Neurodiversity in Open Organizations

Series vision/philosophy

Articles in this series for the Open Organization section of will explore the intersection of open culture and various cognitive phenomena with the aim of championing more inclusive and neurodiverse organizations. The series will combine explanatory, concept-focused pieces with practical, “how-to” pieces explaining methods for creating more inclusive organizations.

Interested writers

  • Laura Hilliger
  • Jen Kelchner
  • Lauri Apple
  • Kathleen Hayes
  • MaryJo Burchard
  • Andrew Milestone
  • Heidi Hess von Ludewig
  • Sean Waite

Article topics and ideas

  • Psychological safety in open organizations
  • Cognitive bias in open organizations
  • Collecting feedback from a neurodiverse team
  • Running meetings for a neurodiverse team
  • Emotional intelligence and open leadership
  • The relationship between vulnerability and innovation
  • The role of learning agility in adaptive organizations (Jen Kelchner)
  • Building neurodiverse communities
  • Multiple Intelligence theory (Jen Kelchner - May not be right for this series frankly as it explores beyond cognitive capacities)
  • Understanding and Supporting autistic colleagues
  • Understanding and Supporting colleagues with ADHD

Articles received

Article progress

On GitHub, issues related to this series are tagged “Neurodiversity" on the editorial calendar.

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It appears as though 2021 has brought renewed interest in this topic and related series. Great! I’ve updated the thread to include articles we’ve published in the series so far. We should feel to use this space to brainstorm and strategize. Additionally, please see issue 66 and issue 70.

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Hi, I pinged issue 70 over on github and was aimed this direction.

This topic is pretty relevant to my interests. I’ve got ADHD and it’s definitely an interesting thing to manage in the working world.

I can probably help with some things, possibly writing or reviewing articles, contributing ideas, and similar. My company has a neurodiversity D&I community and I could reach out there for questions and maybe getting more eyes.

Looking at the topic ideas, running meetings for a neurodiverse team would definitely apply to folks with ADHD. Possibly something about project managing a neurodiverse team? ADHD makes the typical project workflows interesting. This could be rolled into something like how to a manager could support an ADHD associate (or vice versa). One topic that may be a bit of a dance could be something along the lines of the hidden “hostilities” that are built into typical NT culture (sitting at meals, not moving so much, normal business hours, for ASD people sometimes eye contact is painful, and so on).

Happy to answer questions for anyone working on something like this or to bounce ideas, as well.

Hey there, @swaite ! Thank you for joining the community and also for the suggestions! I had put some of my work on this on hold; but, as timing would have it the topic of neurodiversity and neuro divergence has peaked up again. In fact, I’m working with another fellow ambassador @samknuth on a possible video series as well.

Let’s keep you in the loop if you’d like to contribute and at the very least help us coordinate a list of topics!

Thanks! :smile:

Sounds good. @swaite I am the chair of Red Hat’s neurodiversity community and that has been a driver of my interest here. We have many ideas, I think we just need to start fleshing some of them out, maybe assign topics, and then figure out the multimedia component

So glad @swaite is here!

Just a quick reply to note that I’d be more than happy to work with you on an article or book chapter about these issues, @swaite. For example, I could see “How managers can support associates with ADHD” as a book chapter topic that combines the other ideas into a lengthier narrative (establishing more accommodating project workflows, mitigating unintentional hostilities, etc.). One strategy we’ve typically found to be successful is to publish each of the individual “parts” as an article in a series for our channel at, then “collect” all the pieces together into something lengthier and more robust that can serve as a chapter in one of our books.

If this series really takes off, I could also see something like an Open Organization Guide to Building Neurodiverse Teams taking shape, but that’s a little ways off (though the articles linked above make for the seeds of a nice table of contents!).

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Hi @jenkelchner! I think it’s cropping up a bit more partially because we’re all feeling the brunt a bit more from this virus mess, and also from the growing drive for equitable treatment of, well, everyone. I’m happy to help contribute, either full or partial articles or just to answer questions or run down info. I’ll note that hey, I have ADHD and sometimes need to be poked if I go off in the weeds :slight_smile:

@samknuth looks like you found my thread on the Red Hat ND D&I list - some good responses there and in the link I put in my OP. I’m already starting to figure out how to implement some of it on my team. Turning ideas into tangibles is always the hard part, isn’t it?

@Bryan there’s a huge variety of types of ND people out there, there’s definitely room to explore how to support specific concerns, like ADHD, ASD and so on, and maybe the endgame being a more general chapter/article on supporting neurodiversity. Anxiety, dyslexia, dyscalculia, gross motor issues, and so on. We probably could pull common themes and trends together to have one article that is sort of a “start here for supporting neurodiversity in general” and then specific sections on certain topics for a deeper dive into that.

One thing that might be interesting and useful but WILDLY out of my wheelhouse is how to support people with intellectual disabilities. These two articles has some info on that.

It does get a little sticky to talk about this stuff without providing definitions and symptoms of the disabilities, and a lot of the formal definitions are a little weird. For instance, the diagnostic criteria for ADHD is effectively entirely about how others perceive us and even the name “attention deficit hyperactivity disorder” is reflective on this point, we’ve actually got an overabundance of attention rather than a lack of it, and there are a mountain of other symptoms that aren’t really covered. I don’t think that kind of discussion would be in scope here (not being medical professionals and all), but being able to find a way to get the idea across about the depth and breadth of specific conditions would be nice. I don’t know how we’d best do that without going down a path that starts to trend to medical advice and there be dragons.

Looking forward to what we create!


I have some ideas about this and would be happy to have a chat to dig in further to set the course for a series on this. Let me think for a minute on best course for a chat - meaning should we just open for a 1:1 or a collective chat. This topic is hitting hard on a few fronts of mine with many interested parties! :slight_smile:

Super happy to have you collaborating on this @swaite !

This is quite a complicated topic when we get into giving advice. When it comes to definitions, I think it would be good to refer to established sources (in some cases medical sources, or in other cases nuerodiversity sources that reflect more of the ethos of the neurodiversity movement). I think the best approach is to share personal experiences rather than trying to generalize or give advice. i.e. “this is what works for me as a person who is ADHD” or “this is what I need from my manager as a neurodivergent [or specific condition] person”

Agreed, advice is messy. I definitely don’t want to be in the business of accidentally appearing to give medical advice. I’m about at a point with other efforts where I’ve got time to start sketching out posts, so I’m thinking a little more here and the idea of framing them in the “this is what works for me/others have said works for them/I see in my kid” approach is useful. I think that approach is VERY helpful when trying to describe something like (for me) ADHD, how my experiences differ beyond/aside from the definitions in the DSM-5 and similar. The CDC quotes these diagnostic criteria, and I have a copy of the DSM-5 so I could pull specific page numbers (but likely not the text) for citation.

I also have readily found study citations for most everything, so should an article talking about experiences require it, there’s science to back anything I’d say. Just to clarify a bit what I mean, there are a number of things strongly associated with ADHD that aren’t in the criteria, as in “most people with ADHD have this and the underlying root causes are the same so it’s clear this is a trait of ADHD.” For a direct positive example that I’ve definitely experienced, people with ADHD are often uncharacteristically calm in moments of crisis. It wasn’t until recently that I found many many other people saying this, and some studies to back it. You could have someone that’s scatterbrained and flighty, and an emergency hits and they are suddenly all business, on the ball and with it. I’ve had someone experience a grand mal seizure uphill from me on a flight of stairs and fall back into me, someone choke on a piece of orange in front of me and there’s just direct action, no distractions or anything. I haven’t found a study to back this, but I’ve noticed (and have seen others call out) a disproportionate number of people with ADHD in EMS, IT/InfoSec Incident Response, and other similar industries. ADHD is caused by deficiencies in seratonin (among other hormones), and stress responses involve seratonin levels (need to find the cites for that) and…hey, we’re now at baseline and now are operating without our disability.

There’s probably a lot I’m interested in writing about that’s out of scope for, I have my own (fledgling) blog and I’m quite happy to ramble on (not that I’d ever rambel on) over there if it doesn’t work here.

First two posts on the topic I’m formulating, if there’s interest here:

  • My experiences with ADHD over my life
  • Tips I’ve gathered from various sources about how managers can enable associates with ADHD

For the latter, I’ve had some discussions on Twitter around this. Are there guidelines/preferences around citing that sort of thing? Pointer to the thread(s), citing specific posts, other?

Glad you’re still noodling on this, @swaite! Looking forward to reading more. Just a note on your proposals here.

Our community (and the editors at more broadly) are going to be most interested in reading as piece on the second idea (though I’m sure you’ll infuse some of Topic 1 into it along the way). We’re committed to writing, publishing, and discussing articles at the intersection of open principles and organizational culture/design/practice. So something that begins from your second idea and builds into an argument about, say how leading with open principles can help managers better accommodate associates with ADHD, or about how working no a team guided by open principles allows someone with ADHD to succeed and/or flourish in new ways, or even about how working openly can be in some ways more difficult for someone with ADHD, are all most squarely in line with what we typically publish. Just a few note as you continue planning.


Hi folks - for anyone watching this thread, I’d like to re-kindle this effort. I can devote some time to moving us forward on this. If you are interested in participating, let me know! First question, anyone mind if we change the name to “Neurodiversity in Open Organizations”? I’d like to use the term neurodiversity vs. cognitive diversity because I think it is the more standard term, and “in” vs “and” just to clarify the topic.

Thanks so much for raising your hand, @samknuth. I’m really delighted to see conversation about this series re-ignite. On the name: I’d always considered what you see here as a placeholder until the focus of the series came further into focus. If you’ve got a vision and a sense of the appropriate terminology, then by all means adjust the naming as you see fit.

As always, I’m happy to help with editing and publication logistics. And if this series takes off and bears enough fruit, we might consider creating a book around it.

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Hi all, a few thoughts on next steps. I’m working on some content around autism. @swaite would you be able to start with an article on supporting employees with ADHD? Your comment on that above is I think a great starting point. @jenkelchner I’d love to revisit the video idea as well.

My thought is that if we can start writing some articles that provide insight into specific aspects of neurodiversity and work, where we each have some personal experience, that could help us get moving. We could then evolve into something more comprehensive as we get more content and it starts to take shape.

I know there is a lot of good content available already, so perhaps some kind of curation of content we have found helpful would be interesting as well.

Would folks be interested in a meeting on this?

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To help with organizing and tracking everyone’s contributions, I’ve created the “Neurodiversity” tag in the editorial repository and applied it to pre-existing discussions. @samknuth, in case it’s useful (or necessary), I’ve given you additional permissions in that repository.

Love this approach. It has always worked well for us in the past: start small, iterate, build, find the threads that emerge, and weave them together into something larger.

One dimension I’d add to your description above is openness. I think we’re likely to find multiple ongoing discussions of “specific aspects of neurodiversity at work.” What our community can offer in addition is a perspective on the way open principles intersect with these aspects. So potential angles might be something like:

  • How does working according to open principles help neurodiverse people contribute to their teams, departments, and organizations in new and powerful ways?
  • How can working openly be more difficult, complicated, or challenging for neurodiverse people?
  • What can neurodiverse perspectives teach as about the complexity of open principles and practices in the workplace?
  • What tactics and/or materials can we offer to teams hoping to open up to neurodiverse members?

… things like that.

We’d been keeping a shortlist at the top of this thread and had planned to make something more public in issue #70 on GitHub. That is always a great place to begin: What already exists? How does it shape the conversation we’d like to have?

I’d recommend reviewing the articles at the top of this thread and assessing their fit based on the group’s newly refined series scope. That is, now that you’ve found more specific focus, you might be able to better determine “what’s in, what’s out” from the above, and write a more specific vision statement for the series. That’ll help other writers connect with it and develop contributions.

Count me in!

Definitely willing to explore the video concept again especially if we can start with discussion on personal experiences before getting bogged down in more scientific discussions. I think experience is more important at the moment to create discussion, inclusion, and awareness. Many people don’t know they are neurodivergent as they don’t have a broader look into the topic yet. There are so many points that could be discussed and shared across the continuum.

Anyway, those are my two cents. :slight_smile:

Thanks @jenkelchner. Yes, I think it should be primarily personal experience. I don’t think we need to replicate the more general information that is available from various sources, though we could link to some helpful resources. I think focusing this series on personal experience is ideal.

For videos, what format do you think would be good? Interviews (like a one on one podcast type of conversation)? Or more first person speaking into the camera? Or…

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Great, thanks Bryan - those are some important questions and ideas and resources to get us started.

One quick note - there is a lot of nuance to the language here that I’ve been spending some time learning. I find this framing helps - everybody is neurodiverse in the sense that we all have unique brains and perspectives. Some people are neurodivergent, which means the way their brains work diverges from the typical brain, or from neurotypical people.

I also prefer to use identify first language rather than person first language, i.e. “autistic person” rather than “person who is autistic” or “person who has autism”.

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Given we are talking about the broad diversity that exists here; I’d say we make people comfortable in whatever format works for them to share personal experience. So, if an off-screen audio recording is best that is cool; if they are up for video sharing also great. By the way, if it is audio only it can still go to YT with a background. No issue here with that option!

I like the idea of several people on a call as it is easier to generate a rich conversation on experiences. Again, I feel like I’d want to give deference to the persons willing to share. I’m happy to host a variety of dates for these to take place. They can also just be 1:1 submitted.

anything goes :slight_smile:

this is giving me an idea. What if we do a live event? Would it make sense to do a live event outside of some kind of conference? Red Hat’s neurodiversity community would love to sponsor/promote something like this.