Adjusting to Working from Home as a Neurodivergent Person

By: Eleanor Humphreys, Research Analyst, GattiHR

Adjusting to working from home can be difficult for anyone, and with the mass shift, we’ve had to work remotely due to Covid-19. It’s a challenge many people are having to deal with for the first time. So far, the neurodivergent population has been mostly left of the conversation about how to make this transition effectively.

A neurodivergent person is someone that thinks and learns differently, such as people autism, ADHD and dyslexia. These conditions can make it challenging to adapt to changes, especially when they happen unexpectedly without time for planning. Neurodivergent people, like everyone else, are unique. Not every suggestion made will work for every person. That being said, hopefully at least some of these tips can make the adjustment to working from home easier.

  1. Create a Schedule and a Routine (and get help doing this if you need it).

Creating a daily schedule is helpful for many people when working from home and just in general. It can help keep you on task, prevent unhelpful breaks and help some people manage anxiety.

If you’re someone who thrives on a routine but struggles to create and implement it yourself, reach out to your support system for help. Ask a therapist, coworker or your boss – whoever you feel most comfortable with and think would be most helpful. Create this schedule in a sharable platform like Microsoft Outlook or Google Calendar, and share it with your relevant colleges. This will also allow them to let you know ahead of time if they need anything from you and allow you to integrate that into your schedule. Having a printed copy of this schedule in your workspace can be helpful for easy reference.

If you’re someone who benefits from it and your organization is open to it, extending your workday and taking more frequent breaks can prevent fatigue and increase focus and productivity. Using the break to do something like taking a walk or having a snack can make focusing easier when you get back to work.

  1. Work in a Space that Allows you to Focus.

Find an environment that works for you. Many people find they’re most productive when they create a dedicated workspace separate from there sleeping space.

People on the autism spectrum may benefit from a room with adjustable lighting, temperature and quiet. Arranging the space in a way that’s aesthetically pleasing to the individual can also be helpful. If no such space is available, temporarily rearranging and repurposing an existing space as well as using ear plugs or noise canceling headphones may be helpful.

Individuals with ADHD may find it helpful to work in a non-cluttered and well-organized environment. Utilize fidget toys and changing up the work location to may also help with focus.

  1. Make Sure you have Access to and can Utilize Assistive Technology.

It may be tempting to try and work without the some or all assistive technologies you usually rely on, but this usually makes work more difficult in the end, especially when going thought a big transition that already presents many other adaptive challenges.

Make a list of the assistive software and hardware you regularly utilize. Communicate to your employer that these things are necessities for you to do your job effectively and reach out to your direct manager or IT department for help getting these things installed on your home computer or mailed to your home address. This may be a bit more difficult than normal as many IT departments are swamped now, however it’s still important to reach out and advocate for yourself.

  1. Use the method of communication that works best for you.

While Neurotypical individuals often have a preferred form of communication, utilizing other forms of communication generally doesn’t present a challenge for them. This is not always the case for people on the autism spectrum or with dyslexia.

While many people prefer to communicate by email this can be more difficult for someone with dyslexia, especially if that is the only form of communication occurring. When possible advocate for face-to-face conversations using video conferencing. If this is not possible, utilizing assistive technologies like screen readers and speech recognition software can be helpful.

Individuals with autism and some with ADHD may also find it easier to communicate via email so that they have a written record to refer to. If this is not possible, asking for direct instructions and basic notes to be written down and emailed can be helpful.

Be creative! Work with the new setup to make it work best for you.

  1. Take Initiative and Advocate for yourself!

Take the initiative to do what you can to make your work life a success. Make a list of what you need to be effective and figure out what you’re able to do on your own and what you aren’t.

During times like these, the needs of Neurodivergent individuals can often be forgotten about or take a back seat to seemingly more pressing issues, so it may take even longer than normal to get things like assistive technology in place. For this reason, it’s especially important that you speak up and advocate for yourself early and communicate what help you need to be the most effective during this time.