Breaking the stigma: how to support those impacted by the neurodiversity journey

We recently conducted an employee survey to understand the diversity of our people across the NFP group, and what we found was somewhat unexpected.

With Mother’s Day still a fresh memory, it got me thinking about neurodiversity from a parent’s perspective. We often focus our attention on those who are neurodiverse in the workplace, and rightly so, but what about those who are inadvertently affected? Supporting those who are neurodiverse through the process of diagnosis and adjustment can be a very stressful journey – especially in a world with so much stigma – and it sometimes feels like the world of work is not yet designed for these ‘support figures’ to thrive.

In this article, you’ll get an insight into what support you can give your people to ensure that your organisation proves this statement wrong.

“A huge learning journey”

For context, I have two children who have Autism and ADHD, as well as sensory processing disorder, so I know firsthand how hard this process can be and the energy it takes to get access to the support neurodiverse people need. Don’t get me wrong, I wouldn’t want it any other way – my children are epic! They are spirited, kind and thoughtful (they even share their sweets with me if I ask), and I have learnt to appreciate their uniqueness and character. I also genuinely believe they have made me a better person at home and in my work, but nonetheless it has been a huge learning journey for me as a neurotypical person and has at times taken a toll on my mental and physical health.

In the last three years I have sought assistance from countless resources, and while the support they all gave me was really valuable, the sheer number of interactions on top of working 4 days a week in a busy and demanding role (which I love, by the way!), did become a bit overwhelming. I can’t help but wonder how many working parents are going through the same yet are still having to show up to work every day with their ‘game face’ on.

As a decision maker, your role is vital

With that in mind, here are some key areas of support that could really empower your people going through the same to bring their best physical and mental selves to work each day.

  1. Support throughout the diagnosis process
    The lead time for diagnosis can be several years and during that time parents are often left supporting a struggling child without access to proper help. Then, once they start, the process of diagnosis can be time consuming and costly (especially if families decide to go private). The system is overburdened, which means parents are often left for significant periods of time just having to do their best, which can be incredibly difficult and stressful. Considerations such as extra days off to attend appointments, a comprehensive PMI plan to cover medical bills and flexible working arrangements can really help to relieve some of the pressure during this time.
  2. Encourage open conversations
    I am exceedingly lucky to have an amazing manager and support system within my organisation which helped me navigate this significant life transition, but how many others don’t feel psychologically safe enough to discuss these issues with their line manager and request support? By encouraging open conversations throughout your organisation (about any struggles people may be having outside of the office, not just relating to neurodiversity), you reinforce that your office is a safe space for your people to be open about what may be making them anxious or stressed. It’s that old phrase, “prevention is better than a cure”; if your culture is supportive, your people may be more likely to seek help before they become too overwhelmed.
  3. Be flexible and willing to adapt
    There were times in the last few years that I felt so swamped by the system and the process as a parent that I wasn’t sure how to move forward, but my manager gave me time, listened, and made some adaptations to allow me the space to be able to get through it. Without that, I wouldn’t have felt that I was in a position to apply my best self to my role. We are ‘one human’ after all, and what happens in our home life inevitably impacts how we show up at work. As people managers, it is important that you acknowledge and understand that.

We are allowing the stigma to remain

As I am writing this, there is part of me that feels concerned about being so vulnerable and sharing this detail about my family circumstances, but I genuinely believe that unless we discuss this more openly, we are allowing the stigma and discrimination to remain. I hope by sharing my experience, it will help others going through a similar experience to know that they are not alone.

If you are a people manager or leader in your organisation, I would urge you to think about how you are supporting this significant proportion of people in the workforce, to either understand what being neurodiverse means for them as an individual, or as a parent navigating the complex process of diagnosis and accessing support for their neurodiverse loved one(s).

Get in touch

If you want to find out how to upskill your managers to help create a psychologically safe environment to have more compassionate and inclusive conversations about neurodiversity, then visit our website or contact us today:
Phone: +44 (0)1491 414010


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