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How to Support Neurodivergent Team Members

This article was based on episode 234 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Members of the Modern Manager community get two months of Fast Forward membership for free. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.


As scientists learn more about how the brain works, we can all better understand the different ways brains process information, problem solve, and communicate. We consider the differences along a spectrum from neurotypical to neurodivergent. Whether your teammates have ADHD, dyslexia, autism, or other neurodivergence, it’s essential to open up communication so that everyone gets the support they need. Otherwise, even the most well-intentioned manager may be clueless to how much their teammates may be struggling to get things done.


Genie Love joins me to share tips for starting the discussion and how to rethink space in a way that suits everyone’s needs. Genie is an executive functioning coach who brings with her 20 years of experience teaching high school students with ADD and Autism to help adults take control of their time and attention.


COMMON CHALLENGES OF NEURODIVERGENCE


Planning and Communication

You or some of your teammates may have trouble creating a plan, balancing multiple workstreams, or sticking to deadlines. Others may have difficulty getting their ideas across in a way others can follow. For those with dyslexia, writing emails or reading long documents can feel like a terrible burden that takes up much of their time.


Sensitivity to Space

Another often misunderstood need for those across the neurodivergent spectrum is the sensitivity to their surroundings. Whether it’s the background buzz of conversations or visually seeing folks in an open floor plan, plenty of people find their surroundings distracting. Even the lighting can be a factor. Consider how to create visual and/or auditory boundaries that block off the peripheral environment for those who find it intrusive.


Physical Needs

Some people need to be able to get up and walk around or fidget freely in their seat. Sitting quietly for a long time during a meeting may feel like an exercise in endurance. Consider how different types of furniture can affect someone’s productivity. A rigid, straight chair may be helpful for sitting up straight and thinking deeply. A reclining chair where you can put your feet up could be perfect for catching up on email and Slack. Ball chairs both work our core (and who doesn’t want that!) as well as keeping us more alert. Standing desks have become a popular modern solution for when people feel lethargic or need to shift their position.


TALK ABOUT SPECIFIC NEEDS WITH COLLEAGUES


As a manager, you can make space for this conversation amongst your team. Start the dialogue by asking your colleagues what changes might help them be more focused or productive. These could be changes to how you work together, the physical space, or anything else. Be aware that asking about a person’s medical history or diagnosis is not allowed, but that doesn’t mean we can’t ask how to best support them or create the environment in which they can thrive.


Although I was skeptical of how people would respond to questions along those lines, in working with one of my recent clients, I was moved to hear how well they engaged. Each person was invited to share anything they wanted to the group to know that would enable them to better participate in the group. People share things such as sensitivity to fragrances (they would need to walk away if they smelled something too strong) and memory problems (including difficulty remembering names).


We need to set up our teams to succeed. The types of support and tools everyone needs differs across the board. Have your teammates consider where they struggle or what they find burdensome. Ask them to share ideas for what support they need in order to do their best. For those across the spectrum of neurodiversity, this could help with developing work plans, communicating, eliminating distractions, or providing a physical work space that manages energy levels. What drives your teammates up the wall? What stops them from being able to focus? What kind of support or understanding do they need from the rest of the staff? Creating a safe space to share private yet important information allows us to create a super supportive, indestructible team that’s got each other’s back.


KEEP UP WITH GENIE


Get access to a drawing for a 1.5-hour consulting session with Genie when you become a member of the Modern Manager community at themodernmanager.com/join.


This article was based on episode 234 of The Modern Manager podcast. To hear this episode, and many more like it, you can subscribe to The Modern Manager Podcast on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify, iHeart Radio, Amazon, and Stitcher. Never miss a worksheet, episode or article: subscribe to Mamie’s newsletter.

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