“There’s something about him that makes me want to punch him in the face.”
-A autistic Redditor, recounting a comment he heard a coworker make about him.
“It’s funny that the doctors never saw neurodiversity in me, because Jennifer from third grade sure did.”
-An adult autistic woman on Facebook.
Our world has changed drastically as we have cobbled together ways to move forward through the pandemic. Remote work has made it possible for thousands of people to bypass barriers that once would have prevented them from being hired or accepting positions. Neurodiverse people were able to side-step social and sensory issues that would have prevented them from applying or being hired in traditional office settings, and that is something to celebrate.
However, we still have work to do regarding our internal organizational culture everywhere.
Removing barriers to hiring is a fantastic first step, but it doesn’t impact the culture that neurodiverse employees will likely encounter when they join the existing culture in the office.
Humans are wired to detect and reject difference, even those of us who are absolutely committed to encouraging diversity in the workplace are prone to unconscious bias in favor of out existing in-group, this is actually one of the reasons that diversity in hiring is so important- the more we are exposed to difference, the wider out concept of our “in-group” becomes.
Awareness of our bias towards the in-group is especially critical when it comes to integrating neurodiverse hires into the organization. I can tell you from personal experience that some neurotypical people seemed to experience something akin to the “uncanny valley” effect when working with me. I look like the other humanoids, but I somehow give off a foreign feeling vibe, an “otherness” that they couldn’t quite put their finger on but n one-the-ness excluded me from the in-group.
Autism Scientists have recently recorded similar findings: “across three studies, we find that first impressions of individuals with ASD made from thin slices of real-world social behavior by typically-developing observers are not only far less favorable across a range of trait judgments compared to controls, but also are associated with reduced intentions to pursue social interaction.”
What this means is that despite best intentions, co-workers may experience an almost unconscious aversion to the new neurotypical hire from the moment that they meet.
Take a moment to absorb that idea. Consider the ramifications for onboarding, training and team-building. That new hire might be placed on the “outside” of the group through no fault of their own, by a manager or cohort that isn’t even aware of their internal bias...because it’s hard to define, there’s nothing they can put their finger on or name, and there’s nothing that the new hire can do to change their out-group status.
The only way to begin to change this is to talk about it openly. Begin a dialogue with your staff about their unconscious bias- whether it’s unconscious bias against neurodiverse people, people of color, non-native English speakers or any of the diverse talented people out there in the world. People can’t guard themselves against their own biases until they are aware of it and have the language to discuss it with.