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Including Neurodivergent Workers: Workspace, Work Schedules and Other Accommodations

A supportive work environment can be helpful for all employees, including neurodivergent workers.

Learn more about creating work environments that are supportive and welcoming to neurodivergent employees. This might include changes to workspace or schedule, providing accommodations such as the ability to telework, and other employment-related supports.

Providing supportive and reasonable workplace accommodations can help ensure positive and productive experiences for neurodivergent workers. Employers should begin by conferring with each worker about their specific access needs. Many neurodivergent people may explicitly know what can help them be most productive in a workspace, although some people may need more guidance.

Even if the employee does not have specific suggestions for accommodations, it is important to work collaboratively to help find solutions for potential issues. Employers can connect with specialists at JAN to brainstorm ideas for work supports and accommodations. Providing clear job expectations and working together to determine which accommodations to implement can help workers meet expectations.

The need to tailor supports and accommodations to fit each worker means that a “one-size-fits-all” model would not work for all employees with disabilities, including neurodivergent workers. However, broad enhancements to workplaces can help lift up neurodivergent employees and drive their work success. You can learn more from EARN’s resources on creating inclusive workplaces and retention strategies.

Some changes may need to be made to in-person office settings. For instance, open office spaces can frequently pose challenges for workers who have sensory processing needs, among others. Employers may often find it best to set aside a designated quiet area of the office to work or a single office with a door. Alternatively, or in addition, employers can ensure that their neurodivergent workers have access to noise-cancelling headphones to help reduce sound distractions. In some workplaces, workers may find that listening to music can help increase focus for certain tasks and reduce distractions.

Many neurodivergent people may also be sensitive to other stimuli in workspaces, such as bright lights and major temperature changes, including intense heat. They may request adjustments to the office environment to reduce the impact of these sensory challenges. For example, employers can install overhead LED lighting and lighting systems that allow for adjustments to the brightness or allow workers to change the temperature on the office’s thermostat as needed. The Job Accommodation Network offers suggestions for low-cost adjustments that can support neurodivergent employees.

Employers may also need to make adjustments to workplace health and safety protocols, such as those regarding the use of personal protective equipment (e.g., masks) during public health emergencies like the COVID-19 pandemic. The pandemic helped illustrate the need for considering access needs of workers with disabilities, including neurodivergent people, during emergencies. Employers should ensure that their plans for emergency readiness (including preparing for natural disasters) and resources and processes for health emergencies include access needs and supports for all workers with disabilities. Employers, service providers and others can learn more about how to support access needs and prepare for emergencies from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). HHS’ National Advisory Committee on Individuals with Disabilities and Disasters was created in 2022 to support and enhance public health and medical preparedness, response and recovery activities to meet the unique needs of people with disabilities.

Many neurodivergent people thrive in teleworking environments or hybrid setups that combine remote and in-person work. Where possible, consider access to part- or full-time telework for neurodivergent workers—depending on the job duties, workers’ work preferences and access needs. Remote work can also be a reasonable accommodation. Access to telework can fuel success for some neurodivergent people because they achieve greater productivity at home or while working in another remote workspace. They may also find they can better address their access needs in these remote workspaces.

Other neurodivergent workers may prefer to work in person on a full-time or part-time basis. In all cases, employers should think strategically about workspaces that can best help their neurodivergent workers succeed and foster health and wellness and wellbeing. Learn more on our page about workplace flexibility.

While exploring work supports, employers should explicitly consider schedules and flexibility. Neurodivergent workers may benefit from clear priorities and developed habits and routines. Well-structured work environments can include assisting with organizing priorities for work tasks, breaking tasks into smaller steps, and giving clear guidelines and times for breaks and lunches.

Other examples of common workplace supports and accommodations for neurodivergent employees include:
  • Flexible workdays and hours to maximize "peak performance"
  • Written, emailed or recorded instructions that can be referenced later
  • Fragrance-free environments for sensory sensitivity
  • Visual task lists with images to provide examples of work at various stages and image-based calendars to mark projected milestones
  • Backup plans to help eliminate the stress of unscheduled or last-minute changes
  • Advance preparation of workers for major schedule changes, such as office retreats or training session days
  • Workplace etiquette and guides for workplace communication
Implementing these types of supports and accommodations in the workplace does not require lowering performance standards for workers or eliminating the essential duties and functions of a job. Instead, it means modifying the work environment or enhancing the way to perform and complete tasks in a manner than can help workers successfully perform their job duties. For more information about workplace accommodations for neurodivergent employees, including autistic workers, visit the Job Accommodation Network.

Neurodivergent workers may need assistance with key activities that relate to work, such as finding accessible transportation to travel to and from an office or other jobsite and suitable housing near their jobs. Employee assistance programs and workplace benefits programs can often help neurodivergent workers with these needs. A workplace mentor or “buddy” can also provide some guidance or help with navigating needed resources. Some organizations may work with external programs to help neurodivergent workers and others meet their access needs.

Forming a partnership with a service provider can help employers both support their current neurodivergent employees, as well as identify, attract, recruit and hire qualified candidates. In the case of travel to work, some companies work with service providers to provide shuttle services. These shuttle services may benefit all workers, including neurodivergent people who may lack driver’s licenses and other workers who may find it stressful to drive to work.

All workers, including neurodivergent people, can benefit from access to enhanced mental health support. Neurodivergent people commonly face major work and life stressors, and they frequently have mental health conditions. However, many existing mental health programs are not fully accessible for neurodivergent people because these programs have often not considered their access needs. This situation is changing as employers and communities think differently about how to provide mental health supports and services that can fit diverse needs.

Employers should make sure to include explicit information about their mental health resources, programs and benefits when onboarding their new employees. Where possible, they should strive to choose mental health providers that have experience working with neurodivergent people. They should also explore ways to help employees navigate the process to select their health insurance coverage and understand benefits of different plans. Learn more about workplace mental health support in EARN’s Mental Health Toolkit.

Remember to avoid promoting myths and stereotypes about which types of work individual neurodivergent people can perform, their talents and skills and possible challenges they may have with tasks, such as communication and working with others (AKA “soft skills”). Consider that neurodivergent people can also vary in the supports they may need, if any, for activities such as commuting, work travel, supervision, organization and time management. Each neurodivergent worker will have their own access and support needs, which may also change over time, including under periods of high stress or life challenges. When equipped with the right supports, neurodivergent workers can perform their jobs well.

Finally, actively invite management to support workers as they advocate for and ask for supports that would enhance their productivity and wellbeing at work. Some neurodivergent people may hesitate to bring up and discuss their access needs. Creating a supportive and inclusive workplace culture can help ensure neurodivergent workers can perform their best on the job. These efforts can also demonstrate a commitment to creating a disability-inclusive workplace culture.