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Ask Izzy: Navigating neurodivergence in the workplace

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Photo by cottonbro / Pexels
Photo by cottonbro / Pexels

Ask Izzy is an advice column about relationships, mental health, and sexuality. Written by Isabel Mata — a Seattle-based lifestyle writer, podcast host, and mental health advocate — Ask Izzy offers tangible expert advice so all readers can have stronger relationships, better sex, and healthier mindsets. Submit your question today by filling out this survey

In today's fast-paced, ever-changing work environment, diversity and inclusion have become crucial aspects of fostering a thriving workplace culture. One key element is providing accommodations for neurodivergent people.

While these can vary from flexible scheduling to noise-canceling headphones, it is important to note that they do not come easily. If you are a neurodivergent person, navigating the professional sphere comes with unique challenges, as you need to take initiative in order to get your needs met. To put it plainly, if you don't ask for what you need, you won't get it.

Here's a guide to help you (as a neurodivergent person) navigate this process, whether you work in the office, remotely, or in a hybrid setting.

Before initiating the conversation about accommodations, take some time to reflect on the specific challenges you face in the workplace due to your neurodivergence. Are there particular tasks, environments, or interactions that trigger stress or hinder your productivity?

Once you have figured out your challenges, brainstorm potential solutions. Some common accommodations for neurodivergent workers include: noise-canceling headphones or a quiet workspace, flexible scheduling or remote work options, written instructions or visual aids, those for sensory issues (such as a comfortable chair or special lighting), and extra time or breaks for tasks that may be more challenging.

Know your rights
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations for employees with neurodivergent conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and anxiety disorders. Because of this, if you need an accommodation to perform your job duties, your employer must work with you to provide one. Having this knowledge will empower you during conversations about accommodations and ensure that you can advocate for yourself effectively.

Choose the right time and format
Timing is crucial when discussing accommodations. Ask your supervisor for a one-on-one meeting without distractions. But before you schedule that, consider whether an in-person, virtual, or written format would be most effective for your communication style. Once you have decided on the format, make sure that your supervisor or boss has your undivided attention to ensure clear communication.

Be specific and solution-oriented
Once you have a meeting set, clearly articulate the accommodation(s) you are seeking. You want to be specific about how this will address the challenges you face. It is likely that your supervisor will need approval before implementation, so make their job easier by outlining the benefits. Emphasize how these accommodations will not only benefit you but also contribute to the overall productivity and success of your team. Framing the conversation in this way can help drive the point across in a way that aligns with the company's values and goals.

Provide resources
Not everyone knows what neurodivergence means, and you might be the first person in the office to ask for accommodation. Offer resources or information that can help your employer understand better, such as articles, videos, or professional organizations that specialize in workplace accommodations.

Collaborate on implementation
Having the conversation is just the first step. After the conversation, work collaboratively with your employer to implement the accommodation(s). This may involve talking with HR, relevant departments, or external consultants. Be open to finding solutions that work for both parties, and practice patience along the way.

Requesting accommodations as a neurodivergent person can be a positive and empowering experience when approached strategically. By understanding your needs, advocating for your rights, and fostering open communication, you contribute not only to your own success but also to the creation of a more inclusive and supportive workplace.

Remember, you have a right to thrive in your professional journey, regardless of if your brain works differently than others. By seeking accommodations, you are taking a step toward creating a workplace that values diversity and ensures everyone's success, regardless of neurodivergence.