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Neuroinclusion in the workplace

Neuronormativity results in denied jobs for Autists who don’t practice the majority’s social norms like small talk, eye contact, and flattery during job interviews, despite their skills, talents, and achievements. So we need neuroinclusive workplaces where Autistic people can feel free to be themselves without social judgment—the same basic human rights everyone deserves.

Below, you find tips for employers who want to create neuroinclusive workplaces:

1. Dismantle neuronormative hiring initiatives (or hire Autistic experts to change them)

Research shows that neurotypical peers judge Autists as “less favorable” within seconds of meeting us, and that these patterns “do not change with increased exposure and persist across both child and adult age groups.”

If your hiring initiatives segregate Autistic professionals, encourage them to behave nonautistic, or require them to prove their neurodivergences and disabilities, it’s time to either dismantle these programs entirely or hire neurodivergent and disabled experts to change and lead them.

Expert consultants can examine your organization to improve accessibility and workplace culture. They can train all employees onthe Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and accommodations, as well as thought models that enable neurominorities, like the social model of disability and the neurodiversity paradigm.

What alarms me about these hiring initiatives, is that they conflate neurodivergence with neurodiversity, erasing the meaning of the neurodiversity movement.

“Neurodiversity isn’t meant to be a means of setting individuals apart,” writes Marcelle Ciampi. “Siphoning a member of a marginalized community into a separate process leads to discrimination. Imagine if we encouraged all women to go through segregated hiring programs.”

Neurodiversity-affirming people like Ciampi understand that segregation failed this nation in the past and that neurodiversity is the variety of all human minds; so it makes no sense to segrate neurodivergent professionals.

2. Learn accessible and neuroinclusive language

Rethinking and becoming intentional and empathetic about the way you speak can create neuroinclusion. This includes examining the language of job ads and promotional content, especially on websites and social media channels.

Ensure the language is clear and concise, written in logical or “plain” language rather than slang and jargon.

Also ensure you use inclusive language, avoiding medicalized terms that dehumanize and inaccurately define Autistic people. Neuroinclusive speakers talk about neurominorities as a social group—like LBGTQIA+ people—rather than a medical group.

Creating psychological safety for Autistics requires us to view autism as simply a neurotype, a cognitive style, rather than a medical condition or “disorder,” without denying that Autistics are disabled (by society) and that medical intervention is a necessary part of many people’s lives.

Keep in mind that homosexuality was once listed in the DSM as a “disorder,” a label that disabled queer people. That label disables Autists as well. “Disorder” is nothing more than a cultural value judgement.

Imagine if employers said that someone with either pale or dark skin has a skin “disorder,” or condition. Or that an asexual person has a sexual “disorder” or condition. They could lose their jobs. Autists deserve respect.

3. Change the environment to accommodate employees, not the other way around

Recent research shows that employers discriminate against Autistsics in job interviews, unless Autists interview via written questions. So Inclusive interview processes allow all candidates to interview in whichever mode they prefer. Whether phone, virtual, in-person, or written interviews. Whether synchrnously or asynchronously.

In any case, it’s crucial the employers provide the question days in advance of an interview, for all candidates, but especially for Autistics, who are bottom-up, literal thinkers and need time to process their thoughts. Cross-neurotype communication is cross-cultural communication. So due cultural differences, many of Autists are confused by neurotypicality and are disabled by traditional interviews: standardized, scripted “conversations.”

When reviewing resumes and conducting interviews, focus on skills rather than “culture fit.” Every new hire, no matter their neurotype, will influence every company’s work culture.

And you can never tell how anyone will fit into your company’s culture until they’ve spent time working there.

Rather than changing employees to fit into neuronormative environments, remove neuronormativity from professional environments to eliminate attitudinal and sensory barriers. For many Autists attitudinal and sensory barriers are the most disabling aspect of their professional lives.

Final tips:

  • Avoid noise pollution: keep phones on vibrate or silent, silence notifications, wear earbuds or earphones instead of blasting music from the radio or your computer or phone.

  • Discourage the use of perfumes, colognes, air fresheners, and other strong scents

  • Encourage the use of accommodations such as earphones, earmuffs, earplugs, headphones, etc., without forcing employees to prove their disabilities and neurodivergences.

  • Encourage and model clear, direct communication, using plain language when possible, especially in writing.

  • Prioritize written communication (you have the resources).

  • Record all meetings in some form and use captions for virtual meetings.

  • Only hold optional social events—and encourage employees to feel free to leave whenever they want.

  • Avoid hosting these events in loud, crowded spaces.

  • Openly discourage discrimination against Autistic people, detailing what anti-autistic, autistiphobic behavior commonly look like, the same way you would (or should) discourage racism, queerphobia, and misogny.

    • What I mean is: neuronormativity is an justifiable form ableism that disables many Autistic professionals. We’re only disabled until we’re enabled.

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