Assistentieprogramma's voor werknemers en neurodiversiteit (spoiler – niet noodzakelijk een goede match)mei 26, 2020
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Twice now this month I’ve been asked if we can recommend Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs) as a way of dealing with neurodiversity inclusion that is not an ‘add on’ but uses existing organizational resources. Whilst I can see the appeal in this approach for the employer, it shows a lack of understanding regarding neurodiversity and it is not something that I would advise. Tackling neurodiversity inclusion via Employee Assistance Programs alone is an idea with big risks, which I am now going to explain.
Mental Health And Neurodiversity Are Not The Same Thing
EAPs focus on wellbeing, stress at work, mild-to-moderate mental health support for anxiety, and depression. If you have access to one, you are likely to benefit from someone listening, some mindfulness or breathing techniques, counselling through life events, perhaps some Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. They are aimed at people with reactive stress, depression and anxiety, which are certainly real things that deserve support, but the difference is that they are usually transient and based on emotional not neurological differences.
None of those interventions will suddenly increase the dopamine levels in your ADHD brain, stop your autistic brain from feeling pained by loud noises, or correct your spelling. And so, if they are the only support available, they are likely to just make you feel bad that your stress isn’t getting any better.
Cognitive Problems Need Cognitive Solutions.
You wouldn’t offer counselling to address hearing loss, or as the only solution to long term pain, so you shouldn’t do it for neurominorities either. Many neurodivergent people have experience of being told that their cognitive differences could be resolved with a change in attitude, motivation or self-control. Dyslexics just need to “focus more”, autistic people should just “let it go sometimes” or perhaps an ADHDer just needs to “calm down a bit”. When given these examples I hope you can see how dismissive they could be in the wrong context. In my view, trying to be inclusive of neurodiversity by offering mental health support alone implies this same kind of dismissiveness.
Yes, neurodivergent brains are wired differently, they need practical support as well to address the root of the issue. True neurodiversity inclusion must be holistic. Both employee and employer or workplace coach need an understanding of how an individual works at their best, they can then seek to address any issues through accommodations, coaching and assistive technology. Not by recommending breathing techniques to overcome the stress caused by a legitimate physical problem.
With That Said….
Many neurodiverse people do indeed need help managing stress and anxiety, which will have most likely been exacerbated by exclusion and feelings of failure. This is helpful, and a supportive act. By no means am I suggesting that EAPs are not ever appropriate for neurodiverse people I am simply stating that they are not enough on their own and should be considered only along with genuine practical support.
Offering mental health support can provide a circuit break to a vicious circle, where stress and poor sleeping/diet have made cognitive issues worse. In situations like this alleviating some emotion can help clear the view a little and allow someone to regain focus. Accommodations, coaching and assistive technology will not be used to their full advantage if a person is battling so much anxiety or depression that they cannot give their full attention.
Take Inclusion To The Next Level
With all of this in mind, I suggest that looking for in house simple fixes to nuanced issues is not the way forward. True holistic inclusion benefits everyone, and it doesn’t have to be costly or difficult but it does have to be done with respect, care and understanding. Let’s move beyond ticking boxes and take inclusion to the next level.