Stop positioning neurodiversity as a superpower and then asking neurodiverse people to do things that are an inherent challenge
12th December 2023

Stop positioning neurodiversity as a superpower and then asking neurodiverse people to do things that are an inherent challenge

I’m pretty sure I was nearly fired as an account executive; as a senior account executive; then as an account manager. I was pretty hopeless at so many things those roles demanded.

Why? ADHD. Then undiagnosed.

It meant I was terrible at media lists (lost interest halfway), cuttings books (delivered late and a bit haphazard), weekly status notes (bang-on for about five weeks then the repetitiveness meant there were more interesting things so they… slipped).

It could all have gone so horribly wrong early in my career.

Which is also why I get a little frustrated by people describing neurodiversity as a “superpower” – as though that superpower will be realised regardless of the context of the tasks undertaken or the support given. The benefits won’t realise themselves.

To clarify: I firmly believe there’s an immense benefit to my colleagues and clients in how my brain is wired – creativity, wanting to go deep into a topic, pattern recognition and favouring calculated risk all have their place in modern commerce and PR. I also firmly back destigmatising neurodiversities in the workplace – reframing them as “superpowers” can do that.

However – and it’s a big however – we’re never going to realise those superpowers if we keep asking people to do the same jobs regardless of how they’re wired.

We need to acknowledge these are only superpowers if people who experience them are offered tasks and roles where their approaches will help them thrive, rather than being asked to do the mental equivalent of writing with your left hand (if you’re right-handed) – it’s possible but takes immense effort of will and looks a bit messy.

We need to offer tolerance and support to colleagues for things likely to go awry – whether missed meetings (sorry, I forgot to check my diary), missed deadlines (I got distracted by something more interesting than that status note), timelines that don’t really make sense (sorry, I was prevaricating and the project appears to be done). While senior people in a team are potentially more likely to be understanding, support and understanding must be team-wide.

We must acknowledge as leaders that teams must be built to get the best of people who think untypically. That means balancing the neuro-spicy among us with colleagues who have a natural ability to plan, think ahead, get their heads down when a task lands, juggle a relentless inbox and prioritise incoming requests – not being distracted by the most “interesting” jobs. Moreover, creating a culture of mutual respect among those who will get the job done in wildly different ways (as opposed to a culture of mutual frustration which will otherwise be the case).

Most importantly, we need to acknowledge those things for people at the start of their careers – when they are often asked to focus on the hardest tasks and when a perceived lack of ability is most likely to be pulled up. Otherwise, potential talents are likely to be lost before they can get started.

James Gordon-MacIntosh, founder and Creative Director, Hope&Glory. This article first appeared on PR Week

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