Looking after the mental health of neurodivergent colleagues


Evidence shows a correlation between employees being diagnosed as neurodivergent and anxiety/depression. So, while employers are increasingly knowledgeable about the specific benefits neuroversity brings to a business, it’s essential these employees feel supported and psychologically safe.

auticon is an IT and inclusion consultancy and social enterprise which exclusively employs autistic adults as IT consultants and helps to place consultants in external positions.

Given this week is Neurodiversity Week, we asked Kirsty Cook, Global Director of Neuroinclusion at auticon, for her advice on recruiting and retaining neurodiver talent. She believes that, while these suggestions are particularly helpful for neurodivergent colleagues, these best practices will also boost any colleagues.

“Easy, consistent and universally positive changes to working practices don’t require a significant amount of effort, a huge investment or entirely new policies necessarily; it’s best practice management for any human being that makes a big difference.”

General tips on how to approach neurodiversity at work:

  • We advocate a universal design approach to our advice and how we work with our own neurodivergent talent. This allows managers to support employees that don’t necessarily know they’re neurodivergent, aren’t ready to tell anyone they work with and maybe aren’t even neurodivergent but could benefit from some of the approaches to work
  • Treat each person as an individual, over and above any labels of neurodivergent conditions. This is an important step to show neurodivergent employees that you may not be an expert, but you understand traits and want to understand what it means for them in particular
  • Remember that neurodiverse traits present themselves very differently from person to person. At the same time, how, when and to what degree mental health is affected will also be different. The type of support that enables someone to thrive and prevent mental health crisis will will vary even if they have the exact same condition

Specific, practical tips on how to get the best out of meetings with neurodiver colleagues:

  • Create an agenda for every meeting. This simple act will have a huge impact on neurodiverse colleagues to reduce anxiety and help with preparation, especially for the calls/meetings out of the blue. You could prevent derailing someone’s day with this simple method. Even adding ‘nothing to worry about’ in the meeting invite can help
  • Give someone enough notice if you expect them to share something during the meeting
  • No suprise calls; message ahead first along with the headline details on what you want to talk about
  • Get to know someone’s preferred and most productive time of the day to have an important meeting (eg. to deliver feedback or instructions) is it first thing in the morning, or is it mid-afternoon?
  • Ensure people are comfortable enough to suggest an alternative time even if it’s just to allow ten minutes before each call
  • Avoid meetings over lunchtime
  • If it’s a group meeting integrate ‘rules’ for your meetings that allow everyone the opportunity to speak in a way that becomes expected and known
  • If it’s an in-person meeting, choose a space that’s appropriate eg you know someone has sensory processing challenges, so choose a space to meet that supports those challenges like a quieter meeting room rather than a cafe (supporting hypersensitivity to sound), sitting next to each other rather than opposite (supporting painful or uncomfortable eye contact), natural light (supporting hypersensitivity to bright light). Or try something new entirely, go for a walk rather than sitting down to a meeting

You might also like:


Sponsored by The Watercooler


Sign up to receive Make A Difference's fortnightly round up of features, news, reports, case studies, practical tools and more for employers who want to make a difference to work culture, mental health and wellbeing.