Navigating Neurodiversity: Creating Affirming Workplaces for Neurodivergent Team Members 🧠💡

Understanding Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity, coined by autism advocate Judy Singer in 1998, refers to the natural variance of human minds and neurocognitive functioning in society. The neurodiversity paradigm understands these differences as valuable and expected in any population. Neurodiversity is a relational concept. An organization or team can be neurodiverse, but individuals are considered either neurotypical when their cognition aligns with dominant societal patterns or neurodivergent when their cognition exhibits meaningful variations from dominant societal patterns. 

The National Symposium on Neurodiversity includes “Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Tourette Syndrome, and others” under the umbrella of neurodiversity. In this way, people considered neurodivergent can overlap significantly with people with cognitive disabilities. Neurodivergence is theoretically even more expansive than the Symposium’s scoping captures. A more expansive perspective of neurodivergent experiences includes conditions like Bipolar Disorder, Epilepsy, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Schizophrenia, and more, representing deviations from the neurotypical norm. 

The general argument against including these conditions within the neurodiversity umbrella is that they can have profoundly debilitating and adverse effects on someone’s safety, mental health, and well-being. In this way, they can be considered as contradicting the neurodiversity paradigm’s celebration of these unique neurocognitive differences. However, respecting someone’s lived experience through the lens of neurodivergence, mental health, and beyond is important. Moreover, even with the unique challenges associated with these different ways of thinking and inhabiting the world, they often come with a multitude of strengths and benefits as well. For example, mood disorders are consistently linked to higher levels of creativity

The term neurodiversity follows the social model of disability, which avoids locating problems relating to cognitive differences in the individual and calls upon society to be more inclusive and accommodating of differently wired brains. Through this model, people who are neurodivergent often only become disabled when organizations create policies, processes, cultures, and programs with only neurotypical people in mind. They don’t make accommodations and only value neurotypical people on teams. 

Notably, not all neurodivergent people understand themselves through the lens of disability. The neurodiversity paradigm encourages us to consider the “normal” brain as limiting and contingent on unique cultural and societal factors. Neurodiversity recognizes that brain differences are beneficial; it is good for people to learn, think, communicate, and express themselves in various ways. Organizations embracing and supporting team members across the neurodiversity spectrum will be better positioned to facilitate collaboration and catalyze innovation.

Discrimination in the Workplace Toward Neurodivergent Team Members

Extensive studies have highlighted how neurotypical professionals frequently misunderstand neurodivergent experiences and needs in the workplace. Many of these misunderstandings come from a lack of knowledge and bias perpetuated in our society through sources of information like the media, pop culture, and beyond. The media has frequently misrepresented neurodivergent people by enforcing harmful stereotypes. 

For example, autistic people can be amiable and empathetic, unlike repetitive narratives portrayed in the media, perpetuating autistic people as “awkward” and “incapable” of compassionate friendships. People with ADHD can have prolonged periods of “hyper-focus” in contrast to representations that depict them as perpetually spacey and inefficient. People with Dyslexia can excel academically and go on to become major thought leaders (e.g. Nobel Prize Winner Carol Greider) despite their common portrayal as disliking school and struggling in educational pursuits. There is no single experience regarding neurodiversity, as we are all unique individuals with multiple layers of identity. 

Additionally, neurodivergent team members also experience gender biases. For example, research has shown that men are far more likely to be perceived and diagnosed with a neurodivergent condition. This is because data on how conditions like Autism or ADHD in men have influenced diagnostic criteria and the perceptions of diagnostic professionals when evaluating someone for a neurocognitive condition. This means that women (and likely transfeminine people) are often diagnosed later in life and are more likely to be questioned on the validity of their experiences. Specific evidence also indicates that transgender and non-binary people are more likely to be neurodivergent than the general population. When we acknowledge people's multi-layered, intersecting identities, we can understand the compounding impacts of inequity. 

Furthermore, workplaces create additional barriers for neurodivergent professionals by failing to identify when they develop processes and practices centred around neurotypical experiences. Many misconceptions regarding professionalism are rooted in ableist thinking that often excludes neurodivergent team members from being acknowledged as “strong team members.”

For example, some can mistake a lack of eye contact for a sign of distrust during an interview. Literal, plain, and direct communication can be considered tactless and abrasive rather than transparent and honest. Accomplishing the bulk of tasks during periods of hyperfocus rather than incrementally can be considered irresponsible regardless of net outputs. Sharing a special interest can be regarded as immature rather than passionate and spreading positivity. These are simply different ways of socializing, communicating, and working, not proxies for someone’s potential and performance. 

Moving beyond one-dimensional portrayals and understandings of neurodivergence is essential to create an inclusive environment where neurodivergent people are treated respectfully and equitably within the workplace and beyond. It is crucial that organizations take a proactive approach to educating their team members at all levels about the common barriers and biases that exist in the workplace that directly affect neurodivergent team members and how to address them intentionally.

What Can We Do?

It takes intentional awareness of common neurotypical assumptions to identify exclusive systems and potential alternatives that promote greater equity and inclusivity for neurodivergent and neurotypical people.

Here are some actionable tips and tools to consider in your workplace. 

Evolve Your Hiring Processes

Neurodivergent professionals often experience less favourable interview assessments that do not reflect their skillset or aptitude because of bias and pre-existing barriers. Research has highlighted how adults with cognitive and/or developmental disabilities have an 85 percent unemployment rate. To intentionally address these disparities, it is important that we evolve our Human Resource (HR) processes with neurodivergent perspectives and experiences in mind. 

When developing HR Recruitment processes, you can consider the following things.

Update Job Ads With Inclusive Language

Make your Job Ads inclusive. Implement inclusive language practices by being mindful of the language exclusive to neurodivergent professionals. Avoid using colloquialisms, idioms, figurative language, and jargon that all candidates may not understand. Or, take a “both…and” approach and define or explain them in plain, literal language too.

Educate Yourself With The Latest Literature

Engage with the Neurodiversity Career Connector portal to bridge the gap between inclusive hiring and neurodivergent professionals.

Foster Opportunities To Share Accessibility Needs 

Offer voluntary opportunities for candidates to share relevant accessibility needs. Sharing should always be voluntary. Employers must ensure they respect team members' choice in how, when, and if they feel comfortable sharing their identities.

Consider HOW You Communicate

Use Dyslexia-friendly formatting. This can mean using sans serif fonts, adequate font size, appropriate spacing and white space, using bold for emphasis rather than italics, camel case instead of all caps, etc.

Ensure Recruiters Are Educated 

Train your recruiters to identify common biases and exclusions toward neurodivergent candidates that can happen in the recruitment process and how to mitigate them. For example, try not to consider behaviours like eye contact as meaningful or predictive in interviews, as many neurodivergent candidates may have different expressions of attention distinct from neurotypical experiences. 

Structure Interviews With A Strengths-Based Approach 

Structure your interviews to align with a strength-based approach, where every interview is tailored to the applicant’s strengths and needs. Consider offering interview questions ahead of the interview to reduce anxiety, providing breaks within the interview, and/or offering interviews virtually or in person. 

Consider Different Interview Formats

You can also consider offering alternative interview formats, such as:

  • Project-based interviews that enable candidates to showcase their skill set within a reasonable time frame that they have to complete a specific project or tackle a challenge your company is facing. Be mindful of not creating unnecessary inequity by not compensating time or labour-intensive projects.
  • Working interviews in which you bring a candidate on temporarily to work with your team to assess how well they perform in the role and how well they collaborate with their potential team members and supervisors. This must also be compensated.
  • Gamifying interviews to create greater ease and less stress is increasingly common, such as playing a board game during an interview.
  • Enabling a candidate to do their interview in a setting that is more comfortable to them (e.g. from home, while playing a video game, etc.) 

Highlight Neurodivergent Team Members’ Strengths

Make sure that you are taking the time to learn about your neurodivergent team members’ strengths to ensure that you are connecting them with the right position and not minimizing their capabilities and achievements. Studies have demonstrated how neurodivergent professionals are often placed in positions where their skills are higher than the job required. For example, a study by Drexel University reported that 51% of autistic professionals shared their sentiments regarding being overqualified for their job. Autistic professionals are up to 140% more productive than the typical employee when matched to jobs that align with their strengths.

Collect Feedback 

Ensure you are providing forms of collecting feedback for candidates to communicate their experiences throughout the interview process. 

Make Your Organizational Culture Inclusive of Neurodiversity

It is one thing to hire neurodivergent team members and another to build an organizational culture that enables neurodivergent team members to thrive and effectively leverage their unique strengths. Here are some things to note.

Update Policies and Onboarding Processes

Ensure that neurodivergence is considered and included in your organization’s anti-discrimination or anti-harassment policies. Create resources that inform your team members about workplace culture, working agreements, and organizational values to maintain. Don’t assume someone is deliberately breaking the rules or being rude. Include neurodiversity awareness training in your onboarding and team-building processes.

Circulate Resources and Get Familiar With The Learnings

Share educational resources with your team members that highlight the experiences and perspectives of neurodivergent people. Familiarize all leaders with the Job Accommodations Network (JAN), a database of potential accommodations relevant to different forms of neurodivergence.

Thoughtfully Accommodate Neurdivergent Team Members

Provide reasonable accommodations that create a more empowering environment for neurodivergent team members. This may include: 

  • Quiet break spaces and access to noise-cancelling headphones to support team members with sound sensitivities.
  • Modifications to the usual work uniform to accommodate team members with tactile sensitivities.  
  • Extra movement breaks and flexible seating for team members who benefit from more movement in their workday.
  • Flexible schedules and “block off” focus times for team members who benefit from working in different structures and times of the day. Research shows that strategies like flextime contribute greatly to the increased productivity of neurodivergent team members.
  • Equitable accommodation adjustments for your neurodivergent team members that work from home, such as adjusted office appliances.

Practice Inclusive Language

Practice inclusive language by not using exclusive or demeaning language toward your neurodivergent team members. You can try using clear verbal and non-verbal communication styles, such as refraining from sarcasm and implied messages. You can also avoid using identities as metaphors, like saying, “I feel so ADHD today.” Instead, use intentional and specific language that does not trivialize someone’s experience, such as, “I am struggling with focus today.”

Be Clear

Ensure that instructions for tasks and collaborations are written clearly and broken down logically and incrementally for team members to digest and understand effectively.

Create An Avenue To Get To Know Team Members

Create formats for communicating team members’ individual needs, preferences, passions, and goals. For example, you can create a “get to know me” document where team members can choose to share details about themselves. This can address incorrect assumptions often made about neurodivergent team members.

Confront Biases and Set People Up for Success

For example, you can challenge the common misconception that spelling or grammar errors indicate a lack of intelligence, laziness, or “unprofessionalism.” In reality, many people may experience spelling and grammar in different ways due to being dyslexic, being a language learner, and beyond. An easy solution is having a proofreading aspect of a deliverable managed by someone else or encouraging team members to leverage technology to find errors.

Normalize Sharing Invisible Identities

If you are a neurodivergent team member, you can consider strategically integrating an openness about your identity at work. For example, some people write in an email signature a statement like “a dyslexic person has written this communication.” This transparency can directly confront stigmas against neurodivergent people in the workplace and normalize sharing invisible identities with team members. 

Of course, it is at every person’s discretion what they feel comfortable being open about in the workplace; it is perfectly fine to establish reasonable boundaries, especially when sharing could have negative consequences.

Establish An Employee Resource Group (ERG)

Establish an ERG to provide a space for neurodivergent team members to find support and resources and advocate for their needs. When adequately funded and supported, ERGs can have massive impacts on organizational culture and team awareness. 

For example, JPMorgan Chase launched Autism at Work in July 2015 as a four-person pilot. Since then, it has grown to over 150 employees in eight countries. The program boasts a 99% retention rate. Compared to peers, the Autism at Work employees were 48% faster and 92% more productive. This was primarily attributed to strong visual acuity, attention to detail, and superior concentration.

Integrate Neurodivergent Perspectives

Workplaces can create more sustainable support and change by intentionally integrating neurodivergent perspectives into their organizational policies, programs, and processes.

Understand the Value of Neurodiversity

Just because someone is neurodivergent does not mean they do not have unique strengths, abilities, and talents to contribute to the workplace. Neuroplasticity, or the natural ability of the brain to adapt and rewire itself, often means when we lose one sense, others improve.

For this reason, it is important to create awareness within your organization about the nuanced experiences and strengths of neurodivergent people. 

None of this is meant to negate the hardships of managing neurodivergent differences, especially in a frequently ableist world. Still, it does challenge the tendency of our culture to equate neurodivergence with a deficit. We also caution organizations around siloing neurodivergent candidates into particular roles and responsibilities based on stereotypes around their strengths rather than their actual aspirations and skill sets. 

However, like other forms of diversity in the workplace, neurodiversity can make teams more competitive, productive, profitable, communicative, and ultimately successful.

Times of Significance for Neurodivergent People

There are many times of significance dedicated to promoting understanding, reducing stigma, and advocating for the rights of neurodivergent individuals that workplaces may want to note and observe. They include but are not limited to:


It is crucial that organizations recognize that it is not realistic or inclusive to expect that just because someone is neurodivergent, they will automatically have a particular enhanced skill set or talent. We should never reduce relegate neurodivergent team members to stereotypes. Just like any other community, neurodivergent team members have infinite passions, interests, and talents that they will choose to apply to different areas, positions, and professions.  

We recommend that organizations prioritize each individual’s unique aspirations. Remember that building and supporting teams that learn, think, communicate, and express themselves in various ways is both advantageous and essential.

Important Note

This resource is not meant to be a static guide, but rather a compilation and reflection of our learnings to date. Everything changes - from technologies and innovations to social norms, cultures, languages, and more. We’ll continue to update this resource with your feedback; email us at with suggestions.  

About the Author(s)

This resource was written collaboratively by members of the Feminuity team.

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If you wish to reference this work, please use the following citation:

Feminuity. "Navigating Neurodiversity: Creating Affirming Workplaces for Neurodivergent Team Members"

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