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One Size Does Not Fit All: Implementing Actually Effective Reasonable Accommodations

Not all methods of implementing accommodations for neurodivergent people are created equal. Below are some key reasons why your accommodations might not actually be ‘effective’ for the individual - which is a vital element of compliance with the legal framework around accommodations.


Reasons Matter

The same accommodation can help different neurotypes for different reasons - it’s vital to keep those differences in mind if you want the accommodation to be actually effective.


Take the phrase “can you jump on a call?” or “let’s have a chat”.


For an ADHDer, this can trigger rejection sensitive dysphoria as they immediately perceive that they are ‘in trouble’, being rejected by the call organiser, and start a downward spiral towards the worst case scenario. Rejection sensitive dysphoria (RSD) is an extreme response to real or perceived rejection: it is essentially a trauma response that likely stems from the huge amount of negative feedback ADHDers receive during their lifetimes.


For an Autistic person this phrase is also likely to cause a lot of anxiety, but for different reasons. Our bottom up thinking means that we need to prepare for conversations in advance. We need to know the purpose of the call, what we will be expected to contribute, and have time to make our own determination of the preparation that we need to do (because this preparation will look very different to any required for a non-autistic person).


For someone with auditory processing disorder (which is a common co-morbidity with both ADHD and Autism as well as other neurotypes), the call itself can trigger anxiety as they rapidly have to either try to accommodate themselves as best they can, or self advocate and ask that any instructions or vital information be shared in written format.


Understanding the need that you’re actually trying to support through providing agendas in advance is essential to that accommodation being effective


Substance, not performance


Sending an email containing a bullet point list (each bullet being one word), 30 minutes before a meeting begins - it technically counts as sending an agenda in advance of a meeting.


Officially, you have ticked the box of ‘accommodation provided’. But what need is that actually addressing?


In all likelihood, it’s making things worst for your Neurodivergent employees. Those impacts of not having an agenda listed in the previous section? They have just been amplified 10 fold.


For an ADHDer, they are likely to show up to the call mid-RSD spiral, having had no chance to work through their emotions. The lack of detail in the agenda means that they are likely to read into that bullet point list a hundred different ways each items could be a rejection. They are likely to show up to the call more anxious than before this ‘accommodation’ was implemented.


For an Autistic person, this limited, last minute ‘agenda’ is likely to cause their brain to desperately try to work through all possible interpretations of the words and options of what might be discussed. They are likely to show up to the call more anxious than before this ‘accommodation’ was implemented.


The person with auditory processing disorder hasn’t been given a chance to set themselves up to accommodate themselves receiving verbal instructions/information, or a moment to prepare to advocate for themselves to receive written information. They are likely to show up to the call more anxious than before this ‘accommodation’ was implemented.


If you’re approaching accommodations with a ‘tick the box’ mindset, it’s very unlikely you’re actually meeting needs - and could very well be making things worse.


You’re not the Expert


Accommodations need to be effective for the individual. That requires listening to them, seeking their feedback, and actually implementing changes. This may be a struggle if your view of being ‘the manager’ is a more traditional one where you expect to set the tone for how people work.


When you have different neurotypes on your team, that expectation is simply not realistic. If you want those employees to succeed, you need to be willing to listen and learn, and accept feedback on how you are implementing accommodations.


It takes some work to put your ego aside and do what is actually best for your employees, instead of what you think is best for them. It’s also fair to acknowledge that sending detailed agendas in advance of calls or meetings feels like more work for you than simply showing up and verbally sharing information.


But the return on investment is real. Your meetings will be much more productive and meaningful. Your employees will be less anxious, and therefore more able to focus on their work.


It’s a win-win.

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