Celebrating neurodiversity in veterinary teams

Celebrating neurodiversity in veterinary teams

Erika Lin-Hendel, VMD, PhD encourages veterinary professionals to focus on education and understanding accessibility for neurodiversity

There is a lot of misinformation about the word neurodiversity, what it can mean and how it can present in individuals, according to Erika Lin-Hendel, VMD, PhD. “What comes to mind when you hear the word neurodiversity? Lin-Hendel asked attendees of the session they presented at the 2022 Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference in Atlantic City, New Jersey.

This question is driving the discussion of neurodiversity and how to celebrate it in veterinary medicine. The session entitled “Equity: Expand Your Perception: Celebrating and Empowering Neurodiverse Teams”1 was part of the conference’s BLEND track during which presenters focused on topics of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

Lin-Hendel defined neurodiversity as “a descriptor of the range of differences in brain function and behavioral traits…it is a normal variation of the human mind.” They pointed out that being neurodiverse is still a normal variation of the brain, even if it works differently from person to person. Misinformation surrounding neurodiversity is that these variations are “disorders” like autism or ADHD. Lin-Hendel said, “Rather than thinking there is something wrong or wrong when people don’t function the same way others do, neurodiversity embraces all differences…So our brain and the way we function, the way we take in information and process information, are going to be different.

In terms of veterinary medicine, Lin-Hendel explained that sometimes neurodiverse veterinary professionals find it difficult to decide whether to disclose these differences at work due to the stigmas or prejudices that may surround them, as well as the need to feel accepted and empowered. safety at work.

Lin-Hendel used their personal experience as an example of how daunting it can be to disclose neurodiversity at work. “So, I am an Asian-American woman with a female body. When I’m upfront and honest and direct in my communication, very often (depending on the situation) things don’t go well. It may even be worse if I reveal that I have autism. So, it’s one of those things where I learned to navigate social situations to survive and be able to keep my job. And that’s the tricky thing about unconscious bias,” they said.

Lin-Hendel hoped to teach participants to move away from harmful/hurtful language and instead use celebratory and empowering language when working with neurodiverse colleagues. As an example, Lin-Hendel said, “Instead of saying something is wrong with you because you can’t finish your paperwork in time, you have this stack of unfinished files, right? not ? Maybe the conversation [could] be, ‘why is this system not working well? What could we do better to facilitate the making of recordings? Instead of using accusatory language, taking a look at the functionality of the system can often solve more problems. Does the system focus only on accommodations for neurodiverse people or is it accessible to all employees, regardless of their neurofunctionality?

Lin-Hendel told participants that they were also dyslexic. “People with dyslexia have heightened creative abilities. But what it means is that sometimes I make spelling mistakes, or the words are reversed, or the letters are reversed. And when people say, “Oh, you have typos. We all have typos… My ability not to return letters is sometimes not a measure of my abilities as a clinician. Just because I don’t spell things perfectly doesn’t mean I’m not a great doctor,” they explained.

To take away

Lin-Hendel encouraged attendees to steer their conversations toward uplifting conversations and to highlight gifts and strengths instead of focusing on negatives. They advised reframing how individuals perceive neurodiversity: instead of focusing on how dyslexia can cause spelling mistakes, the thought process can be used to see how creativity can improve an area of the clinic.

“The general hope and aspiration that I have when I walk into the room and talk about this type of work with leadership shifts from pathologizing to celebrating [and] recognizing the special abilities we all have,” Lin-Hendel said.


Lin-Hendel, E. Equity: Expand Your Perception: Celebrate and Empower Neurodiverse Teams. Presented to: Atlantic Coast Veterinary Conference; October 10-12, 2022: Atlantic City, New Jersey.

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