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Celebrating Neurodiversity: Unmasking in the Workplace

by | Oct 26, 2023 | Blog | 0 comments

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In October, we celebrate the neurodivergent community and embrace our differences, including ADHD, autism, and more.

October is Halloween season, which involves scary costumes and creepy masks. But Halloween is not the only time neurodivergent folks are wearing masks. Many neurodivergent workers “mask” their true personalities, emotions, interests, and more to fit into their neurotypical peers.

Explore who fits into the neurodiverse categories below: 

The Neurodiversity Umbrella Project is a celebration of the 1 in 5 human beings who have ‘different minds’.

Why Mask At All?

To neurotypical people, it might be hard to understand why this phenomenon exists. 
However, there are several reasons why people might choose to mask:

  1. Social Acceptance: People may feel that by masking their true selves and adopting behaviors, they can fit in better and avoid standing out in a negative way.
  2. Reducing Stigma: Sometimes, individuals mask to avoid potential stigma or discrimination associated with their neurodivergent traits.
  3. Career Advancement: Some neurodivergent individuals might feel compelled to mask their traits to avoid potential negative impacts on their career advancement.
  4. Coping Mechanism: Masking can serve as a coping mechanism for managing sensory sensitivities and overwhelming situations.

And more…

Unveiling The Mask

Now that we understand the reason for masking, let’s discover how we create more inclusive spaces so that others can take the mask off.

Creating belonging is crucial for fostering inclusivity and promoting mental well-being. 

Here are some strategies to consider:

  1. Education and Awareness: Raise awareness about neurodiversity through workshops and training, helping everyone understand and appreciate different perspectives.
  2. Open Communication: Foster an environment where employees can openly discuss their needs, challenges, and strengths related to neurodiversity.
  3. Flexible Work Environment: Design workspaces that accommodate various sensory needs and work styles, including options for quiet spaces and sensory breaks.
  4. Accommodations: Provide reasonable accommodations such as flexible scheduling and noise-canceling headphones to support neurodivergent employees.
  5. Leadership Support: Engage leadership in promoting neurodiversity and inclusion, setting a tone of acceptance and authenticity.
  6. Mentorship and Allies: Pair neurodivergent individuals with mentors or allies who can provide guidance, advocacy, and a safe space for discussions.

When we employ these strategies all at once, employees can feel valued for who they are, allowing them to contribute their best without the need to mask their identities.

A Note from Liana

Your neighborhood neurodivergent friend and team member! 

Being neurodivergent has been one of the biggest challenges I have faced in the workplace. I can sometimes pass for white, heterosexual, and cisgender, but when it comes to my neurodivergent symptoms and characteristics, I can never fully mask 100%. Most of my life is masking. I often feel like a square peg in a world full of round holes. 

Every day I choose between masking to be perceived more easily or unmasking and potentially being an inconvenience. Both choices take up the majority of my emotional capacity and I am not good at either of them. Often at the end of my day, I don’t have the energy to do what I love or need to do to care for myself so burnout comes easy. 

With practice and care, I can find ways to close the gap of understanding between myself and my neurotypical peers. I find coping skills to exist in a neurotypical world. I live in cycles of doing well and not so well and I try to move through the world with consideration.  

As a neurodivergent person, the two asks I have for neurotypicals are for patience and self-reflection: 

  • Patience for those who struggle to exist in a system that is not good for anyone but especially tough for us.
  • Self-reflection of how neurotypical characteristics shape our current systems.

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