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Networking when neurodivergent could be made easier

Networking can be tricky to navigate at the best of times, but it can be much more difficult for people with neurodivergent conditions.

Bright lights, loud noises, and crowded halls for in-person events can create sensory overload making social situations more daunting and harder to navigate.

When HR is creating work socials, or other events of this kind, it would help to be mindful of such challenges.

Speaking to HR magazine Nicole Donne, consultant at charity Neurodiversity in Business, said: "Social finesse and networking can be like a game where the rulebook was handed to the other 80% of people in that room, and can navigate naturally."

"Neurodivergent people are amazing connectors and moving communicators. It's just not in the traditional neurotypical settings that they thrive."

More on neurodiversity at work:

Opening up the neurodiversity conversation in recruitment

HR professionals lack confidence in spotting neurodivergence

Workspaces failing needs of neurodiverse employees

Lucy Hoch is a neurodiversity coach with dyspraxia and autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Hoch said many people don't realise how overwhelming networking situations can be, especially for people with ASD, and the dyspraxia compounds her social anxiety. 

Speaking to HR magazine, she said: "You've got to walk around between crowds of people and that can be really challenging if you have coordination issues - and that's only just the tip of the iceberg."

Neurodivergent or not, cliques can also add to networking difficulties.

Hoch added: "People will tend to gravitate towards people they know at least initially, unless you're a real social butterfly, which a lot of people are neurodivergent or not.

"Then it can be even harder, because it becomes very clique orientated. For somebody like me who doesn't know how to approach a group of maybe three to four people, the social awkwardness kicks in."

There are some simple measures organisers can take to make events more inclusive of neurodivergent guests.

Considering the length of the talks can help, Donne said, for example people with ADHD may find it difficult to stay still for a large chunk of time.

Sharing an event agenda ahead of time, or allowing guests to book time with one another, can also help as it means people can plan ahead.

Hoch said: "If I've got an agenda ahead of time, then I'll make contact with a few people through LinkedIn or through email if I've got so that I build up that allyship. And I've got people that I can use as wing people to help me navigate that situation without making it too obvious."

Adjustments also don't have to cost a lot. 

Donne added: "It's all about boundaries - creating your own but also allowing others to create their own boundaries and limit where they're comfortable.

"True inclusion doesn't just mean 'not excluding' but a collaborative, sensitive approach."