Neurodiverse workers gather to share their stories and ideas for employers to support them.
Sometimes work assignments are a struggle for Kels Rizzo. The public policy intern for the UW Student Disability Commission is autistic, ADHD and dyslexic. It might take Rizzo a while to figure out how to process and best accomplish their work.
“It’s not even the kind of thing where once you figure it out, it’s the same all the time,” Rizzo said at a recent seminar about supporting neurodiverse colleagues. “The needs change. There are certain types of assignments where I need noise-canceling headphones and I need to not be interrupted. And if people interrupt me, then—especially if they are demanding—they’re not going to get the kindest face from me.”
Having a neurodiverse workplace can provide businesses a competitive edge. The business world is just starting to understand and explore the benefits. According to a recent Deloitte study, neurodivergent workers bring new skills, new ways of thinking and fresh problem-solving approaches. And, according to multiple studies, about 15% to 20% of the global population is neurodivergent. Unfortunately, many neurodivergent people go unemployed or underemployed.
Figuring out how to make space—and grace—for neurodiverse colleagues brought Rizzo and participants from across campus to share their stories. The path to a truly diverse office starts with recognizing that we all work in different ways, they said.
Managers can show just how invested they are in fostering diversity on their team, said Ashley Cowan D’Ambrosio, ’19, a disability activist and guest lecturer in the College of Education. “We have got to consider having diverse teams a value and also a measurement of what it means to be a good manager,” she added. “And that means thinking about how am I setting the tone for the culture in the space.”
Exercising patience—rather than power—is key to fostering a diverse workplace, said Lucas Harrington, a psychologist at the UW Autism Center. It’s much easier to navigate a workplace where managers are open to different communication and work styles.
“I think (the message) is really just please, give everybody a break,” Rizzo said. “We’re all doing the best we can at any given time.”