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  • Lizzie Somerfield

Cross-Neurotype Collaboration: The Vital Role of Neurodiversity Allyship in Neuro-Inclusive Workplaces

To be allies is to combine resources for mutual benefit.

In the context of diversity and inclusion, this typically means that a person from outside a minority group uses their privilege in order to advance the cause of the minority group, with the understanding that an equitable society benefits everyone.

Being an ally, and allyship are so vital to diversity, particularly when we are talking about differences that are not visible. If we are able to rally allies to the cause of Neurodiversity, we have a real chance of creating workplaces where Neurodivergent people can thrive and have a fair chance at fulfilling their potential.

Allyship requires action. One of the vital steps to take as an employer is to ensure that in your environment, micro-aggressions against Neurodivergent people are not tolerated. Unfortunately, these are rife in workplaces today. And it can be very difficult to tackle them, because of the lack of widespread understanding of Neurodiversity.

An example to illustrate the issues that this creates for Neurodivergent people is comparing experiences of being a woman in the workplace to experiences of being autistic in the workplace.

In 2023, if a woman is in a meeting and a man repeats what she just said, mansplains, or takes credit for her idea, the woman can be confident that all of the women and at this point many of the men see what is happening. Calling him out feels both possible and optional, because the level of education generally in society is high enough that the woman knows that others around her have her back.

If an Autistic person is in a meeting and someone reads meaning into what they’ve said that isn’t there (because they’ve chosen their words very deliberately and literally, but there’s are focusing on body language, for example) or any number of other neuro-based microagressions happens: the Autistic person is likely to be viewed as the issue, and things will only get worse if the Autistic person tries to explain their original meaning, because it’s unlikely that there is anyone else in the room that understands how they communicate.

Both issues are so, so important, but we are at different stages with each of them in terms of awareness and understanding in the general population.

That lack of awareness impacts whether it’s even possible for Neurodivergent people to respond to issues.

This means that all of those micro-aggressions and misunderstandings are internalised. The Neurodivergent individual accepts society’s narrative that they are ‘the problem’. In the long term, this negative self image will have a major impact on the Neurodivergent individual's workplace happiness and performance.

Many Neurodivergent people, who are often highly skilled at their work, eventually withdraw from traditional employment because the constant micro-aggressions become too much for them, damaging their mental health.

It becomes clear then that allies, people who are not neurodivergent but who understand and can be on the look out for neuro-based micro-aggressions, are a vital element in creating neuro-inclusive workplaces.

Yet the concepts of Allyship and Neurodiversity are rarely paired together. Most Diversity and Inclusion resources and workplace trainings mention Neurodiversity as a passing concept at best. Some unintentionally promote ideas that are not neuro-inclusive (such as performative ideas of ‘active listening’).

So, here at New Deal for Neurodiversity, we’ve made our own Neurodiversity Allyship course!

Designed by a Neurodivergent person who is also certified in Diversity and Inclusion, this course is one of a kind in the market, and will enable your staff to become effective workplace Neurodiversity Allies in no time.

You can find all the details for individual enrolment on our website. We’re also able to offer this as a tailored Neurodiversity Allyship training for your company - contact us for more information on this!

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