The Mentra Publication
Top Ten Accomodations for Neurodivergent Employees
Although neurodiverse people present many strengths, they may need a modified work environment to express their full potential. Standard work environments were built without keeping the neurodiverse population in mind.
Fortunately, many enterprising businesses today are shifting away from the idea of a “one size fits all” approach to their workplace. They realize that their company benefits from neurodiversity, and are happy to provide the accommodations their employees need to succeed.
Mentra, an organization dedicated to matching neurodivergent workers with such companies, has conducted research on the most commonly requested accommodations by the neurodiverse community. In this case, both parties, employers and employees, can obtain better results from accommodating these small changes in the workplace.
Here are the Top 10 Accommodations we’ll be discussing:
Many neurodiverse individuals struggle with sensory processing difficulties. For example, what might be considered a simple noise to most people could be problematic for those who are sensitive to sound. Some neuroscientists think this is due to a smaller supply of neuro-inhibitors, which stop the excitation of neurons. So, instead of going back to a calm state after hearing a sound, a neurodiverse brain may continuously react to it, causing a stronger response.
It can be very distracting for a neurodiverse individual to be subject to a noisy environment, where they may not be able to filter relevant sounds to ones that are not. Noise-canceling headphones are a tool that might be a helpful way to combat this problem, as they bring quietness to a working environment.
Written, concise instructions
Reducing uncertainty can empower neurodiverse people to accomplish their work goals efficiently. By far, one of the most commonly requested accommodations by neurodiverse individuals on the Mentra platform is to have written and concise instructions. This can include a written checklist of daily or weekly goals, written examples of how to act in different scenarios, and written instructions of expectations.
This can be helpful to people across the neurodiverse spectrum. People with ADHD frequently struggle with remembering what they are told to do, and forgetting instructions is considered a diagnostic hallmark of the condition. Having instructions written down can be a life saver. Additionally, autistic individuals tend to be black-and-white, literal thinkers. Having concrete, written directions can clear up miscommunication and help make work more efficient. Those with dyslexia and/or auditory processing difficulties also benefit from a combination of both written and spoken information.
Uninterrupted work time
Many autistic people report that they have difficulty shifting focus to different tasks, but can easily get “in the zone” on that task once they get going. The latter is a special skill that autistic people possess, and they can use it to excel in a working environment. However, a constantly shifting work schedule, or being exposed to other interruptions, can interfere with their potential.
Therefore, providing autistic workers with an interruption-free environment is a great way to ensure productivity and a healthy workforce. This might include a separated office, a predictable schedule with time blocked off for independent work, and/or a “do not disturb” sign.
Interviewer experienced with neurodiversity
Many autistic people report that the most difficult part of successfully locking down a job is the interview. This makes sense, as autistic people tend to struggle with small talk and communication. Thus, putting forward a good impression can be very difficult, and those not experienced with autism may miss out on good candidates for the job. Interviewers experienced with neurodiversity can see beyond a lack of eye contact, a different handshake, or forgetting the interviewer’s name, and they can focus on the fundamental skills necessary for the job at hand.
Some of the most successful companies in the world, such as Microsoft, actually have developed a unique interview experience for autistic candidates. They see the potential that the neurodiverse community presents to a company and they are willing to accommodate. Interviewers experienced with neurodiversity can also provide interview questions upfront, perhaps give the interviewee breaks, or provide a comfortable environment without too many stimuli. This provides a fair chance to the neurodiverse applicant.
A tight schedule can be stressful to many neurodiverse individuals, as they might need breaks to handle sensory overload or difficulty focusing for long periods of time. For example, many ADHD individuals say that sitting still for too long periods of time or not having enough time to daydream and formulate new ideas can make it harder to do their job effectively. Similarly, autistic individuals may struggle from too much stimuli from a strict schedule and need time to decompress. Many neurodiverse individuals thrive doing remote work or in other opportunities where they get to choose when to work.
Email/calendar organization, which includes tools such as Google Calendar, apps that help filter emails, and executive functioning coaching, could mean the difference between missing every meeting and being a top employee. A clear work schedule with reminders on different devices can help employees deliver and meet deadlines, ensuring productivity.
Calendar apps are becoming mainstream in different workspaces, and they are easy to use. Adding this accommodation to your company can help not just the neurodiverse, but improve communication across the workspace.
Everyone works at their own pace. Neurodivergents are known to be more creative on average. However, rushing this process can undermine such idea generation. Lower processing speed (ADHD), difficulty with reading (dyslexia), or difficulty understanding social expectations (autism) can require its own time frame.
Often looked down upon, extra time becomes a valuable productivity booster. This frequently is an accommodation that can come together with rest breaks, which are helpful to regain focus and deal with over stimulation for the neurodiverse.
Job coaching or mentorship
Studies show that companies promote employees who are mentored five times more often than those who are not, and companies promote mentors themselves six times more often! Thus, having a job coaching/mentorship program at a company can benefit everyone involved. Job coaches/mentors provide help with understanding the dynamics of the processes involved in the job, and shorten the learning curve of starting new tasks; thus, providing an integral competitive tool in today’s economy, and in the practices of any company in the 21st century.
An experienced mentor can help neurodiverse employees navigate through the intricacies of today’s working world by leveraging their expertise to help the neurodiverse with executive functioning, time management, communication, and other relevant skills to a job.
Allowance of fidgeting devices
We all need to relax sometimes, and different people accomplish this in different ways. Unfortunately, the way that neurodiverse people tend to do this, through stimming or fidgeting, is frequently looked down upon. These activities decrease sensory overload, “excess” energy, and anxiety. They improve focus, and are not simply “toys”. Thus, fidgeting devices are the opposite of distracting!
Although some accommodating workplaces simply allow their workers to bring in fidgeting devices, others have gone as far to actively provide fidgeting devices in their workplace. This is perhaps one of the best ways to make neurodiverse individuals feel welcome in a workspace!
Closed captioning and recorded meetings
Studies show that having information presented to your brain in written form, rather than just orally, improves processing and memory. Therefore, something as simple as using software that enables speech to text during meetings can make a tremendous difference to workers, especially those that process auditory information differently. This isn’t just an accommodation that can help the neurodiverse, but can improve focus and remembering of tiny details during meetings for everyone.
Similarly, recording meetings is a tiny change that can help many employees. If an attendant misses something, the employee has the option to go back and listen to the meeting over again for any details that might have been missed. This can also help people during missed meetings or during breaks.
Here Haley, Mentra's head of Data Strategy, and Shea, Mentra's Chief Technology Officer, on how best to manage a neurodiverse team!
Hiring neurodiverse individuals offers many benefits for a company. Accommodations can sometimes be underappreciated, but they can improve the company as a whole - the little details matter. If you want help learning how to accommodate your neurodiverse employees, there are many organizations with expertise in this topic that can help you. Mentra is dedicated to not only helping companies hire the neurodiverse, but also retain and utilize these employees to their fullest potential by making sure the neurodiverse employees are satisfied in their roles.
About the Author
Mikaela Marinis is a “quirky” #actuallyautistic professional writer for the technology industry, with backgrounds in neuroscience and computer science. She’s always loved to learn, from world religions to animals, and to share what she learns with others. Mikaela frequently volunteers to help neurodiverse people in their work life, as she is neurodiverse herself and hopes to use her successes and failures to help others.
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