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Q&A: Melissa Henderson, neurodivergent lawyer at Muckle LLP

14th May 2024 | Corporate Finance
Anthony evans and Melissa Henderson in front of wooden slats

Melissa Henderson, who recently qualified as a solicitor in our corporate team, shares her experience working as a neurodivergent lawyer at the firm.

Can you tell us a bit about your history of being neurodivergent?

I was first diagnosed with ADHD and autism while working at my previous job around 4 or 5 years ago. I remember finding it really difficult to manage my workload, and I would get distracted really easily. It was actually my partner, who works with children and adults with disabilities, who spotted the signs and encouraged me to get my diagnosis. The whole process took around a year. 

What sort of barriers have you had to face?

After being diagnosed, I’ve definitely had to adapt to certain ways of working, and I’ve come to realise making small changes can allow me to still work to the best of my ability. In a previous role, I was becoming stressed and struggling to manage my workload. I often found that I would become extremely burnt out following periods of extreme busyness – this was often more dehabiliting than regular burnout, as I would suffer from ‘autistic burnout’. Autistic burnout is unique to autistic individuals as it’s brought on by stressful periods and from ‘masking’ autistic traits, which is something I would automatically do at work. Recovering from autistic burnout takes longer – in some cases, months or even years. I’ve learnt a lot about myself since experiencing this, most important of which is not to mask my autistic traits. 

How have you adapted to work life since your diagnosis? 

The biggest impact is learning that it's okay to ask for support or help when facing challenges.  I’m gentler on myself in tough situations, and instead of assuming I can't do something, I've acknowledged that some tasks might be more challenging for me, and that’s okay. 

Although I've been open to exploring different ways of working in certain aspects of my job, I'm also aware of the importance of meeting certain expectations and targets within my role. The most important thing that has helped me has been learning to find a healthy balance between the two. This way, the work still gets done, and I still get the support I need when I need it. 

What advice would you give to SMEs trying to be more inclusive?

I’d say the most important thing a business can do is carry out training courses to gain a basic understanding of neurodiversity. There can be a lot of misconceptions around the term; many people think it’s either a learning disability or mental illness – that’s not the case. It’s a neurological difference in the brain. There can be a lot of different branches, meaning not every single person needs the same type of support. Just like neurotypical individuals, no two neurodivergent people are the same. We should learn to celebrate our differences and champion our unique personalities and skills.

I think many employers might be a bit wary and believe they will have to make costly adjustments when hiring someone who is neurodivergent. These accommodations can often be as minor as allowing someone to wear headphones to help with concentration or allowing working from home. 

How has Muckle supported you? 

They’ve been incredibly supportive from day one. Ever since my first interview, when I spoke about my involvement with the Neurodiverse Lawyer Project, my colleagues have been very accommodating and allowed me to continue working on an issue I’m so passionate about. 

Having regular check-ins with my colleagues and management helps keep me focused on my work. Having the flexibility to work from home on certain days and allocating thinking time before and after meetings also helps. Although these adjustments may seem minor, I appreciate Muckle’s respect and mindfulness towards my needs. 

Continuous improvement

In December 2023, we were the first law firm in the North East to receive a B Corporation® (or B Corp™).

This groundbreaking achievement reflects our unwavering commitment to our ESG strategy and continuous improvement, leading the charge in ethical and sustainable business practices within the legal industry in the region.

Jason Wainwright, managing partner said: “We pride ourselves in employing individuals from different backgrounds, creating a working environment that’s effective and comfortable for everyone.

“The small adjustments we’ve put in place should be compulsory for any business. Providing comfortable workspaces that are quiet, creating breakout rooms, and allowing work-from-home days when needed are accommodations we’ve made that will help support Melissa and benefit all our employees within the business.  

“As a law firm passionate about inclusivity and diversity, breaking away from the traditional stereotypes is crucial. We want to be able to embrace diversity, accommodate individuals from all different walks of life, and celebrate their talents. We aim to attract top talent from the region, regardless of backgrounds.”

Find out more information about the ND Lawyer Project.


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