Talking to your manager or team about neurodivergence can feel like a big step. You may worry that they won’t understand, that they may judge you or that a disclosure may mean the end of future career opportunities. Given the misunderstanding and stigma that has surrounded neurodiversity over the years - these are justifiable concerns. Yet slowly but surely organisations are starting the conversation about neurodivergence and thinking about what changes are needed for all employees to thrive - including those with neurodivergent thinking styles such as ASD, ADHD and Dyslexia.
At Amplify we often have conversations about neurodiversity with employees, managers and HR/People professionals alike - and have tried to compile some of the key questions often asked of our psychologists to help you think about approaching conversations in your own organisations.
1) Do I need to tell my manager?
This is undoubtedly the most frequent question asked at Amplify in regards to neurodiversity and the simple answer here is no. You don’t have to disclose neurodivergence to your manager or team. It is completely your choice to disclose such an important and personal piece of information about yourself.
We would, however, recommend holding in mind the following:
“How much do you think your specific thinking style or neurodivergence impacts your work and your work life?”
If you feel it has little bearing day to day and you feel like you already have adequate support in place then you may feel there is no need to disclose.
If on the other hand you feel it is having an impact on your work or relationships at work, then you may wish to think about disclosing to your manager and/or team. Although this can feel like a big step, it can bring considerable benefits including:
Your manager (alongside HR/People teams) can put in to place reasonable adjustments. These adjustments can help you to carry out your role and remove barriers that may hinder you from thriving in your job. For example, if you have sensitivity to certain sounds or noises, you may benefit from noise cancelling headphones or working in a quieter environment or at home. These adjustments (even if they are relatively small) can make a huge difference and most can be supported through Access to Work Schemes.
It can help to reduce feelings of anxiety, pressure and stress. Without knowing, your manager may be asking you to work in ways that aren’t suited to your needs and skills. They may inadvertently question your performance which can have a big effect on your confidence and day-to-day emotional health. Once they are aware of neurodivergence they can start to better understand and target the work to your strengths allowing you to flourish in your role. It can also mean they avoid allocating tasks which feel more challenging.
Increased support. Although the first step in disclosing can be nerve-wracking, many people are pleasantly surprised by how supportive their manager and teams can be once they know. It can bring a huge sense of connectedness and relief - a sense that you no longer need to keep a secret and that someone else knows what you are going through. They can also help to signpost you to services and resources that you might not be aware of including in-house support services or workplace needs assessments.
2) When do I tell my manager?
This can feel like another tricky decision and again there is no “right” time to disclose. Some people only feel comfortable talking to their manager once they are settled into a role, whereas for others they may want to tell their manager right from the start (for others it might be when they have a manager or team change). The important thing is that you feel ready to have that conversation rather than the specific timing. However, if you are new to the role it can be helpful to approach this conversation early so that you are getting all the support you need from the beginning.
"....Your manager might not totally understand exactly what you are dealing with but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to or can’t help".
3) How do I tell my manager? I don’t know where to start….
Okay so once you have decided that you want to disclose to your manager, then start by thinking about where, when and how long you need to meet. You might want to consider the following:
Where to meet: Try to meet in a place which feels comfortable for you and which allows you both the privacy and time to talk. This can be somewhere in the office, or it can be a video-call or a phone-call if that feels easier as a first step. Sometimes having a walking meeting can be helpful if eye contact feels difficult.
Amount of Time: When you request the meeting, put a good amount of time aside. This will prevent you from feeling rushed. Try to also think about timing your meeting - are the mornings or end of the day quieter periods for you and your manager? It might be worth dropping your manager a quick email to say why you are requesting a longer meeting - you don't need to go into detail but can simply say that "there is a matter of sensitivity that I wish to talk to you about and might need a longer time to meet". Alternatively, you may wish to put what you want to say in writing first - this can help both you and your manager prepare fully for the conversation (and might mean the conversation is a little less anxiety-provoking).
Remember you don’t have to tell your manager everything. Focus on how neurodivergence impacts you at work and what support you think you need. For example: “dyslexia makes writing quickly hard for me and sometimes I struggle to type minutes during meetings. In the past, I’ve used an audio device to record the meeting and type the minutes up afterwards. Do you think this is something the company could provide? Or alternatively is there someone else who could do this role?”.
It is also important to hold in mind that these conversations shouldn't just be about challenges and difficulties. You will have strengths and skills that others don't have and it may be during later conversations you want to draw your managers attention to these strengths and think about how you can bring these more to the fore of your role.
It’s OK not to know exactly what support you need - this can be something you and your manager work on together, alongside your HR and People teams. It doesn’t need to be a “perfect” conversation. Try to remove as much pressure from yourself as possible. The key thing is that you've opened the door to an ongoing and supportive conversation. The specifics of what you need can all be slowly worked through.
It can be a good idea to practice what and how much you want to say with a friend, loved one or professional first. Making a list of key bullet points can be helpful. This can help you to find the right words and feel more in control. You might also wish to take a trusted colleague into the meeting with you if this helps.
Try to hold in mind that your manager may know very little about neurodivergence and might need a little bit of time following the meeting to educate themselves and try to understand more about what you have said to them. Try not to take it personally if they don't say too much in that first meeting but do follow up with them again to see about next steps.
4) I don’t have a formal diagnosis - does this matter?
Managers fundamentally want to get the best out of their employees. This means that where there are situations in which someone is struggling, managers will want to know so that they can problem solve these difficulties and put effective solutions in place. Consequently, most managers will want to know what aspects of the role you are finding difficult regardless of whether you have a formal diagnosis or not. If you don’t have a diagnosis, managers can often signpost you to the right resources and services if you wish to pursue this. You can still also request reasonable adjustments.
Although it is a big decision in its own right, getting a formal diagnosis can also have benefits. For example, it can offer greater legal protection (Further information on this can be found here) and access to support. A diagnosis will also often come with an assessment of your strengths and also your needs which can be extremely helpful when thinking about what specific reasonable adjustments are required.
5) I don’t mind telling my manager but I don’t want the rest of my team to know - is this ok?
Again this is completely your choice and must be respected by your manager. However, it is worth noting that should you wish for certain reasonable adjustments to be put in place then additional people may need to know (i.e. if you chose to sit away from your team). You should therefore discuss with your manager and agree as to:
Who else will be told
What you want people to know and what you don’t
Who will tell these other people , where, when and how they will be told
Whether you wish to be present when these additional people are told
How you would like others to follow up with you once they are told (for example, some people may say they don't mind team members texting them or approaching them in the office about what they have been told).
Disclosing to your team may be something that comes with time or something that you never do. There are also a number of ways you can do it. For example, some people with neurodivergence have written a letter to their team informing them about ADHD or dyslexia and how it impacts them, others have done neurodiversity awareness training with their teams. The most important thing is that you feel in control of this process and that it works for you.
6) I’m worried about discrimination if I disclose?
Coming forward and disclosing about neurodivergence is a courageous step and it is imperative that you are supported to have these conversations and to be offered equal opportunity to thrive in your work. Worries about discrimination can understandably prevent you from coming forward and getting the support you deserve and are entitled to - and sadly discrimination is a reality that we have to acknowledge.
Final Key Things to Remember:
Even when we are talking with the most supportive manager and colleagues, this can be a hard conversation. It might be awkward, and not go exactly as you visualised - but most people find a sense of huge relief once they have done it. Your manager might not totally understand exactly what you are dealing with but that doesn’t mean that they don’t want to or can’t help.
The National Autistic Society: has information on support and diagnosis
The British Dyslexia Association: has information on support and diagnosis
ADHD Foundation: information on support and diagnosis
Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service (ACAS): this is a great resource and covers lots of employment issues
Citizens Advice: another helpful service if you need information or assistance on a wide range of issues
The GMB union’s toolkit for thinking about neurodiversity at work
Made by Dyslexia - lots of good information/resources and inspirational stories
Access to Work - UK government website offering support for those with a mental, physical condition or disability to stay in work
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