How to improve your communication so that it hits neurodiverse targets

8 Jun 2024

One of my goals during the past year was to work on my communication skills each day. I worked on writing, speaking and or listening everyday. Even though I was working to improve my communication skills as a neurodiverse person, daily I was also facing situations in which other people could have done better honing their message to me. This article illustrates some ways your message can be more clear for others.

I know certain things are hard for me communication wise. It's part of the baggage I am carrying as a neurodiverse person. Much of my life I did not know I had this problem. I want to share these helpful thoughts so that others can use to more clearly communicate positive messages with neurodiverse people.

There are 3 areas I feel it can be a struggle to receive communication:

  • Finding out things “through the grapevine”

If your organization is relying heavily on implied messages or verbal communication about important topics, there is a good chance this information will never reach some of your employees or members. It may not seem immediately clear, but many people have different preferences for how they pick up information (similarly related to the book The 5 Love Languages). To reach more people your communication styles for sending your message should be more inclusive and more explicit. Maybe there can be a written notice as well as a verbal statement when you need to communicate important information in some cases. One thing I learned while in the workplace is that many people never correct their vision and they actually cannot read small print very well. You might be trying to primarily communicate in writing with a neurotypical person who actually can’t read your microscopic print on your memo.

  • Relying on picking up only social cues to understand social situations

Sometimes people with neurodiverse traits are never invited to the social situations where information is exchanged. You could be making important decisions around the water cooler or during an informal lunch gathering when half your team is actually there. Because sometimes people with fewer social abilities have fewer opportunities to practice social skills, it might be harder for them to pick up social cues even if they are trying. Making the opportunities to meet together more obvious can help. This might include having an open office hour for team members to talk to managers.

  • People assume I should just “know” or “Why don’t you just get it?”

No matter how frustrated you are with someone, yelling at them and telling them “You don’t have any social skills” is a failure on your part. You are struggling to communicate and send your message, the other neurodiverse person is having trouble receiving your message. Yelling at the person you are intending to influence positively is the opposite of communication.  Do you want the neurodiverse person to change and see your point of view? Telling them they are deficient does not help because they are generally really trying their best. If you are feeling frustrated with a neurodiverse person, back up and find patience first. This is worth it even if you don’t want to keep a relationship with them because people never remember what you say, they remember how you make them feel.

Recently, I was a newcomer in a social club where some of these areas of weakness forced me to stop participating. The social club was focused on providing fundraising support to a nonprofit in my community. They did not hold regular monthly meetings to disseminate information, but instead relied on committee leaders to share important info. This implicit way of sharing information was very difficult for me. A friend in the group had to keep me updated on important things via text on occasion. Additionally, they relied heavily on email blasts to share information. I noticed that I could not find important emails when I needed information. I was assigned to 4 committees when I was only supposed to be on one. I did not know who my point person was for any of the committees I was in until one of the senior leaders in the club noticed I was not participating in any of the committees I had been assigned. We had a deliverable to create a fundraising gala with the help of all the committees. I noticed many of the senior leaders of the social club working on things, but I could not tell what would be the most helpful for my contribution. I did not feel I was developing any useful skills and I felt I was disappointing people. Most of the time I felt I was confused about my role and when I tried to reach out for help, people were too busy to explain or I was calling at a bad time. Having a means of asynchronous communication (my posting a message that I did not understand)  would have been better than requiring synchronous communication (my having to call someone to explain if I did not understand)

What would have helped

  1. Using slack or discord server to share information and to connect people

If you have a slack or discord server, there would have been several options for methods of communication for people struggling with gaining information.  Senior leaders that wanted to share information more clearly would be able to.  Rather than pushing information out in email blasts the information could be pulled from the slack or discord when people needed it. An example would be posting the information about the required dress code for the gala in a slack channel so that many people could access it when they needed rather than finding out about the dress code “through the grapevine.” The pinterest page for gala dressing ideas that was created could have been posted so that everyone would have had access to it at the same time and months in advance.

  1. A buddy system for sharing information and orienting new members

Because I was a new person to this group and they had recently changed many of the requirements to participate, I would have been well served if I had a veteran member of the group be my buddy and help explain requirements to me as they came up. I have had a buddy in another social group when I was new and it made a considerable difference to have one friendly person in the group that I knew or who might answer questions. Even if the buddy is not very active or helpful, as long as they are “good enough” to explain some concepts or social faux paus it might help some neurodiverse individuals save face.

  1. Being more forgiving with meeting requirements for new members

I found the social group I was in struggled to keep me engaged because of the aforementioned reasons, I had trouble finding the meetings I did get to attend very helpful or productive and my engagement slid downhill. I found that the way I was being communicated with distracted me from helping achieve the deliverable of creating a fundraising gala and even made me dread participating in the group. If it had not been for one of the group members occasionally texting me to remind me about where I was supposed to be, I don’t think I would have lasted the 10 months I did in the group.

Your neurodiverse coworkers and community members are trying very hard to build a communication bridge to you! Many of them already know they struggle with this. My only suggestion: Meet them halfway. Use some of these ideas to build out your communication so that it can be used and digested by more people and so that you can keep more of your talent engaged.