'Go all in on understanding how to make your workplace neuro-inclusive'

The Digital Picnic covers costs of autism, ADHD assessments for employees

'Go all in on understanding how to make your workplace neuro-inclusive'

This year, marketing agency The Digital Picnic (TDP) announced it will be covering all costs of autism and ADHD assessments for employees to create a more neuro-inclusive workplace.

In what TPD describes as an Australian first, the new policy will cover the costs of the assessments – which can cost upwards of $2000 – as part of its yearly professional development budget.

Cherie Clonan, CEO of TDP, told HRD Australia the new program stemmed from her own lived experience as an autistic woman.

“I'm also raising two autistic children and I just started to look at how settings approach my children,” she said. “So let's look at the school setting, for example. When that school learns that they're both autistic, they're like, ‘Great, let's talk about accommodations, how we can make the setting work better for them’. They like to see as much paperwork as they can so that they can see that list of things that will really help them individually thrive.

“And I just thought, when do we stop doing this? Because autistic children grow into autistic adults. And why are workplaces not doing the same thing? Why are we not saying, ‘Let's talk about your neurodivergent brain and a different series of accommodations that might help you thrive in this workplace’.”

Implementing a neuro-inclusive policy

Another major reason why Clonan decided to create the new policy was because she recognised she had a largely neurodivergent team.

“I want to make sure that I can do the very best and just keep making the most neuro-inclusive decisions I can possibly make for all of them,” she said.

Clonan explained that if an employee is curious about exploring the new policy, they can flag it with their direct manager or anyone they felt comfortable discussing it with.

“It’s very discreet,” she said. “They can pick any provider they prefer – we never want them to think that this has been linked up to something that we would track in any way shape or form. We do recommend [some providers] – only because we know how important neuro-affirming providers are – so we can give a list of recommendations for them.”

Once an employee goes through that process, they will be given a roughly four-page report, Clonan said. But they don’t have to share any of those results.

“Usually only the last two pages is… full of workplace recommendations that an allied health professional has made for that person and it really helps us design the best environment for them,” she said. “And the accommodations are so simple and I would argue really bare minimum but it just helps them feel seen, celebrated, accommodated for.”

Clonan added that the new policy will help with retention.

“It will help them feel like they're in a place that really wants to make sure that their brain is celebrated here and we work around what they need to thrive,” she said.

Going through the ADHD, autism assessment process

Some of TPD’s employees have already taken up the assessment and while there is no obligation for them to share their results, Clonan has seen some positive outcomes.

“It’s been such a neuro-affirming process because the providers they're working with really focus on all of their neurodivergent strengths,” she said.

“I honestly would say it's a really healing experience, especially for our late-diagnosed folk who spend such a long time with those allied health professionals and really deeply learning themselves and celebrating their strengths. They walk taller, you can see the obvious difference and it just makes me feel really, really proud.”  

That’s in contrast to the negative experiences some of her employees faced at previous workplaces.

“We do experience a lot of people coming to us who've been heavily discriminated within performance reviews, blocked from receiving promotions, sometimes even performance managed,” she said. “And here at The Digital Picnic, I haven't seen any performance issues because it's very different when you've got an ability to put a neuro-affirming lens on everything and lean into their neurodivergent strengths.

“And as a result, there's been multiple promotions, very long-term highs…and really incredible career pathways.”

How employers can be neuro-inclusive

For businesses or HR teams who may want to embark on creating a more neuro-inclusive workplace but are concerned about “getting something wrong”, Clonan encouraged them to keep trying.

“As long as you just commit to wanting to do better and just recognise in the early days of trying to become more neuroinclusive, you're going to make some mistakes,” she said. “But the very best start would be to have folks with lived experience within your senior leadership team, especially in the places that influence the processes the most around hiring, retention, and so on. Because those people can fluently read what might be misinterpreted in the workplace as being something different.

“But beyond that, I would encourage most people to consider upskilling. And I would genuinely encourage people to pick providers who've got the lived experience of neurodivergency.”

Clonan further described the benefits of a neuro-inclusive workplace, highlighting that neurodivergent strengths can play well in many roles.

“I would implore other settings to really go all in on understanding how to make your workplace neuro-inclusive, because the minute you do, you will continue to attract and retain neurodivergent employees because they feel genuinely psychologically safe at your workplace,” she said.

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