Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Kirstie Pickles BVMS MSc PGCert(CounsSkills) PhD CertEIM DipECEIM MRCVS

It is great to see neurodiversity being actively discussed within the profession and to see conferences include neurodiversity in their programmes. I was delighted last year when my colleagues and I were successful in obtaining the RCVS MMI Sarah Brown Mental Health Research grant to investigate workplace stressors of autistic veterinary surgeons. Stressors for autistic people in the workplace can take several different forms.

1. Fear of Disclosure

Some people may worry about disclosing their neurodivergence to colleagues and line managers due to stigma. Sometimes people can inadvertently reinforce this fear with unintentional inappropriate statements like “we’re all a bit autistic aren’t we”. The need to hide an inherent part of yourself requires considerable cognitive effort and is associated with increased stress, anxiety, depression, and suicidal thoughts. It is important that colleagues feel able to bring their ‘whole self’ to work in order to thrive. The BVA’s Good Workplaces guidance on diversity, equality and inclusion is a helpful resource.

2. External Stressors

Everyone experiences stresses in everyday life however autistic people may not be able to contextualise this or ‘leave it at home’ as easily as neurotypical individuals. This ‘spill over’ of external stress into the workplace can be a significant distraction to some individuals.

3. Internal Stressors

Internal stressors are those inherent to the workplace environment itself and these are the focus of our MMI funded study. These may be due to differences in executive functioning or communication styles or sensory processing difficulties. These will be highly specific to the individual and should be identified with a line manager to find the most appropriate support for the person.

The first part of our project, a series of interviews with autistic vets in practice, has now concluded. The inclusion criteria for this initial study were very specific to ensure accuracy of data. From these interviews, we have identified specific workplace stressors which have been used to design a survey that will be launched in the next few weeks. This survey will be open to all autistic vets, regardless of self-identification or formal diagnosis, and other diagnoses. It will evaluate the frequency that the identified stressors are experienced and correlate these with measures of wellbeing. Additionally, we will ask respondents to rate a series of possible reasonable adjustments for the workplace. It is hoped that, as a result of this project, we will be able to present a series of recommendations to support both autistic vets and their employers. It is important to recognise that line managers often really want to help but lack the insight and resources to do so. It is our sincere hope that we will begin to address this challenge.

Kirstie PicklesAbout Kirstie…

Dr Kirstie Pickles graduated from Glasgow Vet School in 1996. Following a year in practice, she completed a residency and PhD at the University of Edinburgh and then became a Senior Lecturer in Equine Medicine at Massey University, New Zealand. She returned to the UK in 2008 and has since worked in both private practice and academia. Kirstie is currently Clinical Assistant Professor in Equine Medicine at Nottingham Vet School and is passionate about teaching equine medicine and mental health awareness.

&me logoKirstie also contributed to our mental health anti-stigma campaign, &me, back in 2021. Read more about Kirstie’s story here.

Do you have a mental health research idea that could benefit the veterinary professions?

Applications for our 2022 Sarah Brown Mental Health Research Grant are now open! Applications are welcome from researchers at any stage of their careers and on any area of veterinary mental health.

Find out how you can apply by clicking the button below:

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