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“I Can’t Count the Amount of Times I’ve Been Told ‘But You Don’t Look or Act Autistic’”: Irene Henriksen McGillivray on Neurodiversity

An interview with Irene Henriksen McGillivray, Senior AM Lead and the Global Neurodiversity Lead at Yahoo


Hi Irene – thanks for chatting with us. Can you tell us a bit about yourself?

My name is Irene Henriksen McGillivray, I am from Norway, but living in Ireland. I am a Senior AM Lead and the Global Neurodiversity Lead at Yahoo. I have worked at Yahoo for over seven years.


What does neurodiversity mean to you?

Neurodiversity is the natural variation of the human brain and not flaws that we should correct. It means we should accept people for who they are and not try to change them. It also means that this world we have created has not been created with diversity in mind and we need to make changes to create a world where everyone is included and feel they truly belong. Autism, ADHD and other Neuro-developmental types are natural variations of the human brain and not flaws that should be fixed.


What is your experience with neurodiversity?

I am AuDHD (Autistic + ADHD). I was late-diagnosed. I received my Autism diagnosis at the age of 37 and my ADHD diagnosis at the age of 38. I started suspecting I was Autistic after my father passed in 2020 and now it turns out that most of my family is neurodivergent.


What are people’s misconceptions about neurodiversity?

Unfortunately, there is still quite a bit of stigma around neurodiversity, but I think we are starting to see a shift in people’s idea of what neurodiversity is and slowly we are making headway. One common misconception is that autistic people struggle with communication. Recent research shows that although allistic (non-autistics) and autistic people struggle with communication across the neurotypes, autistic people communicate well with other autistic people, just as allistic people communicate well with other allistic people.


Another misconception is that autism is being over-diagnosed when in fact it is still being under-diagnosed. More awareness around autism has helped people understand they may be autistic and finally getting a diagnosis. Getting a diagnosis is extremely hard and the waiting lists are very long.


How can we be better allies to neurodivergent people?

Learn about the autistic lived experience from actually autistic people, and learn about ADHD from people with ADHD. Learn our language. Autistic people have had to learn the neurotypical language for so long, it would be great if allistic people could learn our language and meet us halfway.


When someone says they are autistic, do not invalidate the struggles they have faced. I can’t count the number of times I’ve been told: “But you don’t look or act Autistic at all”, “Aren’t we all a bit Autistic” or “Your Autism must be mild”.  Don’t use mild/severe or high and low functioning. Just because YOU experience my autistic traits mildly, does not mean that I do not struggle, it means that I am very good at masking my autistic traits and cannot be my authentic self around you. Autistic people are forced to wear a mask, it's a survival skill in a world not designed for us.


How does your workplace approach neurodiversity?

We have a fantastic Neurodiversity ERG which is a community I am extremely proud to be part of. We raise awareness around neurodiversity and support each other. We are an ERG for minds of all kinds where everyone can be their authentic selves.


We have also done a lot of work and continue to do a lot of work on our hiring, recruitment, onboarding and interview practices to ensure they are truly inclusive. The company has been extremely supportive of any initiatives I have brought forth to make our processes more Neuro friendly.


What do you think makes for best practice in supporting neurodivergent people in the workplace & do you have any tips on supporting neurodivergent people to feel included in the workplace?

Having an ERG for neurodiversity is a must, but it’s important to not just become another company that wants to tick boxes. To be truly inclusive, you need to ensure your office is sensory friendly, and that your hiring, recruitment, onboarding and interview practices are inclusive of neurodivergent people. Unconscious bias training for neurodiversity should also be implemented along with training on different communication styles.

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