Sixty Two Tales
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Sixty Two Tales

Understanding Neurodiversity

Designing an Inclusive Workspace Event Highlights 💡

In light of Project Lima’s exploration on Inclusive Design in Southeast Asia, we’ve recently also launched a collaborative project with our friends over at Anotasi.com titled Understanding Neurodiversity where we looked deeper into what Neurodiversity is and what it means to be a Neurodivergent (ND). As there’s not much understanding yet into what neurodiversity actually means, it makes it harder for current systems, environments, products, and also society to be accommodating to their needs and styles of thinking.

As a companion to that piece and because of the amount of interest towards the topic of Neurodiversity, we’ve held a virtual event where we discussed this in more detail with a few key speakers and the community on perspectives from a neurodivergent and what the experience is like from a workplace angle to spark ideas and conversations on how we can all help in designing an inclusive workplace for neurodivergents — which in extension will also benefit all individuals.

Our event features a panel discussion and 2 workshops following that session on ‘Becoming an Ally in the Workplace’ held by Pemuda Autisme Indonesia, and a ‘Design Jam for Neurodiversity’ session with us at Project Lima and some friends from Anotasi as well! We also shared a virtual space for audiences to open and explore from their own devices with useful resources, fact/myth cards, neurodiversity hall of fame, and a confessions wall to enhance the experience of understanding neurodiversity that you can check out at bit.ly/NeuroVirtual.

Our Event Virtual Space

For the panel discussion, we’ve invited a diverse line of speakers from different backgrounds and each with different experiences and perspectives to share their insights about this topic:

⭐ Ananda Sukarlan, Pianist & Neurodiversity Advocate
(ig: @anandasukarlan, twitter: @anandasukarlan)

Pianist, composer, and someone dubbed by The Sydney Morning Herald as “One of the World’s Leading Pianists at the Forefront of Championing New Piano Music”, who also has Asperger’s Syndrome. He was awarded the Dharma Cipta Karsa RI 2014 and Anugerah Kebudayaan RI 2015.

In 2020, he was appointed the President Board of Judges for the Queen Sofia Prize in Spain, the highest recognition award for classical music in Europe. The Maestro was recently bestowed the title of Cavaliere Ordine della Stella d’Italia (Knight of the Order of the Star of Italia) by Italian President Sergio Mattarella.

⭐ Larissa Rena, Research Lead at Gojek
(ig: @sirewog, twitter: @sirewog)

Larissa leads Gojek’s centralized research team that supports the company objectives across multiple products, including efforts towards Gojek Sustainability Pledge 2030 (Zero Waste, Zero Emissions, Zero Barriers). While studying Interaction Design at Hong Kong PolyU, she found a home in interacting with migrant domestic workers. That experience enforced her belief that everyone deserves a decent work environment.

⭐ Ireisha Anindya, Pemuda Autisme Indonesia
(ig: @airz17, twitter: @___fleursdumal)

At Universitas Indonesia, Ireisha obtained her Master’s in Cultural Studies in 2022. A particular focus of her work is on disabled and autistic people’s bodies and how they are socially positioned as cultural sites. Currently, she is a member of Pemuda Autisme Indonesia, a group of Indonesian autistic youngsters who push for the inclusion of autism as a distinct identity. She has also written for several online media outlets.

⭐ Dian Soraya, Co-founder Anotasi.com
(ig: @diansorayar, twitter: @dsorayar)

It was after graduating from Parsons School of Design & Technology that Aya discovered her passion for narrative teaching and visual storytelling. Having been diagnosed with dyslexia, she believes visual storytelling is an excellent way to convey abstract social concept. In addition to Anotasi, Aya has a long history in UX design (for more than 10 years), and she currently serves as the UX lead at Blibli.

⭐ Annisa Beta (Moderator), Editor-inChief Anotasi.com
(ig: @annisa_beta, twitter: @annisa_beta)

Annisa is a lecturer in Cultural studies. She is teaching in School of Culture and Communication, University of Melbourne, Australia. In her work, she investigates the intersection between young adults, politics, and subjectivity. Annisa is a proponent of open access to information for all people.

You can watch our full event here, but for those of you who’d like a summary of takeaways or don’t speak Bahasa Indonesia, we’ve compiled the highlights of the talk below!

💼 Perceptions of Neurodivergent Working Professionals

The workplace unintentionally develops unspoken molds that do not necessarily fit with everyone’s preferences or ways of working. As a result, NDs are pushed to create their own avenues or outlets that can conform better to how they work.

1. The Disclosure Dilemma — As Ireisha points out, coming out may subject them to certain stigmas and labels, but not disclosing their circumstances makes it hard for workplaces to understand and accommodate certain needs and different ways of working

“What people have been sharing with me; ‘I don’t want for you to expect my performance to be less than my peers (because of my neurodiversity), just help me find the right path to empower my strengths for the best output.’”

— Larissa Rena

There are multiple concerns from neurodivergents on how people would react if they disclose their conditions in their workplace; would people think they’re being overdramatic, minimize it, or will treat them differently from that point onwards? In truth, they just want to be as productive as their peers. Everyone deserves to have a feeling of being empowered at work, and neurodivergents want to communicate that they work differently but contribute the same with the work that they do — just through different paths or methods.

2. The industry determines the way people need to work and makes it challenging to accommodate the strengths of neurodivergents — For example, Aya notes that the tech industry is very structured, which contradicts with how people with dyslexia such as herself operate. Without any other avenues towards what’s considered ‘performing well’ outside of ‘being structured’, it may make NDs that struggle with this way of working to feel inadequate at work, negatively affecting their mental health and their sense of self.

Ireisha added to this that for autistics it’s actually the opposite case, as they thrive much better with structure. This shows that even within the spectrum of neurodiversity, it’s not a one size fits all case — just like how it is with everyday folks that may have different preferences/styles when working.

“At work, I like to use the analogy that in the tech industry there has only been one ‘ruler’ used for assessment purposes. This might not cater to the diversity of people with different abilities and traits that might need a different ‘ruler’ to assess them more fittingly.”

— Dian Soraya

It’s important for every party in the workplace to have understanding because without it, there might be a gap between abilities (of neurodivergents) and expectations (from management) which might lead to the notion that ND individuals are not meeting expectations.

3. Frustration from being accepted by others leads to self-employment — A lot of people with Asperger’s Syndrome have traits and ways of thinking that don’t always conform with traditional workplaces, so they usually thrive in other less common avenues. Ananda himself is an example where he thrived in the music industry as he is able to focus on it for longer periods than others, which is one trait seen in Asperger’s. His advice for other people with Asperger’s is to create your own jobs that will conform to how you work.

“It’s ok to admit that the differences within (us) have its ups and downs, affect us and shape us.”

— Ireisha Anindya

4. Neurodivergents have the ability to see things from a different perspective

“I used to not grasp the concept of traditional money; how do they work really? With cryptocurrency, to me it’s much more clear, simple and transparent — but a lot of people actually in turn had a harder time to understand and grasp the concept.”

— Ananda Sukarlan

Neurodivergents may have different ways of thinking, but don’t label differences as weird or crazy. Without people with Asperger’s and their ideas, there might not be cryptocurrency as early as we now have it, or electric cars and rockets to Mars, and many more discoveries that now are being widely accepted and are big contributions to growth in society.

👁 Different ways of looking at Neurodiversity 👁

Take an example of a child in school; they may be assigned to draw and color the sky. The correct and commonly accepted color to use for the sky is blue, but the sky may not be blue at that moment — it could’ve been orange at dawn, or grey when it’s cloudy, etc. But a lot of society still views it from a black or white lens where there are no grey areas — it’s either right or wrong, and so NDs that may think from those grey areas are considered ‘incorrect’. — Ananda Sukarlan

👀 From an education standpoint; social values being instilled from an early age by parents and educators would be able to shape a culture that would be more open to ideas that are outside the status quo and be more accepting towards diversity in ways of thinking, working, traits, and abilities.

Someone with ADHD may be considered lazy because they can’t sit still and focus. I was considered lazy and an idiot because I struggled with mathematics in school, but considered a genius in music school during college. It’s important to acknowledge that everyone has strengths and weaknesses, including NDs that may struggle in one thing but thrive in others. — Ananda Sukarlan

👀 From a social lens; it’s important to understand that ND is just another form of diversity. It is a mindset — the way their brains are already designed, not something to cure. A lot has also associated their neurodiversity as their identity so it’s hurtful for NDs when they’re associated or labeled as an illness.

Neurodiversity is just another form of diversity. Think of it like an operating system; Android and iOS both have their own strengths and weaknesses but it doesn’t mean one is ‘less’ than the other. — Dian Soraya

Even for neurodivergents, it may be a challenge in their journey of trying to understand their conditions better because of the lack of experts in that field. Aya shared the journey and struggle she did to try and find experts that can help explain her dyslexia and how to best amplify its strengths.

It was impactful when I learned more about my dyslexia; about its strengths, its creativity, its abilities for abstract thinking. — Dian Soraya

👀 From a holistic lens; it’s important to account both the medical and social perspectives as a collective experience from a neurodivergent, and peel deeper into its meaning beyond a ‘medical term’.

💭 An analogy that may help neurotypicals from Larissa; take an example of someone with an allergy to nuts. From a medical perspective, we may look at how to ‘treat/cure’ it, or how to intervene medically. But from a social/environmental perspective, there are systems to implement, such as disclosing nuts as an ingredient on menus, where it allows people with nut allergies to avoid their ‘triggers’ and hence can carry out their meals just as any other person.

👔 Neurodivergents entering the job market

Interviews are a two-way street, so you should use that opportunity to assess how the company might accommodate your diversity within the workplace.

— Larissa Rena

With the job market becoming more and more competitive, job seeking is a huge challenge and it extends even more as a neurodivergent. Conventional job interviews might not be a forte for some, and to Aya’s experience, she struggles working together with her memory and at times perceived as inexperienced. From a neurodivergent perspective, having a better understanding of your neurodiversity and its strengths and weaknesses would allow you to better prepare and anticipate scenarios you may encounter.

From a managerial perspective, Larissa encourages applicants to start or welcome the dialogue about neurodiversity to assess whether it’s a topic the hiring manager knows about, or if they don’t — whether it’s something they would be keen on learning more about and take into account within the workplace. Ask about the state of diversity in the office, what’s been a focus for the company, and what programs are offered to support its employees

Actionable ways we can start to encourage more inclusivity for Neurodivergents in the workplace

LARISSA RENA:

When I shared on IG that I’m going to be in this event covering this topic, I have already gotten a few of my co-workers that reached out to me to share that they are actually neurodivergents and from there, continue to share more about their experiences and perspectives. — Larissa Rena

  • Start by bringing the topic into the room to encourage more discussions and awareness
  • Provide consultations from experts for neurodivergents to understand themselves better, and also for management and peers to better accommodate and empower them in the workplace
  • Realize that everyone can benefit from addressing the needs for neurodivergents.

DIAN SORAYA:

Just as within the tech industry there are different creative styles with different types of approaches from a creative person, do the same for neurodiversity (and acknowledge that diversity as something to accommodate and empower) — Dian Soraya

For leaders and policymakers:

  • Open the discussion and educate yourself about the different working styles of NDs
  • Create a safe space for people to disclose their different abilities
  • Office buddy programs when onboarding new employees
  • Hire NDs in the management team
  • Learn from successful case studies from other companies that have already implemented good practices

For individuals:

  • Educate yourself; find good things that may act as trade-offs for your weaknesses
  • Educate your support systems
  • Educate your workplace

ANANDA SUKARLAN:

Educate the people around us, opening their eyes to the existence of differences and its power.

NDs are not born into this world to become burdens to the world. As an example, without Elon Musk we wouldn’t think we’d be going to mars, or having electric cars. — Ananda Sukarlan

IREISHA ANINDYA:

Equality is not to enforce the same thing to everyone, but rather embracing diversity and its differences. — Ireisha Anindya

Try to find a variety of diverse perspectives from all spectrums of neurodivergents and learn from them to get a better understanding of how their perspectives are, and how diverse the spectrum is within neurodiversity.

💬 Final thoughts from panel speakers

Dare to be different — a lot of people laugh at me because I’m different. I laugh at them because they’re all the same — Ananda Sukarlan

We should support inclusivity not because of charity (where it hints at one party that’s considered to be ‘below/lower in position’), but rather to enlighten self-interest because everyone will have their own vulnerabilities that the system doesn’t accommodate. So pay it forward when others need support, in the hope that your needs would also be.

And embrace differences, nothing is better or less — just everyone having their own roles within society and that’s where everyone can focus to play a role in. — Larissa Rena

I hope this can spark more discussions and involve many more fellow NDs with a variety of conditions and backgrounds. — Ireisha Anindya

Aside from understanding neurodiversity better, it’s also important to prioritize mental health — for both NDs and their support systems. Embrace the discomfort as well, it’s a long journey towards getting to know yourself better so it’s important to prioritize mental health for the long run.

Realize that when you design for neurodivergents, you design for all minds. — Dian Soraya

Check out our live site to start your journey of Understanding Neurodiversity, and check out the resources we’ve compiled in our Neurodiversity Virtual Space as well. Try to bring up this discussion around you, where you work, and spark more awareness to allow a more diverse-friendly and inclusive workplace.

We are continuously building our resource bank on inclusivity and neurodiversity so be sure to check out our social media for your daily dose of insights, and subscribe to our mailing list to get updates on our upcoming events in the future, first-hand sneak peek into our contents and resources.

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