Winners And Losers: How Has Lockdown Impacted Neurodiversity?
In a recent article I wrote about how being in lockdown had affected me personally as an ADHDer. One of the questions I was asked on Twitter in response to this was whether I would be talking to other neurominorities and sharing a broader range of experiences? This struck me as an excellent idea so I have spent a few weeks gathering responses from neurodivergent people via social media. My hope is that these anecdotes and shared thoughts will provide some comfort and reassurance to those who feel the same, but also offer useful insight for employers and colleagues looking to better support their neurodiverse team members both in periods of lockdown and upon return to work.
Dyspraxia, Dyslexia And The Increase In Tech Dependence
A Lady from Bradford had a fantastic point to make about how the changes affected her as a dyspraxic and dyslexic. She said “I’m working from home and there is definitely an assumption that technology is easy to use. IT skills are not a strength of mine and I suspect they are impacted by my dyspraxia and dyslexia but of course that hasn’t been considered.” She is absolutely right to point this out. For dyspraxics, learning to use new technology can take a little longer while they get a sense of the layout and where to find the things they need. It’s is not impossible, it simply means that extra time, training and support should be offered. Don’t wait to be asked, offer additional tech support to everyone, this is a brilliant way to be inclusive without singling people out. Dyspraxia also known as DCD can make learning new processes difficult because often the parts of the brain that process movement and 3D thinking are less active. On the other hand, dyspraxics also tend to be great big picture thinkers as well as often having excellent verbal skills which can be of great use when planning for unpredictable times or needing to stay connected while distant.
For dyslexics, an increase in written communication rather than face to face can be overwhelming. Using a page reader may reduce the mental overload and help keep burnout at bay. Dictating using assistive technology to reduce the need to write can also help. Use the available technology to your advantage!
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Another response I received focused on the overwhelm of dealing with having children at home. This is especially taxing for those who have challenges with focus, energy levels and reading and writing. She said
“I have young kids and love having them at home but the workload from the teachers was ridiculous, register twice a day do one boring worksheet after another, a mum working two jobs and doing a schools version of home school was never going to work! So, I quit and stopped doing the registers, I now just email the teachers twice a week.”
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This person found an excellent work around, but this may not be possible for everyone. Talk to your employees who are home schooling whilst working, can you offer them the flexibility they need to make it work? Relax your usual standards slightly and be understanding. Also keep in mind that this particular issue currently disproportionally affects women, so it is a matter of gender inclusion as well as disability inclusion to support your employees through this challenge. And if you are a father, make sure you are taking your share of the workload here!
Reduced Sensory And Social Load Allows Some To Thrive
I have touched on this subject before but one of the most common responses I have received is about the benefits of this lockdown to neurodiverse people who struggle with sensory overwhelm. Since I have already given my thoughts on the subject in previous articles, here some quotes from others:
“What a relief to have a break from neurotypical habits that are really detrimental to the nervous system. Apart from a glitch with security at work – guess how- unclear communication from them and them not fact-checking correctly and making assumptions. I’ve been able to work more and work undisturbed. Have never got so much done and it’s not about wanting to be productive, it’s because of lack of invasion from the neurotypical world.”
“The first week or so” another commenter wrote “I was in hyper focus mode sorting food and worrying about my children and father. I was anxious but felt that the controls I was putting in place, helped my stress enormously. I quickly adjusted though to not going out and have loved the quiet, no social life, the loud birdsong and the space away from people. I am working from home so that has been good for routine, but I have thrown myself into doing all sorts of creative projects. I feel happier than before lockdown and I am now wishing it could stay like this. I miss my loved ones that I can’t see but recognise now how much a social life stresses me. I always have a lot of anxiety before going out, am often overwhelmed by sensory issues, and like to know when I can leave. Not having to worry about these things is a relief. I don’t feel ‘peopled’ out because I’m hardly seeing anyone. If I weren’t a creative person I don’t know if I would have been so content, as the projects have been a good way of using my hyper focus.”
But There Is Of Course A Down Side
“Kind of both. Without the need to go to university or take public transport I am less overwhelmed by sounds, scents or smells. So that’s nice. But with everything closed I can’t see any project through and the roadblocks, when I have to pause until something I had to order gets here, hit harder. Sometimes I even forget where I am on a certain project, so I start over yet again.”
It is worth remembering that for some the transition out of lockdown and back to work will be traumatic as they are plunged back into an environment that overwhelms and causes anxiety. Consider ways to allow for a gradual transition and again review if home working could become a regular part of the role. For many autistic people this has been a much-needed break and they may feel disconnected and misunderstood if they are surrounded only by people who are relieved that lockdown is over.
Mental Health And Dopamine Defiencies
“I expected to panic but I haven’t. I work in care as admin, so work is unchanged except there is nobody coming to audit and this has removed all panic which I need to motivate me so it’s hard! Home is too quiet my daughter moved out to self-isolate with colleagues. She works in children’s homes. Even though I have work I am struggling with days of the week and time goes too quick and I sleep a lot more than usual at the minute. There is an impending sense of dread but no real idea where it will come from, I’m lost. ADHD.”
Be prepared to support people as they return to work. Some will struggle to leave lockdown others will be relieved but possibly erratic. I hope this article has given some personal insights that we can use to create more inclusive general polices for managing in crisis.