S2E9: Neurodivergence and autism at Work: Unpicking the Challenges and Triumphs

Understanding neurodivergence and autism at work is not just about knowing the term, it’s about experiencing the journey, the challenges, and the triumphs. This is what we explore in our enlightening podcast episode, “Stepping Into the Shoes of Neurodivergence: Shea’s Journey Through the Corporate World.”

Shea, an autistic and neurodivergent individual from Boston, shares their experiences of navigating the corporate world. Their story gives us a glimpse into the day-to-day experiences of a neurodivergent person in a traditional nine-to-five job. The discussions revolve around various aspects, from interpreting sarcasm and the importance of respectful communication to the potential biases that neurodivergent people may face in the workplace.

Neurodivergence is often overlooked in the corporate world, but understanding it can lead to positive changes. We delve into the potential bias that exists and how it can create roadblocks for neurodivergent individuals. It’s crucial to address these biases, as they often limit the potential of neurodivergent individuals, particularly in the engineering industry.

The episode also introduces MENTRA, a company dedicated to helping neurodivergent individuals find their place in the corporate world. The founders of MENTRA, Angelica and Conor, were not diagnosed as neurodivergent until after they founded the company. This leads us to a significant discussion on the potential for a late diagnosis of neurodivergence and the reasons why it can happen.

A critical part of the episode is understanding the concept of a color wheel to understand neurodiversity and the complexities of the spectrum. We explore the various experiences of being neurodivergent and how to adjust to a virtual environment. We also examine how to be a better leader when managing a team with a neurodivergent individual and the potential resources available to support their success.

Shea’s insights not only highlight the challenges but also the often-overlooked potential of neurodivergent individuals. Their experiences and insights are a testament to the immense potential and capabilities of neurodivergent individuals. It’s a call for action, a challenge to break out of the stereotypes and misconceptions we may unconsciously hold.

This episode is more than just a conversation; it’s a journey into a world you may not know as well as you think. It’s about enlightening, challenging, and inspiring listeners to understand and accommodate neurodivergent individuals in the corporate world. So, join us in this enlightening journey as we step into the shoes of a neurodivergent individual navigating the corporate world.

Neurodiversity in the workplace
Neurodiversity in the workplace

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Nicola: Okay, let’s try again. Shea, would you like to tell us who you are and where you’re from?

Shea Belsky: Thanks so much for having me. I’m super excited to talk about neurodiversity in the workplace, what it means to be autistic in a working environment, and how much of a fun time, how much of an interesting time and how much of a challenging time it is being neurodivergent and more broadly disabled in a traditional nine to five corporate job. I currently live outside of Boston Massachusetts in the United States. I live with my fiance and two cats. The cat might come up and say hi in the microphone at any point, so be prepared to hear him meow at some point.

Nicola: I am so excited about this episode. I think this is gonna be a really, really interesting episode because I think this is kind of the first time that we’re deep diving into this topic, and I think-.

Gina: With someone who identifies as neurodivergent. We’ve had people tell their stories and say I think my coworker might have been neurodivergent because they acted like X, y and Z, and there were a few. There was a few incidents where we were like mm, doesn’t sound like that to us, like you’re probably the problem. But then there was a couple that I think Nicola and I were like yeah, something sounds a little off there. I wonder what it was Like. We’re not doctors, obviously we’re not handing out diagnoses, but so I think it’s gonna be really interesting to hear from an actual person.

Nicola: An actual person.

Shea Belsky: A real human.

Gina: Are you actually a person or are you-?

Shea Belsky: I hope I’m a real person, unless you’re dressed in a flesh suit. I have the burn marks and the cuts and the scabbed over pimples and scribes to prove the fact that I’m human.

Gina: All right, we’ll give it to you. You’re an actual person.

Shea Belsky: Thank you for the accomplishment. The achievement, I’ll put it on my way board.

Nicola: Put it on your LinkedIn profile. I’m an actual person.

Shea Belsky: An actual, real human being, certified 2023. Organic, a little more of a classic.

Nicola: I’m curious to know, like as we kind of head into this podcast, because obviously I’m hoping that you’re gonna share a little bit of your neurodiversity, and you’ve mentioned that you’re autistic as well I’m curious to know, and maybe you can elaborate on this a little bit. For me, sarcasm is our second language, gina and I.

Shea Belsky: How are you with?

Nicola: sarcasm 50-50.

Shea Belsky: If it’s really obvious, I’ll pick up on it. If it’s subtle, it might fly over my head, okay. So I would say, give it a try.

Gina: I feel like I’m right there with you with the subtlety. Sometimes I’m like I’ll think about it after and I’ll be like wait, is that a joke or not? Like I can’t tell.

Shea Belsky: I won’t be hurt if something comes up as our casting ticket seriously, and then I’m embarrassed, like it just happens to me some often where it doesn’t bother me at this point. So, like we’ll give it a whirl and if it comes up in a conversation then we’ll just have fun with it and we’ll just fly up and see them in our pants. I’m not worried.

Nicola: All right cool, I’m used to it, so do you want to?

Gina: Go ahead.

Nicola: Nicole, do you want to tell us a little bit about your neurodiversity and your kind of? Because I know autism is a bit on a scale, so do you want to explain some of yours to us?

Shea Belsky: Yeah, so I am diagnosed with autism. A long time ago, the official diagnosis was Asperger’s. As of right now, the diagnosis of Asperger’s isn’t given out anymore. It’s just referred to as autism spectrum disorder. So if somebody says that they are autistic or they have Asperger’s, they can refer to the same thing. But not all people who are autistic have Asperger’s. Like, if you have Asperger’s, the current medical definition is autistic, but you being autistic is not guaranteed that you were at one point diagnosed with Asperger’s. To make things simpler, I just say I’m autistic. There’s nothing wrong with people using that language if they choose to do so, but people really have different preferences for how they choose to describe it. So, honestly, it’s just a matter of asking the person how they refer to themselves. I say I’m autistic, but if someone wants to say that they have Asperger’s, there’s nothing wrong with them doing that. I’m not going to give someone a hard time over it.

Gina: Yeah, so, just so we get a full, accurate background, can you tell us how and you don’t have to if you don’t want to but can you tell us how the diagnosis came about a long time ago?

Shea Belsky: Many moons ago, when you still were an actual person. Well, it was many moons ago, but I think that’s what makes it, I would say honestly, more unique in that sense, most of the people who I know are either self-diagnosed or receive a diagnosis into their later years if they were an adult or more like a teenager. I had a diagnosis from a very early point in my life. I was about two or three years old. My grandma on my mom’s side and my aunt on my mom’s side both worked in the school system and they were around me often enough to say to my mom hey, shea isn’t developing the way that he’s supposed to at his age. We recommend getting him checked out by a professional. And then they did. And then I got a diagnosis with Asperger’s at the time, autism, about two or three years old, and for most people that’s not how it goes.

05:50: It varies a lot by gender, by race, by sexuality, like a lot of the research out there about autism and their diversity is, to be honest, mostly about white men like myself, and autism in women is grossly underdiagnosed. It doesn’t mean that women have autism less often. It means that the science is not, I would say, where it’s supposed to be when it comes to autism, and that is trending in our positive direction, where it is starting to equalize out. It’s not perfect, but we are starting to see more incidences of women getting diagnosed. It’s not because autism is growing like a COVID variant would. It’s because the science is getting better and the social situations and scenarios surrounding women getting a diagnosis in the first place are getting better. And that also applies to race as well. We’re seeing more, more non-white people get diagnoses because the science and the social scenario around it is getting a lot better, around that even being a possibility.

Gina: That’s interesting, yeah, okay, so are you gonna tell us? So I know that you’re right now. You’re basically an entrepreneur, right, so you’re working on something that’s kind of linked with your disability, but and I’m sure we’re gonna get to that as you tell your story but when did you really feel like was there a work situation where you really felt like was not handled properly in terms of your disability, or you weren’t given the opportunity to speak freely or anything like that? I think there was one, right From whatever.

Shea Belsky: I remember yeah. So and in my time going for different internships and full-time jobs and stuff, my last internship coming out of university, it was a very high stress, high velocity, high everything environment I’m not gonna name names, but it was a very fast-paced tech company Pick any of the ones that are out there and I’m sure you can guess and in that kind of environment I was basically like just barely getting by in terms of what was expected of me, how much I was expected to know off the top of my head and how hard I was to expect it to work. A lot of what was going on was just me not always being able to read between the lines or get into really subtle details about things or ask for help. I was kind of rabbit-holing myself down different paths of work and I wasn’t in an environment where I felt that I had the support that I needed to sort of like pull me out of that rabbit hole and give me a reality check in a way that I felt was respectful, because the way that the feedback sometimes came across was more admonishing not in fantasizing but more disrespectful.

09:17: I think the mental experience for me would have been night and day in terms of what I worked on.

10:07: I was close to the bottom of the ladder, bottom of the food pyramid. So, of all that being said, I think it could have gone a lot differently and more supportive in that department. At the same time, though, I was still at a point in my own journey but neurodiversity where how much of this am I expected to know? How much, how aware of it do I need to be to get by? And in that moment I realized I kind of have to stick up for myself because it doesn’t look like anybody else is going to, and that really sort of changed how I thought about it going forward.

Gina: Okay, that’s interesting. So so I think the question is, when do you know when to disclose? What are the like, the perfect circumstances where you’re, like, I feel comfortable to disclose this is, you know, in a workplace or even in the interview process? I mean, is that something you should bring up during your interview process, like, how does that work?

Shea Belsky: So, coming out of that internship experience, that really changed when and where I did it. Going forward, to answer your question, my opinion now and I believe this would be really true is that you should disclose pretty early on in the interview process. We’re sort of a lot of benefits. My belief is that by disclosing disability, whether it’s invisible is this a case for me or not?

13:59: I’m not a forintative. I can’t like speak to whether or not that’s legal or not. I think my understanding of my next question is it’s just meant for, like reporting purposes. It is not meant to bias you in the interview process, but from my personal perspective I don’t believe that to be true. Could be coincidence, could be a pattern. I’m just here to say that I saw it as a pattern of a sample size of 100.

Gina: That you witnessed that, yeah, and then even further on in you go, I was gonna say and like, for every time you didn’t, you got a rejection or you didn’t hear back from the people you tracked, like how do you know if it was specifically because of that Like? And especially now in this day and age, you know they usually have like somebody like a program. They run resumes through a program and if you don’t have like a certain amount of the keywords that are looking for, it’s automatically rejected. It’s like before anyone, anyone sees anything else. So there’s an argument to say that it wasn’t because of that and maybe your resume just didn’t hit on those keywords. But you don’t feel that way, right?

Shea Belsky: But the sample size of 50, I find it unlikely, not impossible. It could be that I didn’t have what these companies are looking for, and it’s completely a valid argument in my opinion, with a sample size of 50 companies where that happened. I don’t know how much I buy that, but it’s certainly a possibility that we just didn’t have the skills that these companies were looking for. Time 50.

16:36: I would definitely say that when talking to a human, seeing how they spoke with me, talked about me, maybe they asked about my neurodiversity or something, whatever it was that is where I saw more of the human element, more of how people may be biased for or against or impivalent towards people who are neurodivergent, and it really does come down to what. Do they know about some autism and are they going to project that onto me?

Gina: Right.

Nicola: So and I’m pretty confident that you’re talking to a network of people that are in a similar situation to you, where there’s neurodiversity and there’s potentially autism or the raft of things that they may bring with them that are completely different I’m curious to know how that translates into the workplace. What are we seeing happening to these people in the workplace that makes it potentially hostile or toxic? So do you have potentially some examples of how that kind of translates?

Shea Belsky: Some of the biggest things that I’ve experienced personally, either with myself or people that I know, is, as you mentioned, that sort of maybe hostile or unfriendly social interactions or confrontations. Since becoming more aware of neurodiversity, I’m able to sort of be more aware and careful of those social interactions. But there were definitely been times in my past when I’ve said or done something or behaved in a certain way which wasn’t acceptable, but at the time I didn’t know any better, and that created a negative interaction or relationships with me and somebody else and I didn’t know any better. So it created a difficult situation for me, for my manager, them having to talk to me about it and whether or not I knew about it or never at the time was a whole number of issue.

18:41: Or else I blow my steam, lose my top or something else happens and I’ll be honest and say I haven’t really had what I would call a breakdown or meltdown in the workplace. I’ve come close, I’ve come very close, I’ve burnt out, which is different. But I know a lot of people who have had a lot of really stressful either sensory or emotional situations go on and they have chosen to sort of step away from work or take time to themselves to be quiet. And people don’t really know how to handle that. Just only because when you as an outsider with no knowledge of what it means to have a meltdown, have a breakdown or experiencing that or seeing somebody who’s experiencing that, what are you supposed to do? Most people would leave them alone, but others just be more confrontational about it, which has made my life difficult and people who I know in those lives very difficult.

Gina: How does that look, though, for you, and what would you suggest? A co-worker who maybe works in proximity to you, but maybe you guys aren’t chummy. What would look like the best case scenario for you with something like that at an office or a workspace?

Shea Belsky: If something was happening in a workplace, let’s keep it simple. Let’s just say it was a sensory thing where the lights are really bright or there’s an annoying sound coming out of the background, or there’s a smell or something which is not related to a person, but just something in my environment. What I would choose to do as a person is try to relocate myself, to not be in a situation, whatever possible. If it’s a smell, go for a walk or do something else. If I can’t do that, if it’s like a light above my desk, then it’s a matter of addressing that, with my manager saying, hey, this light is bothering me, can we fix it? Just trying to be respectful about how I address it rather than making it selfish.

22:25: In a situation of that being like a light fixture, I would say I’m having a really tough time being able to work because of these lights. I would like to ask HR or building facilities or whoever it is, to put shades over them so it’s a little bit darker, and, assuming that no one has a problem with it, because get it done and the likelihood that somebody has a problem with it is really really low. But in that moment it’s a matter of what do they need to know to empower them with information without getting too personal. I need to tell them about all the other stuff, but what do they need to know to support me and what do they need to know to not feel like I’m being selfish?

Gina: Right, like you’re just there to ruin their lighting.

Shea Belsky: Yeah, it’s important in that sense. I don’t want it to come off that I’m trying to be selfish or really self-serving as regard. It’s about creating equity, not creating another environment just for me. The simple situation would be if I could move out from underneath that light, that’s easy. Nothing else has to change about the environment other than me moving a desk to like a row over or something.

29:04: I think it really sort of varies based on the interpretation, and there’s great interpretations of autism and their diversity that are out there, either out there today or being developed. One of my favorite portrayals of it today is actually by Pixar, disney Pixar. They have a short film out there called Loop, which portrays a non-speaking, autistic black woman, a black actress who is going on a summer camp, like it portrays the story of a child, but the idea, by eating, that it’s a black woman who is non-speaking, autistic and a black man neurotypical, black child neurotypical, and how they interact that it was very carefully, very precisely designed to be authentic and real. And the actress is also a non-speaking autistic woman. So really authentic, really careful about how it was presented, how it came across and, I think, very tasteful, I would say, and I think that it does a much better job of saying this is another flavor of autism and not just pigeonholing us into one stereotype or another.

Nicola: What I’ll do is I’ll insert a little clip from the video in the final edit so we can see a little bit of the little view into the mind-side of. Did you say it was Disney?

Shea Belsky: I’ll put it in the Zoom chat here Disney. It’s on Disney Plus. If you have that, if not, with trailer that they’re on the internet too. It’s Disney Pixar. It’s called Loop.

Nicola: I think it’s a good idea to put a little clip in there, because I think it’s important for us to really highlight the fact that neurodivergency and autism we’ve said this many times but it’s a spectrum. It could be anything between A and purple. That’s another thing as well.

Shea Belsky: It’s not just a spectrum. My personal belief system is that putting it on a spectrum is very linear. For instance, comparing the individual from the movie and myself. Is it really linear? Because it’s a short film, it’s 12 or 15 minutes, it’s not long, so you would never know the whole breadth of life that they live.

32:31: So making it very linear as a spectrum doesn’t fully describe, I think, what’s actually going on. So I subscribe to the model of it being more of a color wheel where it’s not linear. It’s much more, I would say, of a circle, in the sense that I can be great in areas involving communication, involving emotional intelligence, but I struggle in an area which involves sensory stuff, very detailed social interactions or things that are regarding other things related to sensory stuff. Like my struggles vary, but not to the point where it’s linear. I know a couple of non-speaking autistic individuals who are far more intelligent than I will ever be. They just can’t talk. So who is, as we say, high functioning? Low functioning I don’t like those terms either, but who is where on this proverbial spectrum? Because when you think about it in a very two-dimensional way, you kind of lose a lot of the strength behind it.

Gina: Hmm I agree with that I totally.

Nicola: I’m on board with a color wheel. If we’re going a color wheel, I’m there for it.

Shea Belsky: It’s different. It doesn’t mean that the spectrum is wrong. We live in a society which refers to autism spectrum disorder. That’s the medical definition for it, so it doesn’t mean that that definition is wrong. The color wheel is just a better way to say it. The spectrum is not an invalid way of describing it, but one is better than the other.

Gina: Right.

Nicola: Yeah, I think that’s why I said you know from A to purple, because you know, you just don’t even know where, like it’s not from A to Z, it’s from A to who knows what, because I’m sure there’s so many kind of intricacies that haven’t even been identified yet as part of the process. Or even you know the color wheel, I guess.

Shea Belsky: Yeah, like it’s some autistic people who I know love sound, they love clubs, they love parties, they love loud things, they love bright things, they love smelly things.

Nicola: I’m none of those things.

Shea Belsky: So just to say that either one of us is for a lot of the spectrum.

Gina: I’m with you on that Che I don’t like clubs, I don’t like loud things, I don’t like overly smelly things.

Nicola: I don’t like bright lights. I don’t like people chewing Like don’t breathe near me, like it don’t even like make eye contact most of the time. I know.

Gina: That’s why I saw you were such good friends, Nicola, because we’re like we are friends who exist virtually, just online, right?

Nicola: Like don’t breathe near me, you can breathe on a different continent, it’s fine.

Shea Belsky: My eye contact hack is to look at myself on a Zoom call, so that’s been one benefit to the pandemic, if there was any benefit to it not making light of it but being on a video call and not having to look someone in the eye. I look at myself, which is a lot easier than serving at somebody else or serving into the camera. I find it’s serving into the camera very awkward, but I look at myself in the camera and it looks like I’m looking at the camera but I’m not actually and it actually helps a lot.

Gina: But then me, I’d be like I don’t want my internal dialogue. I’d be like God, you’re so ugly, like when you look at yourself so much like you start like picking yourself apart, like at least that’s what I do. So I had to learn the opposite, because I would be, you know, I would always be looking at myself thinking like, oh my God, I have to get this fixed, like very, you know, like weird, like that. But I have to focus on the person speaking, which I think is really funny. So anyway, nicola, what do you do?

Nicola: I do a bit of both. Yeah, I do a bit of both. If I’m getting, if I’m getting fatigued in the meeting, I’ll just watch myself because I’m less fatiguing than others, but then I like to look at others to kind of concentrate as well. So I’m a bit of both. I’m a little hybrid-y.

Gina: You are. I love it. I love the hybrid situation for you.

Shea Belsky: I did my first ever like in-person speaking thing about neurodiversity yesterday and it was so weird for me being in-person because everything that I’ve done has been virtual. This was the first time, I think, since the pandemic, where I had done it in-person and I’m like I’ve kind of forgotten how to like read a room, like look at the people in the eye and just sort of like manage that in-person, because for the past three years it’s all been virtual. I haven’t had to worry about it, and now that we’re back to being in-person events it’s so different, it’s just a whole different can of worms.

38:54: There may be scenarios where an autistic person may not know what they need. They may not know how to advocate for themselves or what they need to be successful, and that happens to a lot of people who are struggling in a workplace but don’t know what words to say or don’t know what they need to be successful. Lots of companies have ERGs or communities or other groups about disability or neurodiversity. In those situations it may be beneficial to pair up this employee me with a mentor or someone else from there to help reduce a lot of that stigma with somebody who understands it, like at both of my previous companies before Nantra I’ll name them because I enjoyed it that much. If you don’t want me to let me know. You can cut it.

Nicola: If you feel comfortable naming them, go. That’s a good shout out to hey, these are really cool. Diversity inclusive countries.

Gina: We’re both struggling right now.

Nicola: I cannot say words today, apparently. I think it’s a start.

Shea Belsky: Words are hard on the first days.

Gina: Yeah, well, it’s Friday morning for Nicola. It’s like 5 am Friday morning.

Shea Belsky: To answer the question, wayfair and HubSpot are two previous employers before Nantra and at both Wayfair and HubSpot they had disability communities or neurodiversity-specific ones.

40:48: So in this example I would say, having a peer mentor, someone who can empathize directly with their circumstance, even if it’s not exact, is hugely helpful. As of the before, two autistic people can be very different. So while having a mentor-mentee scenario between two autistic people isn’t guaranteed to have exactly the same results, it’ll still be really good to have someone who at least can empathize or understand with their plight and just be able to roll with it and have a good conversation and just having the same shared diagnosis or label of autism or neurodiversity or whatever it is. And as I think, even having that peer mentor is really advantageous and really powerful and Wayfair and HubSpot both had that and I really benefited from having those mentors and also being a part of their programs when they were around.

Nicola: That’s awesome. That’s really positive to hear. I think maybe what I’ll do as well is I’ll head over to the two websites and see what it is that their statement is, or their. Do they have a DNI inclusivity statement? Oh my word, the words are not coming to my brain today. The words are not worded.

Shea Belsky: HubSpot is huge about this. Hubspot, I would say, is, I would say, miles above the rest in terms of creating a culture that is inclusive and supportive and equitable, where people feel like they belong. I really felt as though at HubSpot the leadership is very approachable, you can have conversations and the culture around having a disability was really relaxed and chill. And that starts at the leadership level HubSpot’s disability community. The executive sponsor was a person with a disability, which I think is huge in breaking down barriers and allowing people to feel comfortable to talk about the disability with their manager, because if this senior vice president is out there talking about disability very openly, then I have no reason not to. My manager should care because if not, this VP is going to go chew them a new one.

Gina: And that also, who are we talking to is talking about how affirmative action might affect diversity and inclusion in workplace.

Nicola: Oh, the lawyer, Stephen the lawyer.

Gina: Stephen, the lawyer Right, because so he was making the bridge between this whole. What was it? The Supreme Court.

Nicola: Yeah, the Supreme Court’s rules against Supreme Inspection is not happening anymore.

Gina: And so he was saying what is that going to look like now in a work spot, like in a workplace in a work spot? My words are not wording either this morning, nicola.

Nicola: Maybe we just have like word elitist, I don’t know what we have I don’t know what I have A brain box, we have brain farts.

Gina: I think we’re both brain farting. Yes, okay, fair enough. Anyway, he was making. He was saying what is that going to look like for American corporate culture, if affirmative action, because it’s closely related in terms of those boxes that you mentioned earlier? Right, it’s like. So do you have thoughts on that?

Shea Belsky: I do. I actually spoke about this with someone at the event yesterday and the current consensus is that it doesn’t appear to be affecting the workplace just yet. I think companies are aware of it and sort of reading through what happened and trying to understand what’s going on. I don’t think any of them are ready to pull the plug in anything or giving away just yet. But it does seriously bring those programs into question. For instance, there are lots of companies which have a specific neurodiversity hiring program and if affirmative action at the job company level goes away, then those programs are illegal or obsolete. So then what does my company do? Because we work a lot with a lot of organizations who have these sorts of programs. So that puts my company out of business, but also it makes it very hard for companies to specifically bring in talent who is underserved or struggles with a traditional process.

Gina: Right, and I guess because you were saying with HubSpot, the, the president of the neurodivergent group, is that what you called it? I don’t know.

Shea Belsky: They were a vice president in some of our capacity in HubSpot. Who has a disability? Who is the executive sponsor of a disability community?

Gina: Got it okay.

Shea Belsky: Disability more broadly, not just neurodiversity.

Gina: No, right, that was my mistake. So like and this is going back to what the lawyer said earlier this week that it’s like how important is it to have people in these powers of like, in leadership positions and so on and so forth, who look just like us? You know whether and that’s where the diversity inclusion comes in right?

Nicola: So it’s like we need leaders from all different backgrounds, and that’s not what we. You know, we’re still kind of stuck in this 1990s vibe where it’s male, pale, stale up at the top.

Gina: Exactly, we’re that male, pale, stale.

Shea Belsky: A huge part of it is seeing like those leaders out there who are neurodivergent or have disabilities in some way shape or form Like, and there’s not a whole lot of them that are out there which are so open and transparent about it. Something that I try to do in my life as a leader is to be open about it, to break that barrier down. My co-founders at Mentor do it, but beyond that there’s not a whole lot of people who are out there talking about their experience with disabilities as frequently or repetitively as I think they should be. That’s not the fault of them. People have different levels of personal comfort with the topic, but if more people are out there talking about the disability or neurodiversity and de-stigmatizing it, a lot less the conversation would be so different. For instance, a good example of this is Richard Branson, who is the CEO of Virgin. He has a sexia and he’s really open and talks about it all the time Great example.

51:02: We have like 34,000 job seekers three years later. We work with companies all over the United States. We’ve gotten almost 100 folks hired over the last year or a half and this guy has the limit, as far as we’re concerned, in terms of getting folks hired in a way that respects them, give them a job that are equitable environments for them where they feel like they have to support and structure that need to be successful, and also educating other companies about how they can do better for their hires not just people who they’re hiring, but people who are already in their organizations. A big part of where these neurodivergent initiatives don’t succeed in is they only focus on hiring, just getting people in the door, and then, once they’re there, I was like, oh okay, you’re gonna have fun. But the reality of it is that if neurodivergent people don’t have what they need to be successful in their company, they’re just gonna leave. They’re gonna be either forced out or they’ll quit. And MENTRA also focuses on empowering companies and embedding within them or assessing their neuro-inclusivity, how inclusive they are for neurodivergent individuals, and helping them improve and grow and become a company that people really wanna work for.

56:11: Yeah, I found that, especially on our age like 35 to 50, I would say People I followed for years on Instagram. Now they’re saying well, I was just recently diagnosed with ADHD and they’re within our age range and it’s like that’s, on one hand, that’s fantastic, like great, let’s normalize it right. But on the other hand, it’s like is this just a diagnosis? That is being like I think that’s what you’re reacting to. It’s like, oh, you can’t concentrate on one thing for like more than an hour, so you’re automatically ADHD. So it’s like you know, I mean, I don’t know, because a lot of the ADHD characteristics, like I feel like you and me, nicola, would fit right in there.

Nicola: So I’m like hyperindependence, hyperfocus, hyperfunctioning.

Gina: I’m like, is that just trauma?

Nicola: responses Like I know, and I’m like I personally would probably not get, like I wouldn’t go to get a diagnosis, even if I’ve got these similar traits to someone else, because I’m like, I’m pretty confident that that’s a trauma response.

Gina: I’m the same and I’m like, what’s the difference? What’s the difference? What’s the difference? Like, let’s say it is something that can be diagnosed. I’d be like, okay, and like I still operate this way, so like it’s not changing the way I’m doing things Right and it’s like it’s been successful so far.

Nicola: But then isn’t that like the key takeaway here, right Is? You’ve got an entire group of individuals that have neurodivergency and autism and, regardless of their diagnosis or not, that’s still the way they’re going to operate. So it’s about you know, making sure that there’s those accommodations in place, because it’s like well, just because you have a slapper label on it and put it in a jar doesn’t mean that that person’s going to be any different because of it. They’re just going to be exactly who they are and live their true self.

Shea Belsky: The idea behind a diagnosis is not that it’s meant to change things or like really make it like a flashpoint type of thing. The idea is some people need a diagnosis to get access to medication. Workplace may need a diagnosis before they can give accommodations or something like that. It really varies on an individual’s needs. So the most common example is getting a diagnosis to be able to get medication either at a much reduced rate or free or something else, or as justification for the doctors that go out and get a prescription for you. It really is. It’s not meant to make anything different, but it can also have the social effect of helping you understand. This is why I’ve been struggling for all this time. This gives me now a community, a framework within I can find self help without medication if that is what you want to do. It provides closure to a lot of people to say this is the name for that thing that’s been bothering me for all this time.

Nicola: That’s a really good point as well. I think that’s probably the piece of the puzzle that you and I were missing, gina, was that it does provide access and availability outside of your scope, where you were previously.

Gina: Yeah, and this is my fault. Now, thinking more about it and as we’re talking it through, ADHD and neurodivergency are like you can’t really compare them. They’re completely un-.

Nicola: Okay, and again, I’m no doctor, Not just to be clear. But isn’t ADHD a type of neurodivergency?

Shea Belsky: It is, adhd is considered a part of it. Adhd is a way of describing somebody who’s neurodivergent. One of my co-founders, jilica, is ADHD and autistic. She’s neurodiverse in that regard.

Gina: Wait, I might just be really old. I didn’t realize that.

Shea Belsky: I realized this you can be autistic.

Gina: You’re younger than me.

Shea Belsky: You can be autistic and neurodivergent, but neurodivergent does not mean that you’re autistic. Neurodiversity covers a lot of related definitions.

Nicola: Yeah, adhd is part of the family. It’s part of the family group of stuff Again, not a doctor Like I’m just now lumping it into a group of stuff, a family of stuff. That happens, it’s related, it’s related.

Gina: Okay, okay. So even with our example of ADHD, that was the part we were missing. Okay, having that diagnosis opens up access and availability of things that maybe you wouldn’t have before.

Nicola: And I think you know what, Now that we’re talking this through a little bit more and I’m having time to percolate on this a little bit is I don’t think that you and I are the only two Muppets on the planet that had that same thinking, Right.

Gina: Oh no, for sure not, we’re both Muppets.

Nicola: That too, but it’s all over Instagram right now. That ADHD stuff, especially for women, is all over Instagram and if you and. I can make the same assumptions based on the information that’s provided to us and not really know all of the facts or the details. We’re not the only Muppets on the planet that have probably done that.

Gina: Oh for sure we’re not, Because we’re Muppets, yes, but we’re not intelligent. We’re two intelligent women who can have conversations about this, sometimes better than others. Today’s not our top work. I don’t know why we showed off with peanut butter for brains Just goofy, but yeah, I mean. Now that I think about it, I probably did know that ADHD would be considered part of the whole neurodiversity. I don’t want to use the word spectrum on the color wheel, but I think you hit the nail on the head, Nicola. It’s the way it’s being portrayed. Nobody is talking about ADHD as being neurodiverse. They’re calling it ADHD and that’s where they’re leaving it.

Nicola: Yeah, and then they give you do you have these traits Right?

Gina: Everybody under the sun has those traits at some point or the other.

Nicola: Exactly, and I think they’re not delineating between, they’re not really giving you any more information other than you probably have ADHD because you have these same traits, and it’s like, well, not quite right. So I think actually this has opened a whole can of worms that I think we weren’t expecting.

Shea Belsky: Yeah, it really has. What Now you guys have something to talk about. I said A big part of this is people have really different experiences with neurodiversity. Some folks live their lives neurodivergent and there’s nothing wrong with them or with that. I live my independent life. I’m getting married in a month and a half. I do my own thing. Some folks need a lot of support to get for the day. Some folks live with their parents or in a group home and need everything they can get. So the experience of neurodivergent people really varies greatly from person to person and the moral of the story is not to assume everything about someone based off of a diagnosis or a label and just sit down on top of them. It’s really important to just be a good listener. That’s enough that they are. It’s something that I felt were just being a good listener.

Nicola: Personally, have found this conversation really fascinating. I think it’s also unpicked our own biases a little bit as well. I think it gave an opportunity to be a little bit more reflective. Even just our conversation around ADHD that just opened up that thinking even further, which I’m hoping it would help others to think differently too. So I really appreciate you coming on, Shea.

Gina: It’s been a great conversation.

Shea Belsky: Absolutely. Thank you for letting me borrow some of your time to talk about neurodiversity, share my experiences in the workplace, talk about movies Deadpool, john McKeon-A-Reeves, all that stuff. I love talking about it.

Gina: Thanks for having me and tell us where people can find you. Give us websites, handles, whatever you want to give us.

Shea Belsky: I’m on LinkedIn Shea Belsky. There’s only one of me. There’s only one person my name out there, and if there isn’t a person out there with my name, tell me and I’ll fix it real quickly. I’m on LinkedIn. I’m on Instagram. On TikTok, I’m starting to put some more neurodiversity content about there in the workplace. I am artistic underscore techie, which should be a fun little handle to remember, but if not, you can find me one place or another. Just look up my name.

Nicola: Okay, yeah well, as I say, it’s been awesome chatting to you and I think we kind of came into it, probably blinder than what we thought we were, absolutely, and I think it’s been really great. So I really appreciate it.

Shea Belsky: It’s never too late to learn something. Thank you so much for having me again. It was a blast.


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