Understanding and Navigating Neurodiversity in the Workplace


Welcome (back) to the Jennifer Nash Newsletter where I share biweekly tips on leadership, coaching, and being human in this new world of work. If you’re here for the first time – welcome – I’m so glad you’ve joined! 

This week, we’re addressing a question that many Be Human, Lead Human readers have asked in one form or another – As a neurodiverse individual, how can I identify workplaces that work for me? 

To provide insights into how neurodiverse individuals can identify workplaces that work for them, and how organizations can foster neurodiverse-inclusive environments, I recently spoke with Dr. Ludmila Praslova, author of the forthcoming book The Canary Code, and Professor of Psychology and the founding Director of Graduate Programs in Industrial-Organizational Psychology at Vanguard University of Southern California. 

What does neurodiversity mean?

Let’s start with a shared understanding. Dr. Praslova says: “Neurodiversity is an understanding that neurological differences, traditionally seen as needing correction or intervention, are not inherently negative.” It encompasses a range of conditions, from autism and ADHD to Tourette’s and dyslexia, as well as mental health issues. The term “neurodivergent” is commonly used to describe individuals who do not conform to social expectations of neurotypical behavior. It recognizes that diversity exists in our neurological functioning, just as it does in other aspects of human diversity.

How can I tell if I’m neurodiverse?

Dr. Praslova explains: “Diagnosing neurodivergent conditions can be complex, and not all neurodivergent individuals receive formal diagnoses.” Self-identification is a valid starting point, but getting an official diagnosis can be challenging. It is essential to recognize that not all neurodivergent individuals will fit traditional diagnostic criteria, especially if they are late-diagnosed. Self-awareness, understanding personal traits, and seeking the right support are key steps in this process.

Which characteristics suggest neurodiversity-friendly (or neuroinclusive) workplaces?

Here are several suggestions to identify workplaces that support neurodivergent individuals, as outlined in Dr, Praslova’s book, “The Canary Code”:

  • Value flexibility: Recognize that employees may have varying workstyles and rhythms. Empower employees to work how, when, and where works best for them, so they can perform at their best.
  • Focus on outcomes: Measure success by the quality of work produced rather than adherence to rigid work hours. More hours worked doesn’t necessarily correlate to more output.
  • Encourage transparency: Reduce politics and provide clarity in decision-making processes.
  • Using valid tools for decision-making: Ensure that performance evaluations are data-driven and based on relevant skills and contributions, rather than subjective judgments.

My manager treats me as ‘special’ – does this help or harm? 

Managers and organizations should treat neurodivergent employees as individuals with unique needs, not as ‘special’ in a demeaning sense, which can be harmful. Dr. Praslova highlights: “It’s helpful to provide accommodations based on the person’s requirements, rather than assuming a one-size-fits-all approach.” To find out which accommodations (If any) neurodivergent employees need or prefer, respectfully ask them.

Where does the ADA fit into all of this?

Dr. Praslova suggests that neurodiversity is not inherently a disability, but some neurodivergent conditions may meet the criteria for disability under the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) or similar legislation. She points out that many neurodivergent individuals do not consider themselves disabled, however, and the focus should be on accommodating their unique needs rather than labeling them.

How can managers and leaders support neurodiverse colleagues?

Managers and leaders working with neurodivergent colleagues should prioritize understanding the unique experiences and needs of each human being. Some key considerations include:

  • Recognize potential trauma: Many neurodivergent individuals may have faced bullying or societal challenges throughout their lives, leading to trauma. Although managers and leaders can’t resolve the historical trauma, they can be sensitive to this and provide a safe and supportive space today.
  • Use manager- or leader-as-coach methods: Customize the approach to meet the neurodivergent individual where they are today. Adapt the method and technique to meet their needs. 
  • Encourage participation: Invite neurodivergent individuals to share their preferences on how they want to be managed or led. Ask them to share what’s working well, what’s not working well, and identify one change they’d like to see going forward. This collaborative approach will lead to a higher quality working relationship and improve outcomes.

The path to fostering a neuroinclusive workplace involves understanding unique needs, providing tailored accommodations, and valuing flexibility and transparency. By recognizing and embracing neurodiversity, we can create better organizations for everyone. When we celebrate the diversity of the human experience, we create an inclusive world where every individual can thrive. 

Drop a note in the comments below about your experience with neurodiversity in the workplace. 

#Coaching #JenniferNashCoachingConsulting #Neurodiversity #Leadership #HumanLeadership

Thanks to Be Human, Lead Human readers and HLI™ participants for these questions about human leadership! Do you have questions about human leadership? Drop me a note and let me know.

Even more good news: you’re already on the path to becoming a Human Leader by reading this! Be sure to subscribe to this bi-weekly newsletter for more leadership content, and visit my blog for even deeper dives into important Human Leadership content!

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