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Why we should be encouraging more openness to neurodiversity

Diverse group of work colleagues chatting and smiling during a coffee break, neurodiversity openness concept

ARTICLE SUMMARY

Elicia Boni, Technical Content Writer at Mindera, shares her neurodiversity journey and advocates for workplace inclusivity. Exploring misconceptions about autism, ADHD, and more, Elicia highlights the importance of breaking down stigmas and fostering diverse and supportive workplaces.

Elicia Boni, Technical Content Writer, Marketing and Internal Comms at Mindera explores why we should be encouraging more openness around neurodiversity.

Elicia has experience in digital marketing, following a 15-month hands-on apprenticeship from 2021 to 2022 where she worked as a Digital Marketing Executive. Prior to this, she completed her BA Politics degree from the University of Leicester, with a special interest and focus on political ideology, social issues, and identity politics.

Currently, Elicia works for Mindera, a global software development company. She handles social media management, internal communications, and content creation for the website. In her day-to-day role, she also assists in organising company-wide sessions that educate on a wide range of mental health conditions and more, having delivered her own talk on her journey with having ADHD, Autism, and BPD.

Her journey started when she was at university, at age 20 she suspected she might have ADHD and at age 22 this was confirmed by a specialist along with BPD and autism. She is an advocate for changing the way we talk about neurodivergent conditions as well as promoting more workplace inclusivity and diversity. She is constantly learning about neurodivergent conditions and the way these can be accommodated for.

To start at the beginning, I always felt different or “less than” my peers throughout school and university.

The difference was always noticeable to me but never anything I could pinpoint.

At age 20, I got frustrated and went down some research rabbit holes for ADHD. After a few months of this intense new hyperfocus, I was convinced I had it. After months of waiting, I was sat on Zoom with a specialist; after the call, I received an email with my diagnosis: ADHD, but also Autism and BPD (Borderline Personality Disorder). It was tough, but something I have tried to champion and be transparent about in my personal life and my career. I’m currently working at Mindera, a global technology company, and it’s incredibly refreshing to work somewhere where I feel understood.

Being neurodivergent in the workplace

Everyone who is neurodivergent experiences their condition differently; no story is the same. By having more open discussions and transparency, I truly think we can create more diverse and inclusive workplaces.

If I got talking about all the misconceptions about autism and ADHD, I could write a novel. Instead, I want to focus on some I’ve seen throughout my professional career, which I hope I can help to break down.

Concepts of “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” neurodivergent people: While some people may be OK with these terms, I personally don’t like these labels as I think they can be harmful. Neurodiversity is a spectrum, and labelling some as “high-functioning” at work while labelling others as “low-functioning” can contribute to feelings of isolation and anxiety. Furthermore, it’s crucial to recognise that neurodivergent conditions can fluctuate daily depending on factors such as environment, hormones, life factors, and more. It’s important to remember that someone “high-functioning” on the outside is likely going to experience something more challenging in their head (this is something I relate to a lot).

Stigmas on what people think autism looks like: Maybe you’ve heard some of these before, “You have autism? You don’t seem like it!” and so on. This is based on outdated stereotypes, rather than recognising that people display the condition differently, with women often internalising the symptoms and masking.

ADHD and laziness: I’ve seen some people on a professional front equating ADHD with laziness without recognising that the body clocks and preferred working hours of those of us with ADHD aren’t in line with the standard 9 to 5 shift pattern. Executive Dysfunction is also discounted here. It’s also important to note employees you might perceive as “lazy” might not be sharing an ADHD diagnosis or may be living undiagnosed.

In addition to experiencing some of these misconceptions, being neurodivergent in a traditional work environment can also come with its challenges.

One of the biggest is autistic burnout – a state of physical and mental fatigue that can be accompanied by heightened stress, diminished focus and more sensory issues. It can be more common for autistic people to face burnout due to going into a state of hyperfocus, masking, and sensory-related issues to their environment.

Sensory-related issues can also be commonplace in a traditional office environment where there are many people, noise and bright lights, which can feel overwhelming.

Support and inclusivity at work

There’s a myriad of different ways to support your neurodivergent team; unfortunately, there is no magic fix or one-size-fits-all approach, and communication is really your best friend here to build and maintain an inclusive workplace.

In my personal experience, I have found the following helpful:

  • Don’t assume that if something has helped once before, it will help again;
  • Provide forums and safe spaces for your neurodivergent team to communicate about their daily struggles;
  • Always keep the conversation open; never assume or judge;
  • If the role is in-office, make it known that time away from busy crowds and meetings is okay, this can help avoid sensory overload;
  • Allow flexible working hours, regular breaks and movement around the office;
  • Make quiet, comfy spaces that aren’t a conventional desk or booth – it really helps our productivity!
  • Always be mindful of giving instructions and communication – the ADHD brain tends to respond better to written instructions and feedback;
  • Take time and training to learn and understand different neurodivergent conditions;
  • Let your neurodivergent team speak on their experience without taking their voice away from them;
  • Be clear, consistent and present for your employees; make sure to make time for them! Bonus points if you can make it a regular part of their routine.

Neurodiversity as a superpower

I always aim to be sensitive when talking about neurodiversity; the language we use is so important and is the difference between making someone feel welcomed or someone feeling isolated. Some of my autistic friends would not describe their condition as a superpower, that is entirely valid. I want to touch on some areas where, for me, it can be.

  1. Thinking outside the box is awesome when working in marketing and a fast-paced tech environment;
  2. Visual perception and attention to detail. While these can lead to extreme perfectionism sometimes, they really help when I’m working on blog writing, social media designing/scheduling and internal communications.
  3. Passion. I get so excited about things I’m working on; I’ll get into intense hyperfocus, my brain starts whirring, I visualise all the paths and solutions as well as the outcomes of my projects.
  4. Loyalty, honesty, and heightened morality. I care very deeply about people and their work.

At Mindera

As I mentioned before, it is refreshing to work at a company like Mindera as a neurodivergent person, and it gives me hope that more workplaces are waking up to creating a work environment that promotes a sense of belonging.

As we have a lot of neurodivergent people within the organisation, all with different backgrounds and experiences, there is a real passion for removing potentially damaging labels to ensure we all feel welcomed. Through Mindera School, we are also supporting the training of neurodiverse talent, which has become a big focus for Mindera as we continue to grow! The aim is to create a separate company created by neurodiverse people, for neurodiverse people – working with our partners to create even more opportunities for people who may otherwise struggle to find a job.

I feel I can work the shift patterns that best suit my conditions. I don’t feel ashamed to share my journey and diagnoses with people, and working predominantly remotely really helps in minimising sensory triggers and means my environment is expertly tailored to meet my needs.

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