Inclusive team building – be the leader who gets the best from the whole team.

Being a productive team requires each team member to be supported to contribute to the best of their ability. As we make leaps and bounds regarding working from home, sit/stand desks, and other great one size fits all approaches, let us remember that true equity comes from bringing everyone to the same level. True equity may require unique solutions for each neurodivergent team member. Similarly for team members with caring responsibilities or experiencing depression or anxiety. Inclusive team building helps everyone.

Basics of team building in terms of meeting individual needs

You’ve probably already attended more team-building afternoons than you would care to remember. Perhaps you have enjoyed icebreakers, bonded over shared activities, or worked towards establishing clear goals, responsibilities, and communication styles. But have you ever considered how to meet the base needs of your whole team? Meeting every team member’s basic needs through inclusive team building, encourages and improves communication, trust, and collaboration among your team.

In his paper ‘A Theory of Human Needs (1943)’, Maslow proposed a hierarchy of needs still used today. He proposed that before a human can achieve self-actualisation, or even self-esteem, they must first have their physiological, safety and social needs met. So if you want your team to be performing at their best, you need to make sure they have these needs met first.


Physiological needs

Most workplaces broadly address the need for air, food, water, and health with air conditioning, kitchens with fridges for people to bring their own food, filtered taps, and First Aid Officers. But what of staff who find the temperature too hot or cold to focus at work? Or the ones who find the smell from the kitchen unbearable? For some neurodivergent staff members, the very things that meet the needs of the many can undermine their foundational needs.


Hopefully your workspace is physically safe, provides shelter, and your employees are secure in their positions (if they are not, you may want to start there!). But is it psychologically safe?

  • Is it a place where staff can raise ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes without fear of punishment or humiliation?
  • Could a staff member approach a manager to request a seat further from the smells in the kitchen?
  • Would they feel safe to explain their diagnosis and how you can help?

Social needs

Is it socially safe? Are all staff included, and do they share a sense of belonging? If not, what can you do about it? How can you ensure inclusion in a way that meets their reasonable requests?

  • Can you cc more people on that email?
  • Can you adjust communication styles to ensure quiet staff can provide input differently?
  • Can team members (dyslexic or otherwise) give a verbal report or use speech-to-text?

If staff needs are met in the lower parts of Maslow’s pyramid, they will perform better, and begin to seek power and recognition, before finally becoming more self-actualised and thus much better at their job and as part of your team.

Layering neurodiversity into team building

Neurodivergent is a term used to cover many previously disparate terms about what we might call different work preferences and needs. It covers people diagnosed with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and many more diverse ways of thinking, learning, or behaving. However, the supports offered to provide equity for neurodivergent team members will often also help neurotypicals (or undiagnosed neurodivergent), hence layering neurodiversity into team building, not just neurodivergent support.

The following are some of the work related challenges that can be faced by a neurodivergent staff member:

  • Smelly kitchen/ colleague meals
  • Room temperature uncomfortable
  • Worrying about the right time to smile
  • Getting up and organised for work
  • Click from an overhead light
  • Required clothes uncomfortable
  • Rejection sensitivity
  • Engaging in social chit chat
  • An overhead light is too bright/flickering
  • Focus required to read
  • Nerves or anxiety
  • Need to move instead of sitting still
  • Noise from others chatting distracts
  • Focus required to listen
  • Traffic or the commute
  • The smell of a colleague’s perfume

These challenges can add up quickly. Help your neurodivergent team members be their best by respecting their requests as far as practically possible.

Including neurodivergent support into your leadership style will also help staff members experiencing anxiety, home life stress, caring responsibilities, and even undiagnosed neurodivergence. By providing the support and flexibility outlined below your space will become safer, your staff will be more relaxed, and productivity will increase.

How do I build an inclusive team?

Cultural change towards inclusivity takes more than just words on a page. Inclusivity requires that every team member comes to value differences, reviews their patterns of thought and bias, and moves forward together with trust and psychological safety. To achieve this, you, as the leader, can set an example by:

Sharing your intent with the team

If you want to build and lead a team where everyone is welcome and feels safe to express their needs (and ideas!):

  1. Start by clarifying that to your team.
  2. Tell team members old and new that you want everyone to feel safe and welcome.
  3. Explain what you are doing (see below) to create such a space.
  4. Consider professional development training to help the team reflect on their biases and behaviours.

We are often limited to viewing the world as we have experienced it, but we can all expand our viewpoint, value the different lenses of others, and challenge ourselves to do better.

Holding curious and open conversations in safe spaces

Start conversations with all team members (because inclusivity is not limited to those who publicly identify as neurodivergent!), asking them what would help them bring their best every day. Get to know them as people. Build trust by not only hearing requests but acting on them. If a team member is brave enough to share with you that they would feel more productive if they could work from home, then trial it. Stop being caught in the status quo and start working with a new narrative about teamwork that meets your team’s needs.

Reducing and removing potential points of friction

Reducing friction might look like:

  1. Prioritising fixing a flickering light in the office or
  2. Setting an office rule limiting the length of meetings to one hour
  3. Having a difficult conversation with a team member who refuses to see beyond their bias.
  4. Offering all staff the option to work from home where practically possible.

Be led by your team and the points that arise in your curious and open conversations.

Creating a truly inclusive team takes commitment to ensuring all your team members’ physiological, social, and safety needs. Doing so you will create a space where you get increased productivity and job satisfaction from every member of your team, which is the goal of all good leaders. For more on how I can help you and your team with inclusive team building, please contact me, or review my workplace offerings.

Women with ADHD – Challenges and options

Image shows woman sitting at desk covered in books, swirls above her head, eyes down, glasses on.

Women, like myself, my clients, and more famously Em Rusciano and Hannah Gadsby, are reaching middle age, and finally discovering nothing is ‘wrong’; they are not a failure. There is a reason for the overwhelm they feel, that their friends do not. A reason that life can seem so hard. That reason is ADHD. Unfortunately, the path to diagnosis is rarely easy due to stereotypes of who has ADHD and how it presents itself.

Mention ADHD in most circles, and you will hear about young boys who can’t sit still, don’t focus, and struggle at school. We would now describe this as ‘hyperactive’ or ‘combination’ ADHD. However, women often present with slightly different ‘inattentive’ ADHD symptoms which can be much harder to see from the outside. As to how we define ADHD, I like the definition Solden and Frank use, describing ADHD as a genetic, chronic, brain-based condition that impacts the management functions of the brain, including:

  • Ability to activate yourself enough to begin a task,
  • Sustaining focus once you start a task, and
  • Sticking with it when your energy or interest wanes.[1]

Many of my clients can relate to this. However, many have learnt to show the outside world a different face in order to fit in. This ‘masking’ contributes to the difficulty in obtaining a diagnosis. Luckily, even while you await a diagnosis, or are unable to attain one, there are a few steps you can take to support yourself in managing your symptoms.

Why is it so hard for women with ADHD to get a diagnosis?

Women’s ADHD symptoms are different

Teachers and parents of a hyperactive young boy may remember a child who was constantly bouncing around, couldn’t sit still or would have been a high achiever if they only focussed. They may recall a loud child who was impulsive. Such traits often refuse to be ignored. This helps young boys get the correct diagnosis at an early age.

On the other hand, women and girls are often less hyperactive in their ADHD. Instead, they may experience challenges sustaining attention, following through on larger tasks, and organising themselves on tasks and activities. They might be easily distracted and avoid or dislike tasks that require sustained mental effort. Unless clearly ‘off with the fairies’, these traits can be much more complex for the outside world to see, especially if a girl or woman has learnt to mask them.



Masking is a coping skill that many of my clients have learned, either consciously or inadvertently, through life experiences, to ensure they appear normal. They may only be able to keep it on for limited periods, like work or school, or they may have adopted it so strongly that not even their immediate family know the difference anymore. Some of these learned behaviours can be helpful, but they can also come with an energy cost that takes a toll at the end of the day. Masking can include:

  • Mimicking or copying others
  • Consciously suppressing more obvious movements, but the desire will remain
  • Learning to react the way society expects rather than as you feel
  • Withdrawing inward and being overly careful about everything you say
  • Perfectionism or obsessively checking and organisation
  • Overcompensating to appear in control, even if struggling

These strategies may have kept us from being socially cast out, but they can often leave women with depression or anxiety because it is so difficult to hide or because it delays a diagnosis that may provide healthy support for moving forward.


The impacts of a delayed diagnosis

“We diagnose ADHD based on the DSM-5 diagnostic criteria, which requires evidence of ADHD prior to the age of 12 as it is a neurodevelopmental disorder. Without this evidence we are unable to provide a diagnosis of ADHD.”

– an all too common response from medical professionals and diagnostic clinics.

The DSM-5 (the rule book for mental health diagnosis) classifies ADHD as a ‘Child Mental Disorder’ and requires evidence of the ‘disorder’ prior to 12 years of age.

Often it is not until women have children of their own that the scaffolds that supported them, school routines, work routines, masking and checklists, cease to be enough. These women can end up diagnosed with depression or anxiety, when really, they are overwhelmed with executive functioning challenges. Sometimes, the diagnosis of a child prompts a woman to investigate her own symptoms. (Not that having children is the only reason midlife can prompt diagnosis.)

By this time parents and those who ‘knew us when we were younger’ may have passed on, left our lives, or simply not be able to recall the details necessary to see through younger masks and assist with diagnosis. For some of us, we won’t even remember ourselves.


What can you do if you think you have symptoms of ADHD?

Know your support network

Being diagnosed with ADHD as a woman can be challenging, long and expensive. I wish it were otherwise. It really helps if you have one or two people in your corner that you can talk to about what is happening so that you know you are not alone. Try and find that person in your network who has been there themselves, or the close friend or family member who always has your back no matter what, and don’t be afraid to be honest with them about your journey. Having support will make it so much easier for you.

Talk to your GP

In Australia, your GP will usually run through a few questions to determine whether you have enough symptoms to warrant a referral to a psychologist or a psychiatrist for a potential diagnosis.

Whilst GPs are getting better at understanding the nuances of women with ADHD and how we may present, some are still hesitant to make the referral. If you feel strongly that you may have ADHD seek a second opinion. Remember, at this point, all you are doing is asking for a referral to a specialist who can assist with your symptoms whether it’s ADHD or something else. Once you have a referral, your specialist will advise their diagnosis process as these may differ.

Help yourself

While you wait to see the specialist or find the GP who understands you, while you save the money or even if you receive a negative result after testing, you can take some matters into your own hands.

Many ADHD resources are available to support women with symptoms, including podcasts, books, YouTube videos and websites. You may also find a counsellor or coach (like myself), who cannot medically diagnose you, but has more immediate availability to work with you to put in place systems and plans to help manage your symptoms (regardless of their cause).

After all, the diagnosis is only part of the process. What we are all really after is an easier life, and a little understanding. Understanding yourself and supporting yourself just as you are can be done without diagnosis so don’t be afraid to start now.

[1] Solden, Sari & Frank, Michelle, A radical guide for women with ADHD, 2019, New Harbinger Publications.

How to Have a Happy Family

My passion is to support families, and the individuals within them, by equipping them to connect, communicate and have fun together.

Families of all shapes and sizes struggle with the same fundamental issues of different agendas, standards and expectations. Every member of your family may need something entirely different to the rest, especially in families with neurodiverse members who can often struggle to feel a sense of belonging. 

Embracing the values that make your family unique by learning to connect (or reconnect) through communication, compromise and prioritising relationships within the family can take your family from stress to a place of family joy and happiness.


One of the first steps towards healthy family communication is mastering the I-message (not the phone variety!). This starts with recognising the problem is not the person you are speaking to, but rather their actions and how they impact you.

I-messages are a simple form of communication that are particularly helpful in conflict situations, or encouraging children to adjust behaviour without punishment. I-messages comprise three parts:

  1. A non-blameful/non-judgemental description of the child’s (or adult’s) behaviour
  2. How you feel about the behaviour
  3. The impact or cost to you or some other person

E.g. When you twirl around in the lounge room, I feel worried because you may hit the television and we cannot afford a new one. If it broke, none of us could enjoy the shows we wanted to watch.

Using these I-messages, instead of blaming with ‘you-messages’, we explain to the other member of our family (yes, this works with adults too!) how their actions impact us. If it doesn’t work in the first instance, actively listen to their point of view or needs, then move towards a solution that works for both parties.

No Lose Method – Compromise!

Traditional (or might I say old fashioned?) family models focus on parental discipline and child obedience. This win-lose conflict resolution style may compel behaviour choices in the immediate, but it seldom influences values and choices next time. Unfortunately, this parent wins/child loses parenting style often leads to children who resent their parents.

The opposite style of conflict resolution, where child wins/parent loses, is similarly ineffective, as it leads to parents resenting children (yes, it happens) and children who become selfish and inconsiderate.

The trick to having a happy family is to compromise and you meet the needs of both parties by finding a solution that is acceptable to both. In so many cases, between adult members or between adult and child, the act of both offering a solution, discussing and then actioning a win-win option can bring you closer together.

E.g. When a child wants to twirl, and an adult wants to keep the TV safe, the Child can twirl outside or in their room.

Put the Relationship First

I know from personal experience that shifting family dynamics is challenging, and long-held behaviour patterns are particularly so. But I also know it is worth the effort. Many of us parent as we were brought up ourselves and have to unlearn before moving forward. It helps if you focus on the end goal.

You are reading this because you value your family. You want to know the secret ingredient to have a happy family. I’m here to tell you that the secret is to prioritise your family relationships. Once you have done so, the changes and shift in dynamics will seem easier, and your neurodiverse family will become the happy family you want it to be.

If you would like to learn more about how you can have your own happy family, I invite you to join me at my FREE Recharge Family Joy Sessions with Wendy Marman. In Canberra on Wednesday 16, 23 & 30 March from 7:30 – 9:00 pm at Western Community Hub (also available live online).

Christmas Tips for Neurodiverse Families

There are three simple rules I keep coming back to. I recommend them to my clients and I try to remember them myself. They are essential for neurodiverse families at this holiday time of the year. So my Christmas Tips are similar to my everyday life tips.

1. You know your family best.
2. You are your neurodiverse child’s best advocate.
3. Keep your own cup full to benefit your whole family.

The pressure of Christmas expectations, long summer holidays, visiting family or friends that may not know your child as well all deplete your child’s energy bank. This is especially true of neurodiverse children. My Christmas tips help my family and many of my clients.

You Know Your Family Best

Many families experience the challenges of different personalities and often unwanted parenting advice over the holiday period. For families with neurodiverse members, including autism, ADHD or any number of diagnoses, the judgements from these large gatherings can be painful and lead to meltdowns or confrontations. There is no one solution here, but I want to remind you to trust your instincts.

You know your family best. Even if you don’t have a solution all the time or an easy way to avoid triggers as they change. Trust your instinct as a parent.

Perhaps you think it would help if you stayed in a hotel rather than with family, so there is a quiet place at the end of the day where your autistic child can recharge. Maybe you realise that the sugar for Christmas Breakfast triggers ADHD reactions in your child and can offer to cook up a savoury special for everyone instead.

Planning ahead and listening to your inner voice will help your child have a neurodiverse friendly Christmas that everyone will enjoy.

You Are Your Childs Best Advocate

Advocating can be difficult, but it is also rewarding. As parents of neurodiverse children, we get used to advocating on their behalf to schools and other child based activity groups. It’s much harder at Christmas when it becomes our job to advocate for our child to our parents or grandparents, even to our crazy Aunt who cannot understand difference at all.

I have been there. I have chastised my child for behaviour when I should have been more empathic. I have chastised my child for behaviour when I should have chastised the other party for disrespecting my child. And I have felt guilty later. So have many of the parents I work with.

You may experience a moment of discomfort respectfully explaining to your parents/or other awkward family members that you are taking your child for a quiet walk instead of punishing them.

For your child, this could become the most significant part of their holiday. Knowing you had their back. Others will have to get used to modern parenting and respecting children too.

Keep Your Cup Full To Benefit The Whole Family

I have spoken about this before and will likely again because it’s so important. It can be challenging to advocate for your child to other family members or pre-empt meltdowns or confrontations. It may feel like I am asking too much of you, and it is adding more worry. Please love yourself more than this. I want you to feel empowered, capable and to know that it is ok to make mistakes!

You will be more capable, more empowered, and more forgiving of yourself if you fill your cup too. If you love Christmas with your family, then go forth and enjoy. However, if it is a day filled with arguments and judgement that depletes both you and your neurodiverse child, can you alternate years? Spend the alternate on holiday at the beach filling your cup?

If you can look after yourself as a parent, you will better advocate and smooth the path for your child. Neurodiverse or not.

Christmas tips take away: take that bubble bath on Christmas Eve, limit your time with family members who wind you up, or take a long walk before you see them. What you need is important too.

Sending you peace, love and joy this festive season.


Preparing for High School on the Spectrum

The key is early and ongoing communication

Starting High School is a big change for all students. For our neurodiverse children, this change can be magnified and have a much greater, often negative, impact. Anxiety, sensory overload, reduction in structure and reduced 1:1 support for our children can be significant challenges.

The key to successful transition is communication and preparation. By working with your child’s High School as their Primary School draws to a close for the year, both student and school will be in a better place to prepare. Preparation and understanding reduce student anxiety and set in place support and structure.

Communicating effectively with High Schools as a parent can also be a new experience as there is no longer one classroom teacher who knows your child well. But it is possible, and it can be a positive experience.

Be Prepared and Informed

Before you begin to consider transition to High School it is helpful to take a good look at where your child is now. If it has been a while since your last conversation with their classroom teacher, start by setting aside a time for a discussion with them. Talk openly about your own observations and ask theirs. Try to put together the best picture of your child as they are right now.

The ACT is fortunate to have a small number of public schools dedicated to working with significantly impacted neurodiverse (and intellectually disabled) children. Including Woden School and Black Mountain School for students in year 7-12. Many other High Schools, including Canberra High School have a Learning Support Unit dedicated to catering for each students unique needs. This can include structured learning or social skills requirements. These are not necessary for most neurodiverse students but may be worth considering if you feel your child may benefit.

The first step to a smooth transition to High School is to know the options available. Then either choose your school accordingly or use that knowledge to start the conversation at your chosen High School.

Communicating (and Advocating) with High School

Regardless of formal options available, or which High School your child attends, the school, and its teachers, will want your child to succeed as much as you do. Most teachers will happily make accommodations where possible to ensure the success of a student.

Start by contacting the school administration and asking who the best person is to speak to, and how to make an appointment with them. Take in your questions, your observations of your child and any requests or ideas you have that may assist your child. You might consider my earlier Top Tips:
  • Arrange as many transition visits as possible to orient your child
  • Request a sample copy of the year 7 timetable and a school map. Use these to start discussions with your child about how to use them to their advantage
  • Ask for a final copy of your child’s actual timetable as early as possible so you can work through it with your child and demystify before the first day.
  • Request a peer support older child that your child can meet and be mentored by. Knowing a familiar and experienced peer who is there for them can be an enormous help in the early days.

Be sure to leave that meeting with a firm idea of what supports will be provided, or what the next steps are. You may need to wait until Timetables are finalised or class lists complete. But you should know when your next meeting is, or what supports will be put in place. Some questions to consider are:

  • Will you provide this information to each of my child’s teachers?
  • Will my child have a home room teacher who is responsible for their wellbeing?
  • Where should my child go on day 1?
  • What policies do you have in place to ensure my child does not fall behind?
  • Who do I contact if we are having difficulties either learning or socially at school?

Need More Help Transitioning Your Neurodiverse Student from Primary School to High School?

The earlier you begin these conversations, the better the outcomes for you and your child. More notice means more capacity within the school system to accommodate early requests for timetables or setting up of transition visits and mentoring relationships.

If you are finding the conversations difficult, or not feeling comfortable with how they are progressing, please give me a call. I can liaise either on your behalf or with you and your child to ensure the best possible outcome for this often challenging transition period.

And remember: Some neurodiverse students thrive in High School. With more control of their own study habits, new friends who understand them as they are or the opportunity to select subjects that match their passions, High School can be the making of some neurodiverse students as they develop into the wonderful young adults we know they will be!