An ally is commonly defined as ‘someone who helps and supports other people who are part of a group that is treated badly or unfairly, although they are not themselves a member of this group.’ Therefore, becoming a Neurodiversity Ally would mean that you support neurodivergents (NDs) while not being so yourself.
Allyship is essential for many reasons. Good allies, for instance, can drive workplace policy and culture change. If an organization’s senior leadership believes in allyship and actively pursues neurodivergent-friendly actions as allies, neuroinclusion happens effortlessly.
What are the ways in which we can become good Neurodiversity allies?
1. Learn: The first thing you can do is educate yourself about Neurodiversity. Take the time to read, listen, watch and improve your understanding. Don’t put the responsibility on your neurodivergent colleagues to teach you about themselves or neurodivergence in general. When you need to ask questions about the challenges faced by NDs, do so with consideration. Also, it’s good to keep in mind that experiences vary from one neurodivergent to another so try to keep from generalizing based on one or two accounts.
2. Don’t assume: It’s easy to assume any number of things based on observed behavior without understanding the underlying causes or triggers for those behaviors. Understand that some brains work differently so assuming incompetence or aggression where they are not applicable is a sure way to cause neurodivergents to feel the pain of exclusion. When you do not know, just ask. Or just be supportive regardless. Always believe in positive intent rather than assuming negative motivations.
3. Use direct communication: A good ally ensures that they use simple, direct, and clear communication. Neurodivergents often cannot pick up on body language or read between the lines. Make sure you speak clearly and that you are understood. Teach others the importance of doing the same when interacting with NDs.
4. Use inclusive language: Inclusive language improves communication and can make everyone in the workplace, not just NDs – feel accepted and understood. The right language plays a fundamental role in shaping the right culture. Be careful to avoid ableist language in all its forms and explain to others why doing so is respectful to NDs.
5. Ensure that the workspaces are inclusive: Making workspaces inclusive involves many elements. Whether it is the venue for a meeting (the right kind of lighting, easy-to-navigate layout, etc.) or offering flexibility in terms of contributing towards ideas (verbal, non-verbal, synchronous, asynchronous) or simply asking your neurodivergent colleagues about their preferences for online or offline gatherings – these are all simple ways to make sure you champion the need to make the workplace more inclusive.
6. Accept feedback: Be open to accepting feedback in a positive manner. To get honest feedback, it is first necessary to establish trust. Building relationships is a good way to develop trust. Open and direct feedback may seem a little difficult to accept initially but as an ally, your role would be to analyze what your ND colleagues/employees are trying to tell you and figure out how you can better support them.
7. Be aware of your privilege: Knowing that you have been afforded rights and advantages because of your neurotypical privileges is a vital step towards being a good ally. It also gives you a sense of what neurodivergents are denied access to. To best support NDs, you must be able to see and address the barriers that they face (as individuals with less privilege) in the workplace on a day-to-day basis. Understand how to use your positional advantage to better drive impactful allyship.
8. Report unacceptable behavior: When you see instances of gaslighting or microaggressions or discrimination in the workplace, remember that those at the receiving end may not feel safe enough to talk about this to anyone. They may end up not getting the help they need. So speak up whenever you see such behavior in the workplace. Monitoring your workplace for such actions and reporting them is a big part of being a neurodiversity ally.
9. Advocate for diversity: Make it clear that you support neurodiversity by talking about the benefits of having a neurodiverse workforce. For example, insist on hiring from the neurodivergent community and change processes to better attract, hire and retain neurodivergent talent.
10. Build a community of allies: Bring together groups of like-minded colleagues/employees and enlist them in the cause of Neurodiversity. Working together, you can formulate tactics to better drive improvements in the workplace.
Learning to be a good ally takes time. It also takes work to deal with biases and lack of understanding regarding neurodiversity. Be prepared for resistance to the idea of allyship at different levels. But don’t let it deter you. Take the help of experts who can facilitate the process of creating allies in the workplace. We at NeuroGifted have the expertise to help with your allyship goals as part of driving neuroinclusion in the workplace.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anima Nair is a Neurodiversity Consultant and Advocate. She is a vastly experienced educator, speaker, and presenter.
She is also the Lead – Client Management & Content Strategy at Neurogifted.
She can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org
or through her social media handles below.