Embracing Neurodiversity: 10 Inclusive Practices in Everyday Behavior

By: Louis Chesney
Portrait of nonbinary neurodiverse person wearing a rainbow sweater smiling taking selfie

This article presents ten tips for creating and maintaining a culture of inclusivity in the workplace through everyday behaviors. It underscores a bottom-up approach that empowers everyone to positively influence their environment and make a tangible difference in fostering a sense of belonging for all employees, including those who are neurodiverse.

Here are the ten tips on everyday behaviors:

1. Support colleagues with acknowledgement and encouragement

Go out of your way to make others feel good and acknowledge their contributions. Others will likely reciprocate your kindness. Additionally, help colleagues understand the skills they need for advancement. If they have the skills, refrain from assuming a reluctance to pursue a promotion indicates a lack of ambition. This can apply to our neurodiverse colleagues who might not have received support in the past, so they are unsure how to respond to new opportunities.

They may also discount their abilities due to not feeling appreciated or recognized for what they contribute and may not believe they have the skills to apply for a position. Therefore, offer them encouragement. This is extremely important for their development.

2. Assume positive intent

Even when someone openly disagrees with you, try to assume they are well-intentioned. This approach will enable you to respond more calmly and constructively.

Particularly with neurodiverse individuals, this understanding is important as they may have different ways of expressing themselves that, at times and for some, come off as rude or demeaning. But really, their intention may be to create a better outcome for everyone.

3. Value objections and be flexible in meetings

Taking it a step further, honor those who have the courage to raise objections or voice different viewpoints. Although this might prolong discussions, it often leads to better outcomes. Additionally, allow space for a genuine exchange of ideas in meetings rather than sticking rigidly to a script. For instance, a neurodiverse individual might have an out-of-the-box idea, so even if it goes against the consensus, don’t hold it against the person.

Try your best to incorporate it, as studies have shown that teams with a mix of different types of thinkers did better than teams where everyone thought the same way.

4. Help colleagues to speak up and get noticed

Conversely, encourage those who might struggle to assert themselves and highlight their comments, particularly in meetings. This principle applies to neurodiverse individuals who may have the habit of refraining from sharing their ideas, perhaps due to past negative experiences. They prefer not to speak up for that reason, not because they have nothing to contribute.

Unfortunately, this behavior can hold them back in their careers. Therefore, we want to ensure that neurodiverse individuals feel listened to, especially when they may often not speak up right away or are afraid to counter something. If you’re in a position of power, speak last to ensure others feel heard.

5. Communicate effectively

Be clear, concise, and direct while being a good listener. Understand that people have different communication styles and adapt your approach accordingly. This becomes relevant when interacting with neurodiverse individuals as they communicate in a way that’s different from others.

Perhaps they are more direct, or their thoughts may be a bit more scattered. But we can try to be patient to understand the message. At the same time, it’s also important for all of us to practice ways to be effective communicators.

6. Address offensive comments constructively

If someone makes an offensive comment, address it with them directly, assuming neutral intent. If the behavior continues, involve management or HR.

For instance, a neurodiverse individual may say something others construe as offensive and open to different interpretations. But it’s important to give them the benefit of the doubt because of possible social challenges.

7. Value competence over confidence

Confidence is important, but overconfidence can be detrimental. Recognize and appreciate the quieter individuals who may display less overt confidence but are willing to develop their skills or apply them.

This understanding is important when considering neurodiverse individuals, as they may not have faith in their abilities because they lack confidence. Therefore, a culture that values overconfidence will penalize them.

8. Focus on performance

Prioritize improving the areas within your control rather than worrying about how others perceive you. The same goes for focusing on the areas within the control of neurodiverse individuals rather than expecting them to mirror our behavior if we’re neurotypical.

9. Inspire trust

Be authentic and transparent about your competencies and areas for improvement. Encouraging a culture of asking questions and openness about not knowing fosters trust. As a result, neurodiverse individuals will get comfortable letting others see them for who they are.

Every one of us excels at different things. Additionally, if we succeed at one particular thing, it does not mean we will succeed in others, and the same goes if we struggle with one thing; it doesn’t mean we will struggle with others.

10. Build a diverse network

Surround yourself with people who are solution-oriented rather than negative. Seek diversity within your professional networks to foster your learning and growth. When we encounter someone different from us, we may exclude them and remain aligned with those who confirm our assumptions, beliefs, and biases.

This attitude and behavior can perpetuate negative perceptions about specific groups, which can diminish team and workplace cohesion. Plus, working in teams with different kinds of people gives better results.

Conclusion

We acknowledge that sustaining new habits might be challenging, particularly when they require effort and feel unnatural. To combat this, we recommend working with RethinkCare’s neurodiversity experts, who can provide guidance, hold you accountable, and help you sustain positive changes over the long term.

Everyone can play a role in fostering an inclusive culture. It’s more than just the responsibility of HR or senior leadership. Inclusivity lives in our actions, relationships, and ability to create trust among individuals at all levels.

About the Author

Headshot of Louis Chesney from RethinkCare

Program Manager at RethinkCare

Louis Chesney is the Program Manager of Neurodiversity for RethinkCare, overseeing the day-to-day operations and expansion of RethinkCare’s neurodiversity course content and consultation approach. Before joining RethinkCare, Louis championed and led a hiring program for autistic adults at a global technology company. He continually aims to make a positive impact on those who are underserved. As an individual who experienced selective mutism first-hand, Louis inspires and actively contributes to the current work. He co-authored “ECHO: A Vocal Language Program for Easing Anxiety in Conversation,” a Plural Publishing book designed to help older children and teens needing social communication support.

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