The three autistic changemakers: Nadia, Rochelle and Em smiling at the camera

The Mentra Publication

3 Tips to Unmask in the Workplace as a Neurodivergent

Conversations with autistic Influencers: Bringing your Authentic Self to Work

Let’s be honest, deciding to “unmask” or show one’s true authentic self can often be a decision; for neurodivergents, there often comes a time in life when we come to a fork in the road and must ask ourselves:

Can I continue to “mask” in front of my coworkers and family, and live a life of intense fatigue and self-doubt? Or should I share my true identity and deal with the unknown repercussions of unmasking?

 

Today, there are still countless neurodivergent adults and children out there who are expected to conform to societal norms and suppress emotions; this leads to the social behavior of artificially performing or acting in a way that is deemed to be more normal or typical. AKA: Masking.

 

The relationship of identifying and sharing one’s true identity and neurodivergent traits can be a lifelong challenge because people might not accept these differences or worse, they might ridicule them entirely. And when it comes to joining the workforce, there are a host of new challenges neurodiverse individuals are expected to intuitively navigate. From toxic, un-accommodating workplace cultures to internal politics, everyday tasks can be a hurdle. 

 

At this point we must ask ourselves, should the individual alter their natural behavior and put on a show to conform to the environment? Or should the environment change to be inclusive of differences by empathizing with thought-diversity and building support systems? 

 

At Mentra, we’re firm believers that it’s the environment that must change, and to dive deeper into these discussions, we sat down with 3 #actuallyautistic changemakers from the UK and Australia who are pushing the envelope with the concept of “masking” on social media. They are actively sharing these challenges and questioning the status quo to an audience of thousands, they would share with neurotypical allies.

Em Aspinall headshot

Em Aspinall

 “We shouldn’t need to hide our authentic selves behind a mask.”  #autistic

Nadia Dillon Headshot

Nadia

The moment you start to remove the mask you realize you have been somebody for everyone but yourself.

#autisticblackgirl

Rochelle headshot

Rochelle Van Heerden

There is nothing wrong with us, but there is something wrong with society and this has to change.

#autistic #adhd

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Top 3 Takeaways:

Better to unmask than mask:

Although it may seem safer for neurodivergents to conform and mask whenever possible, the resounding consensus was that it can be more advantageous in the long run to unmask. So much time, energy, and focus goes into staying masked that it can take away precious resources from doing anything else let alone lead to an overall negative experience. 

At the end of the day, you still have control for how and when you choose to unmask. Em believes that if employers were willing to hire them for their merit, employers should be willing to hire them with a diagnosis. All the panelists mentioned the sentiment that if after telling an employer, you are treated differently or are at risk of losing your job, most likely the work culture is toxic enough that it may not have been advantageous to your health to continue working there if given the choice. As Em said, “We shouldn’t need to hide ourselves behind a mask.”

Have patience - unmasking is a gradual and iterative process that starts with trial and error. 

After receiving the diagnosis of being austistic, it can feel tempting to tell anyone and everyone. Understanding how to tell others and the process of asking for specific accommodations can be a different situation especially when autistic individuals are completely reliant on themselves to be self advocates. Try spending time reflecting and trying out what others are doing to see if their accommodations additionally work with you too.

Even after unmasking, the work and reflection doesn't stop. As Nadia said, “It’s a constant balance; I’m constantly having to check in on myself; am I trying to be who I want to be or who they want me to be?” 

You can rely on the nero-diverse community to back you up

Despite each of the panelists having faced a variety of different experiences due to different backgrounds and industries, each paid homage to the support of the neuro-divergent community. From Nadia listening to stories of others in the community sharing how they found accommodations to Em describing themselves naturally connecting and drawing in to people with neurodiversity, each has found a shared sense of community among the diversity of the autistic population. Continue connecting with others in the community online and in-person to get tips and resources - even though you are your own best self-advocate, you don’t need to do it alone. 

The outpouring of support putting together this webinar made it a strong step forward for Mentra to raise

neurodiverse voices. Watch the full recording here and don't forget to register for the upcoming webinar 

 

The Speakers:

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Em Aspinall with a colorful umbrella
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Em Aspinall, Linkedin Influencer + Community Manager

Outside of their day job, Em uses their Linkedin as a platform to share their passions, interests, and learnings as an autistic person. Em shares that they would “like to see autistic voices leading the conversations on autism, so that we can offer a new perspective on what it means to be autistic and we can show how diverse the autistic community is.”

Nadia Dillon, Digital Creator, @autisticblackgirl, Software Engineer + Entrepreneur

Despite many years of knowing she was neurodivergent, Nadia explains that she only found out that she was autistic around 3 years ago. Even so, it’s been only in the past couple of months that she’s taken her self-advocacy seriously through her Instagram account @autisticblackgirl

Nadia Dillon - Graphic from her insta post: Work Accomodations that have helped autistic employees
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Rochelle Van Heerden  photo smiling in a forest
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Rochelle Van Heerden, Linkedin Influencer + Account Manager + Student

Late diagnosed with ADHD and Autism, Rochelle uses LinkedIn to voice her experiences navigating the working world as a neurodivergent. She is passionate about ethics, sustainability, nature, animals and the world of work encompassing the topics of diversity and inclusion. 

Want to join these conversations with autistic-self advocates? You can be a part of the Mentra community to tune into these conversations and get matched with jobs by signing up at this link!

Written By

Bhargavi Bhaskar

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