Changing Perspectives - On neurodiversity

By AdNews | 3 October 2023
Jane Waterhouse

The MFA DE&I Council would like to see aindustry where everyone can thrive, feel heard, supported, and safe to do their best work. Let’s meet the Changers who are sharing their own lived experienceto inspire us all to change for the better.

Hi, my name’s Jane and I’m a managing director at Slingshot Media, mum of two boys, an experienced creative thinker, ocean swimmer, obsessive meditator, and dyslexic.

In my 25 + year career, I have discovered the importance of building teams with a wide range of skills and perspectives. In many ways, this came from lived experience.

Early in my career, I turned up at my desk and was surprised—and terrified—to see a computer sitting on it. I nearly vomited. I’ve never feared innovation or tech, but this was something different. I was about to be found out as the ‘damaged brain’ I believed I was.

You see, back then, computers had black and white screens and were mainly used for accounting. I had struggled in silence at school with maths and English for reasons I could never understand—until I was in my mid-30s.

It was then that I got diagnosed with a form of dyslexia called scotopia: a light-based visual processing disorder.

The ‘treatment’ was to read text and screens with pink-lensed glasses to stop words strobing. Far from allowing me to see the world through rose-coloured glasses, the pink specs were hard to hide and marked me as ‘different’. I suspect because, at the time, dyslexia was seen as a defect. In truth, the diagnosis was life-changing.

I eventually realised I wasn’t stupid or slow, I was a strong visual and intuitive learner. I joined dots, articulated ideas and saw strategic paths differently. This has continued to be an advantage in my career. I now appreciate the gift of not observing the world like everyone else does.

I am very grateful for the work that Made by Dyslexia has done, and continues to do, to change perceptions of dyslexia across UK workplaces. I hope to see greater recognition in Australian media, too.

Sir Richard Branson has campaigned to have “Dyslexic Thinker” as a sought-after skill, and it’s now recognised by LinkedIn. As more and more neurodiverse Australians come into our workforce, (people with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia), I understand the importance for all of us, especially managers, to see their unique skills.

Although I look forward to working in an industry that is more open to the gift neurodiverse thinkers offer, I am also passionate that neurodiverse people have some ‘personal agency’. The workplace can accommodate and support, however it is not their place to ‘fix’. It is ours to own and ours to get an education on.

Understand yourself and how to work with your strengths and build supportive structures to minimise barriers for growth. Self-awareness is a life commitment and the more self-aware people in the industry are, the better the industry will be.

A few tips to get the best out of neurodiverse people in the workplace:

  • Be adaptive, for example use different, easy to read fonts and screens.
  • Allow information to be delivered in charts and diagrams, even if hand-drawn.
  • Where possible, factor in extra time on deadlines.
  • Commit to regular check-ins and set short-term goals.
  • Let other team members know (with the person’s approval) so it is not seen as a secret or judged, but accepted and celebrated as a great gift for the team and company.
  • Focus on what they bring to a job, not what they don’t.
  • Remember people at the edges are far more interesting than those in the middle!

To broaden your understanding of DE&I, complete the SBS Core Inclusion course – Australia’s leading online DE&I training course – available for free to MFA member employees. Access ends December 2023.

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