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Thursday, April 28, 2022

Neurodivergent Employees

In The Politics of Autism, I discuss the employment of adults with autism and other developmental disabilities.

Caitlyn O'Neil, CPA, wasn't always open about being on the autism spectrum. It took a couple of years before the senior tax accountant at CBIZ MHM in Denver told most of her colleagues she's autistic. "Before that I really struggled trying to explain some of my behaviors. I just called it 'busy season brain,'" she said. "Then I just decided it was too much stress, and just acknowledging this is why I'm different, that lifted a huge weight off my shoulders."

Daniel Openden, Ph.D., is president and CEO of the Southwest Autism Research & Resource Center (SARRC).

One of the best things firms can do is speak with people with autism to better understand their experiences, O'Neil said. They can also turn to organizations like the Autism Self Advocacy Network and the Autistic Women & Nonbinary Network. As a place to start, Openden recommends working with an agency that helps autistic people find employment.

Firm leaders should understand that neurodivergent individuals don't want to work differently than their neurotypical colleagues, said Amanda Gessner, CPA, audit manager at Schmitz-Holmstrom in Bismarck, N.D., who is neurodiverse. But operating under the same conditions is "physically or mentally not possible at times," she explained.

Gessner believes the timing is right for firms' focus on DEI to include neurodivergent employees. "By being more inclusive and taking steps to accommodate the needs of your team, it can build efficiencies because everyone is working in their best environment," she said. "It can also increase retention, which I think is the biggest benefit at this time."