How Dr Samantha Hiew Helps Neurodivergent Colleagues Thrive

Dr Samantha Hiew

Dr Samantha Hiew, the London-based founder of ADHD Girls and herself autistic and dyspraxic, advises how workplaces can address the “empathy gap”.

What society considers the norm is very narrow. Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia: these are common neurodiverse experiences that have been pathologised. Those who cannot mask it will be known from childhood as disruptive; anyone who makes it into the workplace will have acquired mental health challenges from hiding their differences. Organisations come to me to reverse the mishandling of their relationship with neurodivergents.

It’s important to have open conversations at work. Train leaders to manage and harness the strengths of neurodivergents, such as thinking outside the box and innovation. Adaptation research has found that the behavioural change of needing to learn, talk and appear in the way people expect, in an unpredictable world, has an impact similar to PTSD. Small things – a stressed leader or someone who doesn’t lay out clear expectations – can set off alarms. The challenge in smaller companies is that neurodivergents are figuring out whether it’s safe to disclose. That depends on their relationship with their line manager.

It starts with the job listing. It’s difficult for someone who’s autistic to decipher jargon. Use straightforward language. Could people submit an audio or video application, rather than written? I struggle to not go off on a tangent in interviews so having questions ahead of time lessens anxiety. Answering questions not from the threat response means a more productive interview.

Any adjustments for neurodivergents help the whole team. Maybe we work best in sprints, mostly alone or starting at a later hour. It’s not a wish list; it has to be fair. But don’t announce the adjustments in a team email. I would never want to be the person at the centre of that email.

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