In Conversation with Sara-Louise Ackrill
Neurodiversity at Work with Sara-Louise Ackrill
Harley Street Therapist Sara-Louise Ackrill is the founder of Wired Differently, a social impact company creating products and services for people with Autism and ADHD. Having been diagnosed with both of these conditions in adulthood, Sara is passionate about curating conversations and advocating for change to help neurodivergent people and employees in the workplace.
The Speakers Agency joined Sara-Louise Ackrill for an insightful discussion on her experiences of being neurodivergent and how we can best promote inclusivity for neurodiverse individuals at work through a mix of education and compassion:
How did your first speaking opportunity about neurodiversity evolve?
My first opportunity came through a network I am a part of for autistic entrepreneurs. I was really grateful to be involved and it was a great first experience. I had been a therapist for about 7 years at that point, but I had been an entrepreneur for a much shorter period of time. It was funny because to put us at ease the hosts said to “just have a free-flowing conversation about whatever came to mind” and as autistic people my collaborator and I looked at each other horrified! (Laughs) That was the worst thing they could have said, because to us that was a super stressful remit and we all found it funny.
Why do you think companies and organisations need to understand how neurodiversity affects their employees’ experiences at work, particularly in ways that neurotypical people may be unaware of?
I would say that our challenges can be significant and far-reaching, but they are also most often invisible. This is painful and destructive in our lives at times. The experiences of minority groups of all kinds have certain things in common, I think. One of them being the struggle we have, by nature of being a minority, of society not having been “built for us”. This means that not only individuals can struggle to understand us, but so do whole institutions we rely on to function in society. The workplace is one of them. We cannot strip our neurodiversity off at the door or before a work zoom. Not even when targets have to be met or someone is off sick, or a sale has fallen through. We are neurodivergent. It is a whole way of interpreting and reacting to the world around us and we all have to work with that, to reap the rewards neurodiversity can offer when handled properly.
If you could offer companies and employers one piece of advice to help them support their neurodivergent employees, what would it be?
Shadow the employee supportively for a while to learn about how they work and pick up on where they might be struggling. Then work together on coming up with strategies to overcome certain challenges and to work around them. If you ask an employee where they struggle or what they want to do about it, they will likely not know or not be able to articulate it and they may have no idea what would help until they try out different suggestions you can create collaboratively.
For you personally, what is the most challenging thing about being neurodivergent?
Emotional Regulation, often brought on by my need to communicate differently and Executive Function difficulties, has really held me back until quite recently in life. Because of the way I speak and come across and because I can be enthusiastic and appear young for my age… because I’m at the same time a bit of an ‘old soul’, I have been told I take a long time to get to know or just ‘get’. Because of this I have been very isolated and felt a lack of connection with others at times.
Why is it so important for employers to see neurodivergence as a benefit as opposed to a weakness?
The right to work is a Human Right. Work is not a privilege. We have all the same competencies and challenges as anyone else, it’s just we need people to get to know how we operate to see this. We offer benefits to the workplace that come in a different package to the statistical norm. That doesn’t make us weak links in your operation. Different is not less than.
Sara is available for keynote speeches, panel discussions and fireside chats about Neurodiversity at Work and how we can better support neurodivergent individuals in the workplace and beyond. Get in touch today on +44(0)1332 810481 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for more information on booking Sara or any of our other Neurodiversity speakers today.