Het scherpe einde van neuro-inclusie: is gedragsbiologie of moraliteit?

Het scherpe einde van neuro-inclusie: is gedragsbiologie of moraliteit?

augustus 31, 2020 0 Door admin


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Man sits with lego character head in place of his own head represents masking of individuality

Lego head representing masking of individuality in thinking


Managing a neurodiverse team is a delicate balancing act. As a business leader, employer, employee, team member and woman with ADHD I can see all sides of the neuroinclusion issue.  As a result of this experience I am able to easily spot when a work issue is related to neurodivergence rather than a character trait.

I have watched my colleagues get their sensory regulation out of sorts and fall to pieces, with consequences to their reputations. I have felt myself be too direct and hurt people’s feelings. I’ve critiqued work delivered with poor accuracy but brilliant design. I’ve watched ADHD-ers challenge rules triggering autistic colleagues who value consistency. I’ve noticed that some of us like dark lighting while others can’t see.

This is the sharp end of the neuro-inclusion world. And as a employers, we are responsible for “misconduct” – rudeness or perception of. We need to deliver performance even when employees might produce poor quality work despite best efforts. How can we balance responsibility, accountability with support and understanding? My colleague Jacqui often says “there are no C grades in business, I can’t receive work that needs to be marked like homework. You have to submit the A grade work that our clients require.” So how do we keep on top of team cohesion and get the A grade work whilst also managing and accommodating the needs of so many neurotypes? In a polarized world this feels like a pertinent question for many teams and communities.

Many of the current “solutions” revolve around individual level interventions, aimed at supporting neurominorities to “be better”. Additional literacy support for dyslexics, extra math classes for dyscalculia, CBT, mindfulness and Emotional Intelligence training. However, all these solutions presuppose that the individual is the problem. Isn’t that the antithesis of the Neurodiversity movement and indeed diversity and inclusion more widely? Diversity means difference of ability, of opinion. We have to improve our ability to work it out and make the best of it, not getting stuck in zero sum games where one skill or preference rules the other.


The results are in: behavior is biology and context. Neurominorities have unusual brain differences that are genetic in origin. Less dopamine and noradrenalin, less activity in the attention filtering centers, hyperactivity in the sensory perception centers, differences in the areas responsible for language, visual perception, etc. Biological differences are only disabling when we are required to behave at odds with our capacity. Telling someone whose neurological language areas don’t process phonemes to “try harder” in reading is like telling someone in a wheelchair to “try harder” to stand up. It’s the same with motor control, tics, emotional regulation and sensory overwhelm.

Yet our workplaces are increasingly staffed with autistic people who steel themselves to cope with the sensory assault of a busy location, the dyspraxics who over-rehearse to the point of exhaustion to improve balance/motor control or the dyslexics who work longer hours to achieve an A grade. I represent the ADHDers who force consistent performance from cycles of high/low focus and sit on hands to avoid talking too much. It’s exhausting. We’re beating ourselves to keep up and running twice as fast for the same result and we are shamed into self-reproach for our failings.

It is not working. I know why so many neurominorities lose their jobs, are excluded from school and fail to achieve. It takes privilege and scaffolding to maintain my current job role, without it I would be more like my teenage self – perpetually truant and scattered in focus. There are no coaching programs in mindfulness, emotional intelligence, CBT courses that will provide a neurological filter that doesn’t exist. I will always be deficient in dopamine, it makes me restless and on constant search of satisfaction, which in turn makes me a great entrepreneur and a pain in meetings. It is not the same as when neurotypical people get testy because things aren’t going their way. Neurominorities need scaffolding not character reform.

From Zero-Sum To Win-Win

Does ascribing my failures to biology instead of morality mean that I should accept no consequences when my inability to follow social norms affects others? I have resolved to be present and participative in understanding my impact, accepting the feedback of others who are not like me and developing better practices for resolution. It is not easy, but it is the work of inclusion. I do it to understand and research it, so that I may leave a path for those with less privilege and fewer scaffolds. Yet I know others who refuse to apologize for their public meltdown that they cannot control, just as they wouldn’t apologize for alarm caused by an epileptic fit – this is a fair critique. But while the debate isn’t settled businesses still need to find a way through. A meltdown can be scary and there are other people who need protecting in a workplace – the colleague with PTSD for example.

So whose pattern “wins” in the zero sum game? The offender or the offendee? Which disabling characteristic takes precedence? Who is the most deserving of the resource? We’re not going to find winners by assigning moral character deficits to biological differences and we’re not going to find inclusion by pretending that conflicting patterns and values aren’t causing distress. Flexibility and respect for each other is the start, debriefing and re-establishing connection is the journey. We have to listen more and judge less in the microcosms of our own teams, we can’t delegate inclusion work to a few recruitment staff in the HR team. The real work is happening where we are, the role modelling provided by business leaders and what we will accept, adjust for, challenge and accommodate. For me, it’s how much I will walk by my own talk, and accept the critiques of others who don’t work well in my desired culture, bend and flex myself in order to facilitate inclusion without breaking myself to do so. Neuroinclusion was never going to be as simple as placing a few specialists in jobs that suit them. I’m sorry to break it to you but that was only ever the start.

Ableism Versus Inclusion: A Five Point Plan

So, in order to make this work:

(1)  The first thing we have to agree is that we cannot blame neurominorities for their foibles. It’s like blaming Deaf people for not listening hard enough and it is ableist.

(2)  The second thing we need to agree is that participation is desirable. When we exclude neurominorities we miss creativity, innovation, passion, specialist skills and more.

(3)  The third imperative is that context is king. The point of coaching interventions for me is not to change my personality (impossible) but to teach me more about my triggers and optimal context so that I can prevent tiredness and reduce difficulty managing symptoms.

(4)  Fourth then, employers need to get a lot more flexible about context. HR needs to accommodate irregular hours and patterns of work, embrace assistive technology, increase job crafting to allow personalization to match strengths and more remote working. These aren’t providing unfair advantages, they are compensating for difficulties to facilitate inclusion.

(5)  And lastly, we need to accept that dissent and disagreement will be part of the processes for resolving problems. Once we’ve made the context as ideal as possible, there will still be moments of jarring. Prepping for them, managing them, giving space for genuine apology where needed and resolving triggers. Acknowledging the wider impact in teams and allowing people to vocalize and resolve.

My observation is that the Neurodiversity movement in business has accepted point two, tries hard on points three and four but is stuck on points one and five, which are tied up with legal advice that conflicts with management needs, which undermines individuals.

We can’t walk around on eggshells pretending that there aren’t consequences to working in diversity. Real diversity and inclusion means that we are going to be triggered, have our buttons pushed, our values challenged. I’ve learned that the only way is through, not around. When problems occur go deeper into it, don’t skirt it. Take time out to express, to listen, to blend understanding between colleagues. I find it relieving to talk openly about disagreements, at least then I know it is out in the open and stands a chance of resolution! The result will be more of your people working at their best and the authentic bonds between them will be stronger. The world needs more collaboration right now, and less judgemental exclusion of difference. The true aim of the Neurodiversity movement is to help us evolve from monotony and discord to variety and harmony.

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