Neurological Diversity In The Workplace

A Functional Legacy Mindset acknowledges the contributions and richness of different minds and advocates for early intervention and accommodations in schools and workplaces. When considering Autism, a balanced view that highlights strengths, whilst also validating challenges is important. Recognition that some of the difficulties experienced by Autistic individuals, stems from a society that is not yet inclusive or sensitive to the needs of Autistic individuals is important. Acceptance and understanding from others is needed to allow Autistic individuals to embrace their authentic self. When we can come to accept our whole selves, we can remove the mask that makes us feel hidden, rejected and disconnected. An important first step to removing the mask is one of acceptance, before we can identify and embrace the many strengths and beauty of the Autistic person.

DSM-5 Diagnostic Criteria for Autism Spectrum Disorder

The diagnostic and statistical manual (DSM-5) states that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is characterised by difficulties in two domains: (1) social communication and social interaction; and (2) restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests or activities. Deficits may not fully manifest until social demands exceed capacities or may be masked by learnt strategies in later life.

*Please note that ASD itself is not a direct cause of challenging behaviours, they present when demands outweigh the individual’s skills. I would also like to highlight the adverse impact of asking an Autistic individual to mask (suppressing Autistic traits). It is important not to assume that neurotypical social skills are the only way to success. Time off without the mask is not only physically and emotionally exhausting (which can lead to burnout), it is particularly adverse for mental health (anxiety, depression), self-perception and self-esteem.

Promoting Understanding and Acceptance

Positive acceptance and understanding of autism contributes to continued growth, self-awareness, and finding a balance between continuing to work to overcome challenges, whilst also allowing space for a sense of acceptance and willingness to accept accommodations where appropriate.

Neurodiversity is a term coined by an Australian sociologist named Judy Singer, and the term has become more prominent following the release of Steve Silberman’s influential book ‘Neurotribes’. The term neurodiversity highlights that differences like those seen in autism relate to brain variations, and not malfunctions. Simon Baron-Cohen, a leader in the autism field, explains that “There is no single way for a brain to be normal” and Temple Grandin has famously stated she is “different not less”.

Whilst common Autistic features include difficulties with social interaction, restrictive and repetitive behaviours and interests and hyper-sensitivities to sensory experiences, the presentation of Autism varies in the range and severity of symptoms (the word spectrum reflects the wider range of difference), and across gender and age (e.g., An Autistic-women can and often presents quite differently to a young male child). It has been thoroughly discredited that Autistic individuals lack empathy. Research indicates that Autistic individuals possess difficulties with self-understanding and theory of mind, however not with affective empathy (Dziobeket., 2007). Empathy is a related concept, meaning the recognition and understanding of the states of mind of others, including their beliefs, desires, and particularly emotions. While empathy is known as emotional perspective-taking, theory of mind is defined as cognitive perspective-taking (the ability to understand that others have beliefs, desires and intentions that are different to one’s own). From years of clinical practice, I have learnt that Autistic individuals have so much empathy that they often cannot watch the news, as they are distressed by what happens in the world and as small children this level of empathy is beyond compare (so much so that they care about inanimate objects being hurt). The reported reason for shutting down is due to sensory overload and/or needing to look away whilst they think deeply about how they will respond. When you hear people using the term ‘on the spectrum’ as a way of explaining something else, please correct them and break down incorrect myths!
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Established Strengths of the Autistic Mind / Acknowledging that greatness can be achieved through diversity.

Hyper-Focus and Attention to Detail :

Hyper-focus, a common trait in Autistic people allows them to focus on one thing for a long period of time. Surrendering is the strength of detaching from what life must look like (fixed outcomes), and the science of finding something thanks to an observant mind. The energy of people aspiring to create, teamed with the surrender of the awesome mind, is powerful and creative. There is a natural love of learning, fascination with facts, ability to listen without judgement or assumption, maintenance of order and accuracy, and a pursuit of personal theory despite conflicting evidence.

Social Communication Strengths :

These skills are found across a wide range of occupations, so care must be taken not to stereotype the interests and capabilities of Autistic people. We need to break down stereo types. Autistic individuals are your doctors, scientists, comedians, artists, teachers, family, friends etc.

As is the case with all individuals, Autistic people may struggle to gain or maintain employment. A Functional Legacy Mindset acknowledges the contributions and richness (the unique constellations of strengths and challenges) of different minds and advocates for early intervention, and accommodations in schools and workplaces.

Accommodations in the workplace:

Many of the challenges associated with Autistic differences result from a misalignment with a world that misunderstands or disregards Autistic needs.

Autistic individuals may benefit from support and accommodations with

Ultimately we want to empower Autistic individuals to feel comfortable to ask for the accommodations and support they need offering respect, support, and flexibility (accommodations in the workplace), we will encourage self-determination, empowerment and innovations for the good of all.

In addition to Autistic individuals developing new skills to promote their wellbeing, acceptance and understanding from others is needed. A curious approach that entails a desire to understand and see Autistic people as having equal rights, value and worth is important. Reasonable accommodations do not require lowering performance standards or removing essential functions of the individual’s job.

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Please Find Below Psycho-Education To Enhance Your Understanding Of Some Of The Challenges Autistic Individuals Experience –​

Please see the following link that will help you to understand the significance of a hyper-sensitivity to sensory experiences and the need for accommodations in the workplace

Please find below a link of resources for employees – including organisations that welcome neurodivergent employees, recognise and promote their strengths, and are aware of their unique needs.

Please find below a link of a symposium on Good Mental Health for Autistic Girls and Women – held by the Yellow Ladybugs
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