Safe work envi­ron­ments begin with sup­port­ive inter­ac­tions and com­mu­ni­ca­tion. Here are ways you can show up to sup­port our neu­ro­di­ver­gent team members.

The most effective teams understand, actively support, and celebrate neurodiversity of their teams. Many people who identify as neurodivergent report not having felt understood or supported in their communities growing up, in school, and then as adults, in their work environments (resulting in burnout, exhaustion, and mental health issues). As coworkers and team leads we can change that experience by learning about each person’s unique work needs, strengths, quirks, and challenges and building an environment that considers those needs.

Background and introduction

These suggestions were compiled from our own research, our community’s experience, and community discussions on several online ADHD-centered groups. The recommendations focus on the unique needs of someone with ADHD.

The majority of these suggestions are healthy, human-first management practices that create a safe and accessible work environment for anyone on your team…and are especially important to your neurodivergent (ND) team members.

We’ve written this in first person so you can internalize it as requests from your neurodivergent team members.

Our aim is to establish a workplace that fosters inclusivity, supports individual needs, and enhances productivity for neurodivergent individuals, especially those with ADHD. Creating a flexible and accommodating work environment allows entire teams to actively and effectively contribute to the on-time delivery of high-value product deliverables.

We also recommend researching neurodivergent folks’ experiences in life and in the workplace and taking the time to learn what it means to build a trauma-informed work culture.

‘Can I ask if someone has ADHD?’

You might suspect someone you work with is neurodivergent. Is it ok to ask them if they are? Nope. It is always a personal choice to bring up neurodivergent status (or not). There are a number of things you can do to know how to work more effectively with each person on your team. You can:

  • Request that each employee fill out a personal operating manual when they join the team.
  • Communicate clearly and gauge how different teammates respond to different environments and requests. Turns out most of the suggestions below are really important tips for communicating and working with ANYONE!
  • Ask your coworker if there is anything you can do to communicate more clearly or support them better in their work.
  • Create an environment that encourages employees to ask for assistance or accommodations.

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How to communicate better with neurodivergent people

Practice active listening and observation

  • Listen to what I say without being offended or dismissing it, regardless of the tone I use.
  • Be aware that many neurodivergent folks try to compensate by trying to fly under the radar and not complain.
  • Know that I am not trying to be difficult or combative when I ask for the reasoning behind methods & practices.
  • Learn to read my body language.
  • Ignore my facial expressions. It’s not usually about you. Some people don’t smile all day and some constantly make eye contact with everyone they speak to. It’s fine, and it doesn’t mean we’re angry or being disrespectful or anything bad.

Learn to give feedback that works

  • Check in with me regularly to see what obstacles I’m facing and what you can do to make my job more manageable.
  • Give me positive and negative feedback consistently so that every time there’s a chat or email from you, I don’t immediately think I’m in trouble.
  • Give me regular, specific feedback, both on what I’m doing well (especially what I’m doing well) and what I can improve on.
  • If there’s something you’d like me to improve on, make sure your feedback is specific and actionable.
  • Point out specific mistakes I made rather than general mistakes and help me find ways to avoid making those mistakes in the future.
  • I likely prefer emails/DM if you want me to follow up on something rather than verbally asking. It’s easier to keep track of and remember your requests.
  • Offer a peer-review system for me so that my really great thought work can be checked for smaller spelling or grammar mistakes I may have missed (this way my strong work is not overshadowed by my tendency to miss small details).

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Giving instructions & setting expectations to neurodivergent people

How to assign tasks or talk about work to be done

  • Clearly state or write down what you expect from me.
  • Real-world examples of what you’re looking for are great.
  • Checklists are incredibly helpful.
  • Hard deadlines set in advance help me prioritize and push to completion.
  • Break big tasks into smaller, more specific tasks. Smaller tasks help me know how to get started, prioritize my work, and provide the dopamine boost I need when I complete them.
  • If tasks need to be done in a specific way, fully explain what you need.
  • On the flip side, if a task doesn’t need to be done a certain way, let me know that I have the freedom to come up with my own system.
  • If the requirements change, let me know immediately and give me the ‘why’ for the change.
  • On-the-fly verbal instructions are risky because they can leave my brain as quickly as they enter. If it’s not in writing, it never happened.

How to receive my response to your instructions

  • If I state a boundary like ‘this is my availability’ or ‘I will take on a/b/c tasks, but this is my time limit to get everything done,’ I’m not being picky or trying to avoid responsibility—it’s a limit I need in order to function sustainably. I’m trusting you by disclosing this information.
  • Give me the time to verbally confirm that I’ve correctly documented the steps.
  • Give me the space to ask clarifying questions and schedule mid-point check-ins to ensure I’m on the right track. Not knowing what to do either makes me do nothing or hyper-fixate on something you may not have wanted me to focus on.

How to document meetings

  • Make meeting notes available.
  • Provide closed captions for live and recorded meetings, and readers for pdfs.

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How to create a neurodivergent-supportive culture

Advocate and model

  • As a manager, fight for your employees when we ask for accommodations.
  • Make your workplace a safe space for discussing challenges and concerns.
  • Make sure we know that these discussions are not a box-ticking exercise or some kind of HR evaluation but that you care about us and our experience.
  • Model inclusivity and value what each person brings to the table (or at least demonstrate awareness when something is not in someone’s comfort zone).
  • Encourage a culture that helps neurotypicals understand neurodivergents.
  • Don’t ask an employee to advocate for themselves, then weaponize that education against them or other neurodivergent employees.

Demonstrate patience & respect

  • Be patient and understanding, and helpful so your employees feel comfortable asking you for help or clarification.
  • Time management and asking for help are not my strong suits, but overwhelmed brain paralysis is real and hard to escape without feeling like a failure.
  • Don’t presume I am just ‘forgetful.’
  • My neurodivergence has nothing to do with intelligence, so please don’t talk down to me. I put my all into everything I do, and hate to make mistakes or fail.
  • Respect my moral boundaries and always be transparent with me.
  • We ADHD people can be hard on ourselves after experiencing years of feeling like we don’t fit in or aren’t good enough.

Support me in tangible ways

  • If you offer support on a project—especially if I’m overwhelmed by one thing or another—I need you to provide examples of how you can support me.
  • Don’t offer to help me, then don’t do it. I often take people by their literal word, and disappointment is difficult to process.
  • Pleases and thank yous go a long way, and positive feedback is very welcome.
  • really want to feel kept in the loop.
  • Ask how I am coping and what support I need to ensure I am still engaged in my work and not feeling exhausted.
    • Do I need extra support staying on schedule?
    • Am I stuck spinning on prioritization?
    • Am I having trouble letting go of worries and just need a reasonable voice to talk it through?
    • Do I need to be shielded from unnecessary interactions?

Understand (and ask) how I best receive appreciation

  • Words of praise (public or private)
  • Leave early or come in later
  • Team celebration
  • Professional recognition

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How to build a better work environment for neurodivergent people

It might not make sense to neurotypical people, but our brains are wired differently. Be flexible with how we do a job. Not everyone can accomplish a task in exactly the same way. If we’re having trouble doing the work, it’s helpful to be able to change the routine.

Build a flexible physical environment with options

  • I often feel trapped and anxious when I have to spend the majority of my day in one place.
  • Sometimes, I need distractions for that dopamine boost so I can keep working through the mundane stuff.
  • I may even call in sick on days I know I simply can’t deal with feeling trapped in one spot.
  • I’m overwhelmed, and I can’t do my job correctly or safely until my brain quiets (for some this ‘quieting’ might mean taking a walk, talking stress through with someone, or eliminating external stimuli).

Allow for control over my environmental stimuli

  • Allow me to use earplugs, ear protection, and headphones in the workplace (stimuli management).
  • Allow me to turn lights low and use a blanket or pillows where I’m sitting.
  • Give me the option for a workspace of my own, even if it’s a closet.
  • I might need to sit on the floor, pace, or just sit still at my desk. The variety helps me stay engaged in what I’m working on.
  • Have flexible remote or hybrid offices.
  • Offer office spaces with a mix of busy buzzy areas, quiet-focused areas, colourful spaces, and calm spaces.

Allow for a flexible pace and approach to work

  • Let me work at my own pace. It will get done, just in my own way.
  • Have patience with the unpredictability of my productivity.
  • Some days, I will be amazing and produce at twice the speed of my colleagues. On other days, I may struggle to get my must-do list completed (trust me, I’m just as frustrated by that as you are).
  • If I tell you that a particular task that is not part of my regular workload is too much or something I’m ill-fitted for, believe me. Saying no is hard when you’re used to trying to behave neurotypically. If I do say no, I really mean it and making me do it anyway will cause me problems.
  • Before pressuring me to do big presentations, check to make sure I have what I need and feel psychologically safe with the group I’m presenting to/facilitating for.
  • Don’t judge me on the process before you see the outcome (unless the process somehow affects others’ abilities to do their job). The way I do things might not always look like what you’d expect, but I promise it works.

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Flexibility in work hours and scheduling

My self-care routine may take longer than it does for others, meaning I often require more of a work/home balance than the standard 40-hour workweek allows.

Consider allowing shorter work weeks

  • Having extra time allows me to focus on meeting basic needs rather than stalling at work and feeling stressed and guilty.
  • I can get more done in less time (with the pressure of limited time). When I have less time to flounder, I’m more likely to be on task and focused.
  • Trust that I’m being productive even when it doesn’t look that way. Unless the work is actually not getting done, just let me do my thing.

Build flexibility into your definition of working hours

  • Company-wide core working hours mean I can make specific plans for meetings and work hours around a smaller window of time.
  • Having flexible hours doesn’t mean fewer hours.
  • I can provide better work with more flexible hours. It’s easier for me to take ten short breaks instead of one long one.
  • I need to be able to let myself get wrapped up in a task.

Evaluate productivity with humans in mind

  • It is demoralizing to be penalized or denied raises and promotions because we’re frequently just a little bit late.
  • Evaluate productivity on a curve for the quarter vs. day-by-day or even week-by-week.

Design a system of breaks and days off that consider neurodivergent needs

I don’t take frequent breaks because I’m lazy. People, especially ADHDers, can only focus for so long, and frequent breaks are proven to improve focus and productivity.

  • Allow more frequent, short breaks
  • I need the ability to get up and move. Or even better, work remotely
  • Allow for and encourage stretch breaks
  • Provide sufficient mental health days off work

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How to research and educate yourself about neurodivergence

Spend time with me to understand

  • When I talk too much, it actually helps me work.
  • We neurodivergent folks are all different. So first, ask your neurodivergent team members what they need.
  • Have everyone fill out a Personal Operating Manual that covers questions about preferences like work style, environmental preferences, and how a person can get the most out of feedback (See our resources below).

Do your own research on neurodivergent ‘disorders’

  • Don’t assume ADHD individuals fit a cookie-cutter personality type.
  • Research what ADHD is and how it impacts individuals in the workplace, then follow up with that individual to see or figure out how to help that person be successful.
  • Do the emotional labour of educating yourself on neurodiversity.
  • Know that ADHD isn’t constantly the same at any given time. It’s like the weather, and varies depending on many things and affects all senses.

Acknowledge the positive side of each neurodivergent trait


  • Am I the ideas person?
  • Am I the one who can identify potential pitfalls or logistical issues?
  • Can I consistently think of the downsides or risks so they can be considered?
  • Do I know how to work out a compromise or how to neutralize a tense situation?

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Let’s build stronger teams together

Supporting the needs of neurodivergent individuals in the workplace not only benefits them individually but also builds stronger team performance, creativity, adaptability, and problem-solving capacity. When we embrace neurodiversity in the workplace, we build stronger and more successful teams that are better equipped to tackle challenges, drive change, and meet our goals together. It’s better for everyone.

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