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HBR | Ascend | Stop Asking Neurodivergent People to Change the Way They Communicate | JD Goulet

Updated: Jan 10, 2023

JD Goulet | Neurotypical People can do more to close the communication gap


The research-backed view, emerging in recent years, is that neurotypical (NT) people and neurodivergent (ND) people are merely speaking different, but equally valid, social languages. As such, it’s on NT people, as much as it is ND people, to bridge the communication gap. While not everyone needs to become an expert on everything there is to know about autism, ADHD, and other neurodifferences, there are a few behaviors NT people can act on immediately to move towards a shared understanding with the NDs in their lives.

  • Check your assumptions. Beth Radulski, an autistic academic and researcher, advises allies not to assume that someone isn’t paying attention to what you’re saying simply because they aren’t ticking off all the boxes on your NT social cues checklist. Instead, gauge the outcome of the conversation for both of you. Was there shared understanding? Were mutual goals clarified?

  • Communicate clearly and unambiguously. This is certainly one of those areas where there’s a lot of variability between what works best for one person versus another, but as a general rule, you can’t go wrong with keeping your language free of euphemisms, sarcasm, and vagueness.

  • Stay flexible. Your ND coworker’s state of being is highly variable. They may have seemed just fine in that 9 am meeting, but don’t be surprised if their energy seems very different later that same day. Many ND people are susceptible to becoming overwhelmed or fatigued by sensory input.

  • Ask. If you’re unsure of what an ND coworker or other ND individual in your life might want or need, ask! One of the most important questions you can ask is, “How do you prefer to be communicated with?”


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