matt shared some tips he’s learned in the last ten years about making the workplace more accessible to neurodiverse people. Being an ally at work comes down to respect for an individual. Looking at each other as individuals, how can we help each other be our best selves at work? Here are five tips to apply Universal Design in your workplace.

  1. Give everyone space and time for processing in the conversation. Get comfortable with pauses.  It’s a normal reaction to fill the hole in discussions. Instead of rushing through your points, stay silent until you can’t take it anymore, and then count to ten before speaking. Break the silence with a question, ‘Did you understand the question?’
    • Tip – Meetings are rapid-fire events. You can state the objective of the meeting, then give the participants 3 minutes to write down their thoughts or questions.
  2. Try to avoid asking yes or no questions. “Yes” or “no” questions often produce negative or neutral responses. When you ask, “Do you have any questions?’ in a group setting, there’s pressure to stay silent or say no, even if the topic is unclear. 
    • Tip – People won’t always want to speak up if they don’t understand. Instead, ask, ‘What questions do you have?’, then pause for a minute to allow your coworkers to process the information and respond.
  3. Neurodiverse people often develop deep subject matter expertise in their areas of interest. Once you better understand your coworker and their interests, think about ways to incorporate their interests into work. Is there a way to tie in new work processes? By engaging coworkers and getting to know them, you can build personal connections with coworkers. 
    • Tip – Neurodiverse employees often pay great attention to detail and can stay focused on their tasks. Look for opportunities to include them in projects where their talent and interests could benefit the company. It’s a great way to build personal and professional relationships by recognizing their contributions.
  4. Over Communicate. Don’t assume neurodiverse employees will make the connections to processes that neurotypical people often take for granted. Break processes down into many simple steps. Visuals paired with simple instructions make a big difference. Explain systems, what’s changed, and why it matters. 
    • Tip – When communicating changes to processes or new projects, give all of your coworkers a high-level overview and include specific instructions calling out what has changed, what’s new, and why.
  5. Tailor your communication methods. There are multiple communication methods in play at work (e.g., email, in-person meetings, virtual meetings, instant messaging). Neurotypical people fluidly jump from video calls to instant messages to in-person conversations. That’s not always as easy for neurodiverse employees.
    •  Tip – Lay out all of the communication methods your team uses. Ask each team member what’s their best channel, worst channel, and preferred method of communication.

Matt concluded the session by reminding us that neurodiversity is an integral part of the inclusion and belonging equation. Inclusion for neurodiverse people at work can include significant initiatives around hiring strategy or minor changes such as ensuring our workstyles use Universal Design.

By bringing people of all backgrounds and abilities into the conversation and giving them the space to participate and engage with their coworkers, we’re making our workplace better for everyone.

We hold these Days of Understanding as part of our continuous efforts to foster an inclusive and equitable workplace. These workshops empower InCheck with the tools to have meaningful conversations with each other, our clients, and our communities. Contact us to learn more about our company story and services.

Disclaimer: This blog is for general informational purposes only and should not be construed as legal advice.

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