Neurodiversity doesn’t always mean everyone together, always.

I am fortunate to work with organizations that are building spaces for neurodivergent employees, away from other employees, allies, and parents of neurodivergent children. (They have other spaces and resources.) Critics often say, “everyone should be able to participate in these spaces. Neurotypical people are allies. Parents of neurodivergent children need education and support, and they can get that from the neurodivergent adults!” Let me shed some light on why that is a bad idea and how you are hurting the same people you are trying to help.

I worked at a company with affinity groups called “Employee Communities.” One was “Mental Health Matters.” There were employees with depression, anxiety, and insomnia – it wasn’t a great fit for neurodivergent people, but many joined to have someplace to go to chat. One day a colleague posted that her son might have ADHD. She had done lots of intense research and was horrified that her child would face difficulty beyond difficulty, that she and her husband couldn’t support this child or cope with the trauma, they would never get married or hold a job – and – in her words, “she felt like she could die.”
She was looking for words of comfort and support from people with ADHD. She wanted us, the neurodivergent people, to make her feel better about her son possibly being…like us.
What’s worse, many other colleagues who didn’t know better were posting “I’m so sorry,” “That’s so terrible,” “at least it’s not autism!” and “Feed him organic. It’s a cure!”

It is a lot to take in – knowing that some parents are so scared of having a “me” that they feel like they could die. And then, to see all the misconceptions and stereotypes that people had about ADHD, autism, and neurodiversity – All in all, it’s a real bummer, especially before coffee on a Monday.
Neurodivergent employees need their own spaces. Physically, they have needs that cannot be addressed in a large group environment. We need a space to work through the unique challenges that come from having a brain that gets in our way as much as it helps us.

Your neurodivergent employees spend almost all of their energy, will, and stamina trying to act like the person you find acceptable to have to work for you. They NEED to unmask. They need a space where they can talk, share resources, comfort, console each other – and not worry about opening up to comforting a parent about the horror of having a kid just like us. Please give them a place, virtual or real, to stim, unmask, and unburden. That’s what support for your neurodivergent employees looks like.