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Continuing the Conversation
Thoughts and Tools about EDI 
                                                             Aug. 27, 2021
EDItorial: How to support neurodivergent colleagues

When former EDI Program Manager Amanda Robinson approached me about discussing my neurodiversity, I shut her down immediately. Our friendship developed over her time at CDHS and my-best kept secret was revealed when I realized she truly wanted to be an ally to people who are deemed “different.” So, here’s the secret: I am on the autism spectrum. I also live with severe post-traumatic stress disorder and have a pretty advanced obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). After years of navigating the workforce as a “normal” person, a simple “tic” unraveled my well-kept secret. Amanda pointed out that we share an affinity for organizing our documents in the same way and mentioned it was a symptom of her OCD. We bonded and, over time, more details about my neurodivergence emerged. 

I choose to hide my neurodiversity. I realize it is an incredible display of privilege to be able to hide my differences and blend in with everyone else. Years of being in neurotypical settings and being in a family full of neurotypicals helped me develop a “mask” that helps me blend in. I learned to mimic and hide well because we are all judged by our perceived differences, and I wanted the same chances as everyone else. I have never revealed any of my diagnoses in the workplace, and that has been incredibly difficult throughout my career. Also, after years of being accommodated in schools, I wanted the chance to be included based on merit and not because I check a diversity box. I also didn’t want to hear the whispers from teammates about my differences or to be treated differently by anyone I work with.    

So, you’re probably wondering why I was asked to write out my story: We talked about the ways I am challenged by the workplace because of my differences. While it is very scary for me to reveal these experiences, I know that those of you who want to advocate and support your neurodivergent colleagues can benefit from my story. So, here we go.

Advocate and support your neurodivergent colleagues 
  • Tapping, clicking, crinkling, smacking: As a person who has many fidget techniques to discharge anxious energy in meetings, I absolutely understand people’s need to self-soothe. Excessively tapping or clicking your pens, crinkling food wrappers or scrap paper, chewing gum or snacks loudly, or shaking your foot or leg, etc., are all painfully disruptive to someone like me. To me, it feels like that game I used to play with my siblings, “I’m not touching you,” where they would do everything possible to annoy you, but would never directly touch you. Logically, I understand that it is not a personal attack, but my perception can’t differentiate. When I notice these fidgets in meetings, I can be completely derailed from that task or message. If you are looking to be more sensitive to everyone, develop fidget techniques that are silent so they don’t distract anyone else. It’s a minor change, but it can make a world of difference. 

  • Perfume and strong smells: Pleasant or unpleasant  —I don’t want to smell you. There are so many smells that I am sensitive to and have spent my life avoiding, and many of them converge in workplaces. I know that perfumes and colognes are linked to cleanliness, but it mostly just triggers headaches and nausea for people like me. If you are able, please use less perfume, scented lotion and scented soap to limit the smells you contribute to the environment. Also, your delicious meals might have an offensive smell to your colleagues. I love pretty much all food, but if I’m in the room while someone is eating reheated salmon, I will have to leave. There are people with dietary restrictions, sensory sensitivities and allergies that could be negatively affected by the foods you bring into the office. Please be considerate of your coworkers when you decide what scents you bring to the office. 

  • Handshakes, hugs, fist bumps: No, thank you. One of the major aspects of my OCD is that I worry constantly about germs. If I try to explain that to a stranger or teammate, they will interpret that as me calling them “germy” or dirty. I am embarrassed to have to give the real explanation and they are embarrassed by the implication. If I’m forced to shake hands because of professional decorum, I will always find a way to wash my hands shortly thereafter. In the rare cases I’ve not been able to wash my hands, I have been known to break out in hives because of the stress. It probably doesn’t make sense to most of you, but it’s the way I live every day. It is important for many people with neurodivergence to be able to exercise control over their bodies. Forced touching is really uncomfortable and removes that control. If COVID taught us anything, it’s that we can absolutely navigate without excessively touching acquaintances. So, in the spirit of inclusion, I suggest we extend that indefinitely. It would go a long way in helping employees temper their anxiety about germs and personal space. There are so many ways to demonstrate respect, we should retire handshaking in favor of a more modern approach.
As my final thought, I’m going to share a wildly unpopular opinion. COVID regulations were a blessing. I was able to control my environment and exposure to germs and sensory triggers every day for the past 16 months. To put it into perspective, this last year was the first time I felt “normal” in society because everyone was concerned with cleanliness, personal space and the ways their actions help others feel safe and included. If the past year, wearing a mask, washing your hands compulsively, staying in your house, and avoiding your “normal” activities made you uncomfortable. You got a glimpse into my daily life. I know many of you found it difficult, and I hope you will use that discomfort to grow your empathy for those of us who have always needed to live this way.

A neurodivergent CDHS staff member 
Join the Office of Economic Security on EDI journey

Equity, diversity and inclusion (EDI) is a journey, so when the Office of Economic Security (OES) Committee decided to create an EDI resource library, they thought it made sense to take people on a visual journey. “We didn’t want it to look like a list,” OES Marketing and Communications Specialist John Rosa said. 

And it doesn’t. The “My EDI Journey” resource library instead resembles a community. There’s a bookstore, which includes recommended books, novels and short stories; a university with lectures, reports and TED Talks; a library with websites and resources; a cinema with movies and videos; and a newsstand with articles, newsletters and blogs. Looking for a local minority-owned business? You can find it in the dining section. And the playground includes sensory-sensitive experiences like the Westminster Sensory Park. View the full graphic and resource library here or by clicking on the image above. 

About 12 people are part of the OES EDI Committee, including OES Director Ki’i Powell and Rosa. Carisa Clinton and Janet Mickish are the group’s co-chairs. “This is a very genuine movement,” Rosa said. “This group is very passionate and really dedicated to the EDI journey we’re taking.” 

Is your division, office of team doing something creative or impactful with EDI? We'd love to hear about it! Share it with us by emailing the EDI inbox
The Belonging Project Book Club

The Belonging Project Book Club invites all employees to discuss "Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn't Designed for You" by Jenara Nerenberg from 1-2 p.m. today. While this book focuses on neurodivergent women — those with autism, ADHD, synesthesia and other sensory processing differences — it is also more broadly applicable to all genders and explores ways we can all  understand our fundamental differences.

Sign up to join the conversation >>
Share your story

The Belonging Project wants to hear from you! We’re looking for contributors to share their expertise and experiences. Just as our experiences are different, so are the ways we choose to express them. Writing an article or poem, sharing artwork or creating a video are just a few ways you can share your perspective. If you’d like to contribute to one of the monthly themes below, let us know >> 

●  September: Latinx and Hispanic heritage 
●  October: Disability awareness
●  November: Indigenous heritage
●  December: Classism and poverty
How to get involved

Want to get more involved in EDI at CDHS? Check out the links below!

Equity, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) Committee, dedicated to exploring and advancing EDI at CDHS

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The Belonging Project

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This EDI publication is the product of the tremendous effort and dedication of passionate CDHS employees across the organization. Your feedback is always welcome. 

We’d also love to hear how your divisions, offices and teams are using EDI to create a more inclusive environment that celebrates diversity and creates a sense of belonging. Please direct any updates, questions or comments to the EDI inbox.
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