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Neurodiversity: it's not a buzzword

It's my career hurdle.

· Games Industry

I have a penchant for alliteration. Couldn’t tell you why - something satisfies synapses, seeing such streamlined sentences. Sure, it’s the low-hanging fruit of the poetry world, but it takes a certain amount of finesse, all the same.

Let's try another one: Amanda’s autism, anxiety, and ADHD are arguably atypical attributes.

Shouldn’t stop you from hiring me, though.

On being "off-putting"

I don’t interview well. Despite 15 years of practice, I’m as fearful and awkward as ever. I struggle with eye contact. I struggle to modulate the volume of my voice. I struggle to hear what you’re saying, not necessarily because you’re not speaking loudly enough, or because of your accent, but because auditory processing is difficult for me, and made all the more difficult by delays in conferencing lines - not to mention my jumping attention span. I also have an intense aversion to seeing my own face, which makes video conferencing a fraught option on platforms where I can’t turn off my own feed. Slap a layer of general anxiety on top of all of that, and you’re probably not going to follow up with me for a second interview.

I’m not saying the world should be padded in safety foam for people like me. But I am saying you should consider how your hiring process may be biased in favor of neurotypical individuals. How your interview panel may be biased in favor of neurotypical individuals, who may find neurodiverse individuals “off-putting” in vague, intangible ways. “She has the skills. She has the experience. But there was something… weird… about her. It’s a no for me, dawg.”

I don’t have a solution to this problem. I shouldn’t have to come up with it, frankly. I’m a little busy trying to process the world in a way that doesn’t leave me curled in the fetal position trying to block it all out. Solutions are on you, hiring panels of the industry. It’s on you to get educated. To check your own biases. To look beyond a person’s perceived personality shortcomings. To research what accessibility options are available (and there are plenty) to help create an equal playing field.

On what hiring panels can do

All the same, I want to open a dialogue, so here are a few tips for improving your hiring practices in a way that is inclusive of neurodiverse individuals, gleaned from 15 years of failing to make a good first impression in interviews:

  1. Ask if there are any accommodations to be made. It’s a simple first step - and so often skipped. Ask if there are preferences in video or audio conferencing. Ask if a certain platform is better than another - because it isolates audio better, or has less of a delay, or lets the interviewee hide their own feed. Whatever the need, asking is the simplest step you can take to be accommodating, and the bare minimum step you should take.
  2. Consider what is absolutely necessary in your hiring process. As an anecdotal example from a particularly difficult experience I once had, is it absolutely necessary that an interviewee sit through four hours of consecutive video interviews? Consider whether a more accessible format of one-hour interviews over the course of several days could accomplish the same thing in a way that is mindful of the candidate's struggles.
  3. Educate your interview panels. In your interview feedback round-ups, ask your panel to talk through blanket statements about someone being “off-putting”, about “weird” behavior the panel might have flagged, and analyze it through a lens of inclusivity. Take it a step further, if you’re serious (and you should be) and work with an expert consultant - someone able to coach neurotypical individuals in what it feels like to be a neurodiverse thinker, what it looks like, and how you can unbias yourselves.
  4. Make sure your interview panels are diverse - which is a catch-22, isn’t it? If you’re consistently not hiring neurodiverse people, you’ll have no one to represent neurodiversity on your interviewing panel, thereby perpetuating the cycle. Obviously, don’t hire someone *just because* they’re neurodiverse - no one wants to be a token hire - but use the points above to make sure you’re not turning down qualified candidates just because they come across as “weird”, and build out your panels with inclusivity in mind.

Diversity and representation are more than just buzzwords that look shiny on your studio homepage. These topics affect *real* people - their career trajectories, their available opportunities, their livelihoods, their self-worth. The latter, in particular, is already enough of a struggle when the whole world is telling you that you’re “wrong”. That you’re “broken”. That you’re “not normal”.

Still, we don’t need foam padding; we need honest dialogues. And that's mine.

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