Family Wellbeing

The Unsung Frontline: How Workplaces Can Provide Tangible Support to Working Parents Raising Neurodiverse Teens

An empathetic, inclusive workplace culture that values neurodiverse families can be a powerful tool for productivity, better work-life integration, and retention.

Written by
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Lynn Burrell
Lead Content Manager
Clinically reviewed by
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A teenage boy works on a computer with the help of his mom

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    As the concept of neurodiversity becomes more mainstream, there’s a broader understanding of how people’s brains work. This has led to greater recognition that there’s no singular, “normal” brain type. 

    In reality, there’s so much variety in how people perceive and interact with the world, which presents a more accurate and interesting model of humanity. 

    While many workplaces are embracing neurodiversity, there’s still an overlooked frontline of employees navigating a double shift—working parents raising neurodiverse teens. Often, these parents have many additional challenges, acting as advocates for teens who may learn, communicate, and experience the world differently.

    For HR leaders, recognizing, celebrating, and accommodating the unique needs of these parents isn't just good practice—it's also good for organizational success. An empathetic, inclusive culture that values neurodiverse families can be a powerful tool for productivity, better work-life integration, and retention.

    Neurodiversity in teens

    The exact number of neurodiverse teens is still being researched, but recent findings from a United Nations report notes, “there are over one billion neurodiverse and developmentally challenged children, a number that continues to grow, due to improved awareness and diagnosis.”  

    Under this broad category, the range of conditions include: 

    • Autism spectrum disorder
    • ADHD
    • Dyslexia and dysgraphia
    • Dyspraxia
    • Tourettes
    • Sensory processing disorder
    • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
    • Bipolar disorder 
    • Schizophrenia

    Each condition has a range of severity levels, along with variance in how individuals are impacted.

    The challenges of puberty and school are intertwined

    Neurodiverse teens are, in many ways, dealing with all of the usual challenges of puberty, plus some added layers. School, social relationships, and biological changes are notoriously and universally daunting for most teens and their parents. 

    For neurodiverse teens, there may be particular difficulties in the following areas:

    • Academics: Learning differences may cause academic barriers. Working hard and yet struggling in school can take a hit on self-esteem and may lead to anxiety and/or depression.
    • Social relationships: There might be increased impulsivity, difficulty reading social cues and following social norms, and higher risks of bullying.
    • Emotional: Regulation and impulse control may pose obstacles, especially with the added layers of puberty.

    For example, a teen with ADHD might need more help remembering to bring materials home, complete their homework, and regularly manage their time. This level of supervision, which varies by individual, diagnosis, and severity, can put a lot of pressure on parents. 

    Challenges working parents face

    Working parents are often already experiencing long days and spending their non-work time advocating for and supporting their teens. This combination can be both exhausting and rewarding, and many may be experiencing these challenges. 

    Navigating systems and services

    Accessing appropriate support services and resources for their teen can be a daunting and bureaucratic process. Navigating the education, healthcare, and social services system while advocating for their teen's needs requires time, effort, and persistence.

    Financial strain

    The costs associated with therapy, interventions, and specialized education programs can significantly strain families. Parents may worry about how to afford their teen’s necessary support while managing other financial obligations.

    Emotional exhaustion

    Supporting a neurodiverse teen can be emotionally draining for parents. Managing meltdowns, navigating challenging behaviors, and addressing their teen's emotional needs can leave parents feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, especially while trying to balance work.

    Let’s talk about how workplaces can support parents navigating these experiences.

    The workplace can be a focal point of support

    The workplace is a central location in the lives of many working adults. Due to this centrality, it can also be a place where parents get the flexibility, support, and understanding they need to be present for their teen while attending to their own emotional needs, allowing them to be more present and productive at home and work.

    Employer support can mean many things, but awareness, education, understanding, and empathy—bringing to light what someone may be experiencing in their personal life—are always a solid foundation for healthy workplace cultures. 

    Next, we’ll investigate several possible avenues of workplace support.

    Building supportive ecosystems

    As an example of the practical impact of workplace support, imagine that a parent raising a neurodiverse teen gets a call from the teen’s school and is needed for a meeting that day. 

    It’s easy to picture the overwhelm a working parent may feel while trying to get time off to attend the meeting, receiving pushback from their supervisor, and feeling stressed about meeting these dual responsibilities.

    Now, consider this scenario. The parent’s workplace is committed to developing a culture of empathy and support and has flexible work arrangements. The parent knows immediately they can rearrange their work responsibilities and schedule and attend the meeting, knowing their manager and coworkers will understand and accommodate. 

    As a result, they experience significantly less stress.

    Policy support and benefits reinforce well-being

    It's common to discuss benefits during employee onboarding and then let them fall by the wayside. But life circumstances can change rapidly. Take working parents raising neurodiverse teens—their needs may evolve drastically after the hiring process. 

    Initially, therapy or parenting coaching may not seem relevant. However, as their child's needs emerge, professional support can provide invaluable coping tools for anxiety, fear of the unknown, and navigating new parenting challenges.

    To truly support these employees, a holistic approach is crucial, including:

    • Mental health benefits: A comprehensive mental health benefit for employees and their dependents gives the entire family access to professional support. This might include parenting coaching, therapy for teens, and digital mental health exercises.
    • Education and training: Foster empathy by offering learning opportunities about neurodiversity and the unique experiences of parenting neurodiverse teens. Engage HR leaders, managers, and colleagues.
    • ERG support: Facilitate support groups where parents can connect with others on similar journeys, exchanging stories and advice in a safe space.
    • Flexible work arrangements: Accommodate working parents' evolving needs through flexible schedules, remote work options, and accommodations that provide breathing room.

    Companies can create an ecosystem of understanding and support by proactively addressing mental health, education, community-building, and offering flexibility.

    Colleagues as allies and as community

    Creating a truly supportive workplace goes beyond policies and requires a cultural shift in how people show up for one another. 

    For employees raising neurodiverse teens, a judgment-free environment of empathy and openness can make such a difference. Avoid assumptions or stereotypes, and listen actively as parents share their unique experiences without offering unsolicited advice. 

    Furthermore, colleagues can act as allies simply by:

    • Encouraging self care: Remind coworkers to prioritize their mental health and proactively seek therapy, coaching, or other mental health resources. Burnout doesn’t benefit anyone.
    • Celebrating achievements: Big or small, acknowledge the victories! Raising an exceptional teen is arduous, so take the time to celebrate parenting wins.
    • Offering empathy: Sometimes, the most powerful support is simply listening without an agenda and validating people’s emotions. This normalizes open dialogue and reassures parents they aren't alone.

    An empathetic, curious, and supportive community is so powerful. When individuals lead with compassion over assumptions or judgment, they cultivate psychologically safe spaces that lead to more mutual understanding. 

    Being open to the experiences of others is an opportunity

    One of our greatest opportunities lies in opening ourselves up to each other's unique experiences by working hard to understand what other people’s lives look like and feel like. 

    By providing judgment-free spaces and proactively supporting colleagues on challenging journeys, there’s more space to cultivate meaningful relationships and inclusive cultures. When empathy and mutual understanding flourish, so does human potential.

    The most forward-thinking workplaces wholeheartedly embrace the idea that everyone experiences the world differently. With this in mind, and through tangible support and benefits, organizations can foster well-being by empowering every employee and family to thrive.

    Uncover the unique hurdles faced by employees raising neurodiverse children and how workplaces can become their vital lifeline.  

    About the Author
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    Lynn Burrell
    Lead Content Manager

    Lynn came to Spring Health from her start-up company Weldon, a parenting wellness app acquired by Spring Health in March 2022, where she was a co-founder. She has extensive experience working with children and families with Learning Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders, Mental Health and Physical Health challenges, and Executive Functioning Difficulties. Lynn has a Master’s degree in Early Childhood Assessment and a Professional Diploma in School Psychology. She has certifications and has practiced in New York, New Jersey, and California.

    About the clinical reviewer
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