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ADHD and autism in the workplace

Expert tips


Working life today places high demands on both employees and managers. More complex tasks and new expectations in terms of structure and taking initiative while we work both at home and in the office bring about increased stress. This can be particularly challenging for people with a neuropsychiatric disability.

According to statistics from the National Board of Health and Welfare, people with neuropsychiatric disabilities, such as ADHD and autism, are over-represented in terms of mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety and stress. Isabelle Wikholm is a psychologist at Previa and meets employees every day who have come to the occupational health service for support regarding stress-related ill health.  

– It is important that managers understand diagnoses and know how to adapt their work in order to enable employees to reach their full potential. The environment affects how the diagnosis presents and there may be a clash between ability and requirements, says Isabelle Wikholm.

The way in which the two diagnoses present themselves and their extent can vary considerably between individuals. The brains and nervous systems of people with ADHD or autism process information differently, but this has nothing to do with intelligence. 

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By making work adaptations at an early stage, we can ensure that we can use this work capacity and reduce the risk of ill health and sickness absence.

Get to know the needs and strengths of individuals

To ensure that employees are provided with the right adjustments, it is important to look at their individual needs and strengths. If you are a manager, you should listen, be curious and ask open questions. What works well? Is it possible to do more of that? What works in different contexts? What are the person's wishes in relation to support and adaptations?

– There are no universal strengths and weaknesses that affect the world of work, it's about listening to the individual. It is also important not to focus on the diagnosis. Having a diagnosis is not a requirement to introduce adaptations, but rather it should be needs that set direction.

In order to understand those needs, it is sensible to have a clear procedure for detecting signs of reduced working capacity. It is also important to react immediately to early signals, to call a one-to-one meeting and to have the courage to ask how the employee is feeling and doing at work.

– It may be difficult for an employee who is not feeling well or happy at work to take the first step themselves. If you check in regularly, review the work environment and well-being, it is much easier to detect signs of reduced work capacity or mental ill health.

Adaptation at work

Adapting work by being clear about what is expected, having a structured working day and clarifying roles and responsibilities works well for most people.

Seven questions from the field of clarifying pedagogics can be used by both employees and managers to clarify tasks and duties.

  1. What should be done?
  2. Why should it be done?
  3. How should it be implemented?
  4. When should it be done?
  5. Who should do it?
  6. What happens afterwards?
  7. How does the employee receive feedback and when?

In addition to the more general adaptations, there may also be a need for individually targeted measures. These should be developed in dialogue with the employee and can range from planning to achieve more frequent deadlines with a narrower scope rather than allocating generous amounts of time for a single, big project, to providing noise-cancelling headphones if someone is sensitive to sound, or appointing a mentor to support with everyday concerns and questions.

– By introducing work adaptations at an early stage, we can be sure to make good use of this work capacity and reduce the risk of ill health and sickness absence.

Brief facts about ADHD

A person with ADHD may, for example, have varying degrees of difficulty controlling their concentration and stamina. It may also be difficult for them to regulate their activity level and they can go from hyperactive to a very low activity level.

Read more about ADHD on Vårdguiden

Brief facts about autism

The diagnosis is characterised in two main ways. One concerns limitations with social interaction and communication with others. It can be difficult to interpret expectations and to understand what others mean and feel. The second characteristic is the existence of limiting and repetitive patterns of behaviour and interests.

Read more about autism on Vårdguiden