Honoring Difference: How Neurodiverse Accommodations Help Create a Richer Workplace

For Jennifer Santos, an autism diagnosis started a journey of self-awareness—and a new understanding of how to bring her complete self to work.

May 1, 2024

When Jennifer Santos was in middle school in the 1990’s, she struggled with focus, communication, organization, and had periods of selective mutism. Back then, mental health and neurodiversity were not as widely understood as they are today, and her family did not consider pursuing an evaluation.

“I grew up in a close-knit Hispanic household,” Santos explains. “While my family has always been extremely supportive of me and my decisions, they thought an evaluation might have a negative impact on my future and my career.”

Once she became an adult, Santos decided to find a doctor who could shed some light on her condition. Unfortunately, she found that many of the doctors she encountered catered to children, and were unable to work with her. Eventually, she found one who specialized in neurodiversity for adults.

Even after she found a doctor, though, getting a diagnosis was an uphill battle. But after filling out countless questionnaires, and having many conversations about her childhood, work- and personal life, Santos was formally diagnosed with ADHD, Generalized Anxiety Disorder, and Autism in 2020.

A Supportive Environment

Santos considered her autism diagnosis life-changing. She finally had an explanation for many of the challenges she’d faced. And, as she learned more about her condition, she also learned how to create boundaries, to practice self-care, and to anticipate when burnout was approaching.

When she received her diagnosis, Santos was working as a Private Client Banker for Chase in Manhattan, New York and decided to use Chase’s internal resources to guide her. After typing “autism” into the company’s homepage, she came across the Autism at Work program, where she found articles, shared experiences, and links to books, including some of the books that her doctor recommended she read.  

“There was an email listed, so I decided to reach out to see what an autism diagnosis meant for my career,” she recalls. “I was quickly contacted by the Autism at Work program and we scheduled time to meet and discuss my diagnosis and accommodations. I had no idea that there were things in place that could help me as a neurodiverse person.”

Armed with her new knowledge about her condition, Santos was better equipped to recognize her own needs. When she realized that she was experiencing a great deal of burnout, she started to evaluate her strengths, particularly her research and analytical skills, and began to think about moving to an internal position that was operations-focused.

She had a very candid conversation with her manager, who gave her the support she needed to search for other roles within JPMorgan Chase. Within a few months, Santos transferred into the Securities Operations group.

Success Through Accommodations

Santos thrived in her new role. “I really appreciate working in a group where diversity is honored and embraced and welcomed,” says Santos. “I always feel like I belong and I feel respected. I’m comfortable doing what I need to bring my best self to work every day and that means the world to me.”

A big part of Santos’ success lies in the workplace accommodations that are designed to help her maximize her performance. For example, sounds and stimuli can often be overwhelming, but her office has spaces that are less distracting. “I have moments when I step away and work in the designated ‘quiet place’ on my floor,” she says. “I access building areas that are sensory friendly, with less noise and lower lighting.”

Similarly, she is able to use devices that can help her control distracting visual and aural stimuli. In addition to noise-canceling headphones, she is able to use dark mode in Chrome and Outlook, which is less jarring. As for meetings, technology helps there, too: “I enjoy having the option of joining Zoom without the video at times and I maintain a hybrid working schedule,” says Santos. “Those things have made a big difference in prioritizing the management of autistic burnout.”

While her diagnosis comes with its challenges, Santos also knows that it comes with benefits that make her a valued employee. Her analytical skills and ability to focus on small details enable her to examine a process from several different perspectives and find things that others overlook.  

Her advice to corporate leaders is to embrace and honor the differences that each employee brings to the workplace. “Respect everyone and realize that everyone thinks differently and approaches things differently even if they have not disclosed a diagnosis,” she says. “If you are promoting an inclusive environment, people will make the effort to bring their best selves to work daily.”

This article is for informational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your mental health professional or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding your condition.

JPMorgan Chase is an Equal Opportunity Employer, including Disability/Veterans.