Neurodivergent Professionals Share The Best Ways for Allies to Support Them at Work

Veronica Yao

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by Veronica Yao

It’s no secret that neurodivergent professionals have higher support needs than most of their neurotypical colleagues. But it can be challenging to know what to ask for, or for allies, what kinds of support to offer.

We asked our community of professionals on the Neurodivergent Careers & Job Hunting group how allies can best support them in the workplace, and the recommendations we got were eye opening indeed.

1. Normalize Workplace Accommodations

As neurodiversity advocate Dave Thompson says in his Tedx talk, Rebranding the Brain: Neurodiversity at Work, we need to make workplace accommodations “normal, not formal.”

This means that workplace supports should be available to everyone, regardless of their neurotype. Consider supporting a colleague who is requesting accommodations at work, and advocating (appropriately, of course) on their behalf.

Sometimes, neurodivergent professionals are treated differently by management and their peers because of their adjustments. For example, colleagues may resent the fact that someone has flexible start times to their day and perceive it as “unfair”. If you see this kind of sentiment at work, take a moment to counter that line of thinking and explain why individualized workplace accommodations ultimately benefit everyone.

2. Respect Personal Space

Don’t make assumptions around other people’s comfort level when it comes to physical contact. Many neurodivergent folks have sensory aversions and triggers, so it’s important to respect their space.

Ask before touching a colleague, even if it’s friendly in nature. This may include handshakes and even hugs. When in doubt, let the other person take the lead, and don’t ever pressure them into interacting in one certain way.

3. Offer Clear Communication

Clear messaging and written communication are essential for neurodivergent folks, especially those who struggle with memory, executive function, and overwhelm.

Vagueness and lack of clarity can compound a neurodivergent person’s stress levels, blocking them from being able to complete the task(s) at hand. Be sure to send action items in written format (email, text, etc.) so they have time to process and absorb the information.

It’s always a good idea to ask your colleague, manager, client, whoever it is to share what communication method works best for them. Your flexible approach will be greatly appreciated!

4. Avoid Interrupting Their Focus

Focus is a precious resource that comes and goes for neurodivergent folks. We can’t just sit down and turn on our brains. Rather, we need to take advantage of moments where we are fully keyed into our task. This can be referred to as hyperfocus.

One of the quickest ways to annoy a neurodivergent professional is to interrupt their flow, because sometimes when that focus is interrupted, it’s very difficult to get it back.

Ask your neurodivergent colleague how they prefer to be contacted during the workday. What channel is best to reach them at? Perhaps they would prefer you message them rather than just showing up at their desk for a “quick chat”.

5. Be Flexible with Dress Codes

Adhering to workplace dress codes can be a nightmare for neurodivergent professionals, especially those who rely on sensory-friendly clothing.

Supporting flexible dress codes for people with sensory needs on an individualized basis can go a long way in helping your neurodivergent colleagues feel comfortable in the workplace.

6. Give Space for Processing Time

Sometimes, it takes neurodivergent minds a moment to process new information and fully comprehend it. However, workplaces are often fast paced, so we often end up falling behind and out of the loop.

Don’t rush your neurodivergent colleagues in conversation. If it’s something that requires a lot of mental processing, consider sending the information in an email so they have time to absorb it and respond thoughtfully without the social pressure to respond immediately.

7. Normalize Taking Breaks & Leave

In hustle work culture, employees who take their breaks or work their precise hours are often chastised or mocked for being “lazy”. However, overwork is a surefire way for neurodivergent folks to burn out, so taking breaks and setting boundaries around hours worked is non-negotiable.

If you observe a colleague taking heat for using their time off, consider taking a stand for them and explain why rest is an essential part of a sustainable work life.

8. Believe Neurodivergent Experiences

You wouldn’t believe how often neurodivergent experiences are invalidated by neurotypicals, just because they don’t experience the same challenges in their work lives.

Validation can go a long way. Don’t make assumptions based on your own point of view. Take time to listen carefully and believe their struggles are real.

Are you neurodivergent and burnt out at work?

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