Celebrating our (Neuro)Diversity this NCW

Senior Software Engineer Andrew Fleming and HR Manager JP Devine discuss how Neurodiversity is experienced and what our organisation can do to support.

This week at FanDuel we marked Neurodiversity Celebration Week (NCW). The week is a great opportunity for us to celebrate, educate & reflect on what we do, individually and as an organisation to support our neurodivergent colleagues. By sharing the lived experiences of our neurodiverse team mates, we hoped not only to reduce any stigma associated with neurodiversity but help inform and educate our teams (for example, “what does neurodiversity mean?”)

This NCW, we were delighted to offer an opportunity for those with lived experiences of neurodiversity to participate in a forum event internally to share their stories & help us celebrate our differences. In what was an open, honest & educational discussion with Andrew Fleming, a Senior Software Engineer who is also autistic, we chatted over what neurodiversity means to him, what challenges he’s faced (& overcome) and useful tips on ways of working.

We’re grateful to Andrew for allowing us to share some of the discussion in our blog — we hope you enjoy it and look forward to sharing some of our work we are doing around neurodiversity inclusiveness & support at FanDuel, in the future.

It’s Neurodiversity Celebration Week and we wanted to chat to those with lived experience and are passionate about helping the company advance our Neurodiversity support. First off, give us an intro — tell us about yourself

I’m Andrew. I’m a Senior Software Engineer at FanDuel based in our Payments Engineering space within our Wallet vertical. I’ve been at FanDuel for just over four and a half years now, which makes me feel a bit old! Yeah, and obviously, I’m neurodivergent and so I was diagnosed as having something called Asperger syndrome. I was diagnosed when I was about five years old, so it’s been, 25 years since I was diagnosed.

The term neurodiversity or neurodivergent, it’s quite new. The first example of the word being used was 1988, which wasn’t too long ago. It’s becoming more widely used, but what does neurodiversity mean to you? And how would you define the word to those who aren’t familiar with it?

Yeah, it’s interesting because I’ve been at FanDuel for four and a half years. I think when I first started, I didn’t know what the word meant if I’m being honest. I started using the term neurodivergent later. It’s more about the fact that the way I think is neurologically different. And that means the way I deal with situations is very different. I experience challenges very differently…it can cause me to be very drained. The way I see the term, it’s about accepting the fact that even though I may think differently, there’s an advantage to that, there’s a lot of challenges to it, obviously, don’t get me wrong but I think it’s about understanding that there’s nothing wrong with me.

In terms of awareness and the workplace generally, have you seen or experienced a change in awareness around neurodiversity over the last few years?

Social media was a huge thing about me learning about what neurodiversity is or where I fit into that and how to approach and discuss it.

I think social media has helped, it’s changed how people exchange information and I think more people are starting to realise now, particularly in later life, that they are maybe neurodivergent and I think that’s helped people to have that conversation. That’s maybe why we are having this conversation right now — because more and more people are asking about it. It’s something that comes up a lot in our internal staff surveys: ‘How are we at supporting people who are neurodivergent’[…] that’s because more people are becoming aware of it.

When I was diagnosed 25 years ago, about 1997 roughly, the stereotype was: ‘you’re a male’; ‘socially awkward’- but over the years more and more people — women, as an example, are realising that they are Neurodivergent. Some people are able to mask it a lot better and as people have grown up they start to realise, because they’ve seen these things online, “those do match up with who I am and how I act.’ I think that’s one of the ways awareness has really grown.

When you joined FanDuel, which I believe is when you disclosed that you were Neurodivergent, how comfortable did you feel sharing that information with FanDuel?

Everyone has their own way of doing it. I’ve spoken to people who, for example, would never disclose at all and that’s obviously up to them & their decision and I think we must respect & understand that.

I think what I’ve found is that generally: disclosing, for me personally, has worked. The culture of the company is very important.

I joined FanDuel 4 years ago so it was a very different company to where we are now, (we’ve grown massively over the last four and a half years), I think one of the interesting things is that we’ve got a very open culture around talking about mental health, and that’s something I knew and kind of saw from the start. I think that really helped for me to be a bit more open about how I’m feeling: like when I’m feeling drained, that sort of stuff. As well, having a really good manager & relationship with your manager are a really important part of that — the manager for me is a very critical part of the support network. I have to be able to live independently and how I work helps me to be able to do that, so yes, having a strong manager has been really important — someone who I can go to & say ‘I struggled with this’ or ‘I didn’t quite understand this bit’ and not feel judged. I think that’s something I’ve found at FanDuel, we’ve got that right, at least in my experience anyway.

My team is also a really good team, where we are quite open with each other. I think that’s been an important part as well.

On the flip side, have you come across any barriers, or anything that you felt would prevent you from sharing your experiences?

I think one of the biggest things is just basically other people’s understanding, which can be a barrier. For me, one of the things about being neurodivergent is a lot of the time our conditions are maskable generally. I have a battery and as I do things, even this interview… things where I have to do a lot of communication, they can drain my battery.

It’s about trying to be understanding. There’s a little bit of a stigma sometimes around asking for ‘reasonable adjustments’, for example, things protected as part of the Equality Act. You don’t want to be treated differently, but you also need support, it’s a hard balance. Again, as it’s a masked condition, it’s just about having the conversation. You don’t want people to treat you differently and I’ve found that, generally, I will not tell someone that I’m neurodivergent until a later stage. I had that conversation when I joined FanDuel, mostly with the HR team and my direct line manager but wouldn’t disclose to the team at first.

Those are some of the barriers, there’s probably many more that our people will have had, the important thing is to have conversations around those barriers.

What are some of the ways that you felt best supported by colleagues around your neurodiversity?

For me, it’s been having a good manager relationship, which has been really important. I think every manager wants to do the best for their team — that’s what makes a good manager, right? But it can be a challenge to support someone when you don’t understand how they think.

It’s helped a lot when I’ve spoken to people who are also neurodivergent in the organisation, it’s been good to talk about that with others. Building a sort of support group or an interest group around neurodiversity, that is something I would encourage us to look at.

Adjustments are also an important part, having those in place. For example, I have adjustments around setting clear expectations: what I’m expected to do, when I should be doing it and if there’s specifics of how I am meant to be doing it. It has to be flexible to the person — how do we do that on an individual level whilst also being able to support an entire population.

What is the most positive experience around neurodiversity that you can share?

I’m a huge board gamer, I love board games, it is one of my favourite hobbies. I started going to this board game meet-up in Edinburgh and one of the good things from that was that I met a lot of good people, good friends, some people who are also neurodivergent, but also people who are not but were very understanding, or they’ve had challenges around mental health and that sort of stuff.

It helps me to find people who are like me, who arereally nice and give me really good support, one of the reasons why I’m probably quite strong is because I now have that really great support network. It has allowed me to grow and I think that’s one of the most positive experiences I’ve had.

I didn’t really disclose about being neurodivergent or being autistic, until during the pandemic, when we were all locked away and we ended up doing a lot of stuff online, which really helped. It got me through the pandemic actually, because I was on my own for most of it. Eventually, it got to the point where I felt comfortable with disclosing and willing to discuss a bit more about it, and it made it easier and made people more open to me. It’s one of the things that I’m really proud of, is having that really good support network around me to help do that.

One of the things that we are working on together and for the benefit of others and FanDuel is a potential interest group around neurodiversity which is very exciting. How important would this be to you and the wider FanDuel teams, if we can get this going and get it off the ground?

I think it’s super important actually. I think generally, as neurodiversity is more talked about in the workplace, it’s definitely going to be vital. It will give an opportunity for people like me to discuss things and have a forum where we can advocate for change. I also think it’s super important from an ally perspective as well, people who want to help people who are neurodivergent to thrive. One thing, which kind of scares me a little: [only] 21% of people who are autistic, are in full time employment in the UK and that’s quite a low number. I think, if we can get to a point where people who are neurodivergent can come to the workplace, get the support they need and be able to do great things, we would all benefit. We have great skills we can bring to the working world, the way we think about stuff can be very different. It’s important having a populace that is neurodiverse; the way we solve problems, the way we get to solutions — we have different ways of looking at things, and I think that’s an asset. I think having a group where we can discuss those things is very important, I’m definitely on board with that.

What advice would you give someone who works with a neurodivergent person, in terms of ways that could best support them?

If you are working with someone who has disclosed to you that they are neurodivergent there’s two things:

  1. they’ve shared something very personal with you, understand the importance and how big a step that is.
  2. Don’t assume what that person needs. For example, I’m autistic but I communicate pretty well; there might be people who can’t do that or maybe have different ways of managing that. Autism is a huge spectrum so listen to what they have to say and if they ask you for something, then there’s a reason for that.

Lastly- a little tip that helps me, one that I struggled a lot with; be clear in meeting invites. People sometimes say, ‘here’s a meeting invite’, but don’t explain what you need from me, or what the purpose of the meeting is and I’m going to tell you, from someone that’s autistic like me, that really can be a bit frustrating sometimes.

I like to prepare so I can properly engage in the meeting. If you have a meeting invite, just make sure that it’s clear, but I would suggest that’s a good thing for anyone to do generally.

So what next?

It’s important to us that we open the conversation around neurodiversity and give a voice to those who want to be more visible and vocal around being neurodivergent — while appreciating that there are those who wish to keep a diagnosis private — and making FanDuel a safe place for people to do so.

Following on from our discussion with Andrew, we are delighted to say our first, global, Neurodiversity interest group at FanDuel is now set up & we look forward to all that the group will achieve around neurodiversity inclusion. A step that will see long-lasting positive change at FanDuel, we’ve no doubt!

The group behind NCW (https://www.neurodiversityweek.com) — created an extensive weeklong schedule of events around neurodiversity. With wide ranging topics from ‘The Language of Neurodiversity’ to ‘The Experiences of Neurodivergent Women & Girls’, we were keen to share the details and encourage everyone to attend a session or two. We’ve no doubt that those that were able to attend any of the sessions left much more informed & educated around the topics.

Celebrating our (Neuro)Diversity this NCW was originally published in FanDuel Life on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.