Supporting the Well-Being of Neurodiverse Employees

BY Wanly Chen | November 16, 2023

For neurodiverse adults, finding employment can be difficult. Unemployment runs at least as high as 30-40%, three times higher than that for people with disabilities and eight times higher than the rate for those without disabilities.

The statistic is staggering and can stem from stigma and unfavorable work conditions, says Louis Chesney, neurodiversity program manager at behavioral and mental health platform, RethinkCare.

“There’s this issue about the declining workforce, but there’s also an untapped reservoir of talent. So people with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, are being edged out of the workforce because of this idea of engagement, which is disproportionately impacting neurodivergent individuals,” Chesney said. “The same people that can fill a huge gap in the talent pipeline are also not being supported in the workplace due to stigma, lack of compliance reduction and retention, inappropriate assessments and performance misalignment.”

In a recent From Day One webinar, Chesney joined moderator and journalist, Kelly Bourdet, to discuss neurodiversity and how leaders and fellow employees can work to make an inclusive workplace for all.

Neurodiverse adults can display special skills in pattern recognition, memory or mathematics, which can correlate to key skills in the workplace and higher productivity. These skills from neurodivergent employees can positively impact a company, says Chesney.

“A lot of companies are seeing the tangible benefits of enhanced productivity, improved retention rates, and a more skilled workforce from some of the current neurodiversity hire programs,” Chesney said. However, companies are struggling to implement fair practices and an inclusive work environment before neurodivergent candidates even join their teams.

Louis Chesney of RethinkCare was interviewed by journalist Kelly Bourdet during From Day One's recent webinar on supporting the well-being of neurodiverse employees (photo by From Day One)

“When we think about our screening processes, we may not consider that people are unable to answer open-ended questions effectively because they may not pick up on the nuanced meaning of what is really asked,” Chesney said. “Then there’s a relevant assessment where social communication or social interaction isn’t a deal breaker. For example, a data analyst person has excellent analytical capabilities, but is maybe a bit more introverted and does not exude overzealousness or enthusiasm in an interview.”

With pressure to be conversational and extroverted during an interview, neurodivergent candidates may feel like they are at a disadvantage. Researchers in the UK found 88% of neurodivergent candidates felt discouraged from applying for a job and 52% of those studied felt discriminated against by the hiring process.

By changing hiring practices to be more inclusive, neurodiverse candidates can have a more equitable chance as prospective candidates. Research suggests that accommodations such as sharing interview questions early or allowing for a virtual interview can help ease anxiety for neurodivergent candidates.

In a survey on workplace inclusivity, 64% of neurodivergent respondents believe their organization could be doing more to support neurodiversity in the workplace.

To start, leaders need to understand certain workplace communications and structures may impact a neurodivergent employee differently. Chesney points to meeting spaces, team activities and communication methods as a few examples of things that may need to be adjusted for neurodivergent employees.

Special accommodations, however, should not be seen as special privileges, Chesney said. Having this distinction made in the workplace can help ease neurodivergent employee stressors in asking for help.

“Other team members need to understand these accommodations are about equity,” Chesney said. “These accommodations are giving everyone an accurate, equitable chance to showcase their abilities when they’re given the tools and the training they need to do their job effectively.”

From having a safe space to ask for help and being accommodated, fellow leaders and co-workers need to create a space to listen and learn about their neurodiverse employees. Chesney points to Rethink’s specialized training that offers courses and audio sessions for employees to learn more about neurodiversity, but also emphasizes the importance of actively listening and engaging with neurodiverse community members.

“Engaging with diversity, equity, inclusion and talking to the people who are within the community can increase people’s empathy and understanding,” Chesney said. “Listen to employees and people within the community who are vocal and talk about issues around neurodivergence. Even if what they’re saying doesn’t align with your worldview, listening actively helps.”

Editor's note: From Day One thanks our partner, RethinkCare, for sponsoring this webinar. 

Wanly Chen is a writer and poet based in New York City.


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