Supporting neurodiversity at work

Thursday, March 23 2023
Written By: Mel Crate
  Did you know that diverse workplaces retain talent for longer, have higher levels of employee engagement, and even perform better financially than businesses with less diverse teams? Your neurodiverse colleagues will come to the table with different styles of thinking and a different way of seeing the world, bringing a new perspective to the […]


Did you know that diverse workplaces retain talent for longer, have higher levels of employee engagement, and even perform better financially than businesses with less diverse teams?

Your neurodiverse colleagues will come to the table with different styles of thinking and a different way of seeing the world, bringing a new perspective to the workplace challenges you are trying to solve. But, for neurodiverse folks to thrive in the workplace, we need to create spaces that are inclusive and accepting of their styles of working.

Trying to navigate a world designed for neurotypical individuals can be extremely stressful for someone who is neurodivergent and can result in them expending energy in the wrong places; trying to mask symptoms, mimic the behaviour of others, or overcome challenges that are simply part of their condition.

We must see neurological conditions not as a disorder, but as a normal aspect of human variation. In order for our neurodiverse colleagues to reach their full potential, we need to allow them to play to their strengths (as is the case for all individuals in all thriving teams), rather than focusing on overcoming perceived ‘weaknesses’ that, in many cases, are fixed symptoms of a condition.


What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to the diversity of ways in which people think, learn, and relate to others. Neurological conditions can include:

  • ADHD
  • Autism / ASC (autism spectrum conditions)
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyscalculia

The above diagnoses are reached through observing a wide range of symptoms that are generally thought of as problematic – for example difficulty spelling, social interaction challenges, or difficulty with organisation – with medication available for certain diagnoses to help individuals overcome or lessen these symptoms.


Focusing on strengths

When organisations choose to focus on the strengths of neurodivergent individuals, a huge amount of value is added to their teams.

Colleagues with autism often have great attention to detail and the ability to retain large amounts of information. Dyslexic individuals often excel in creative thinking and the ability to connect ideas. Instead of trying to mould individuals to fit a societal standard that is unobtainable, allow them to fully explore these strengths at work by creating flexibility around the roles and job specifications within the organisation.


Making reasonable adjustments for our neurodiverse colleagues

Neurological conditions are protected under the UK’s Disability Act. This means workplaces are required by law, to make reasonable workplace adjustments so that neurodivergent individuals can perform their roles with greater ease.

Each person with a neurological condition is an individual so it’s important not to make assumptions about what they might need at work. If they have disclosed their condition, the best course of action is to have an open conversation with them about how the organisation can support them. You could start by asking the following questions:

1. What do you need to succeed in your role?
2. What has to happen for you to feel included?
3. What environment works best for you to work in?
4. Which methods of communication work best for which tasks?
5. How do you learn best?
6. How can I help you prepare for meetings?

As we know, stress can impact rather heavily our ability to work productively. Our neurodiverse colleagues will generally experience higher levels of stress as they try to navigate workplaces that aren’t accommodating of their thinking and working styles.

If we want to remove these barriers (so that individuals can simply focus on doing their jobs well) we may want to consider making some reasonable adjustments: Some examples are:

• Flexibility around where the individual works
• Flexibility around working hours
• Offering agendas for meetings in advance
• Software that can assist with certain tasks at work
• Adjusting hot-desking policies
• Giving individuals sufficient processing time to make decisions


Creating an inclusive workplace

This needs to start at the very beginning: with your hiring process. Are your job specifications neuro-inclusive? Does your interview process inadvertently discriminate against neurodivergent individuals? Software systems like Textio can help detect biases in the language used in job specifications, but you may want to start by considering which skills and qualifications are really essential for the role:

Many people with neurological conditions struggled to thrive in our education system, so it’s important to consider which qualifications are really necessary for someone to perform well in a role. Many job specifications include references to interpersonal skills, communication skills, and emotional intelligence, which are skills that people who have ASC may struggle with. In some roles, these may be necessary but definitely not in all.

During the interview process, try not to form an initial unmovable opinion based on whether someone is a ‘people person’ or not. We all have biases. The key thing is to be aware of them and be honest with yourself about them. Only then can we overcome them.


Getting it right

The truth is we aren’t always going to get it right. Sometimes we might say the wrong thing, lose our patience, or unintentionally create a situation that disadvantages our neurodiverse colleagues. However, it’s important to acknowledge when this does happen - to apologize, to put things in place to repair the situation, and to ensure it doesn’t happen again.

Just as it can be difficult for neurodiverse folks to navigate a neurotypical world, it can be challenging for neurotypical folks to work with people who have such different perspectives and styles of thinking. It can be hard to understand why something that feels minor to you, could feel so major to someone else and vice versa. It can be frustrating to be confronted with the fact that basic organisational skills are not easy for some.

It’s human nature to be drawn towards people who think like us, but we know that this is not good for our teams, our companies, or society at large. We are better in all senses of the word when we spent time with and develop our understanding of people and perspectives not like our own/not like ourselves. So, it is of the utmost importance that we push through any comfort barriers and strive to create genuinely inclusive workplaces.

If you would like to host a workshop on Understanding Neurodiversity, or learn a little more about how Luminate can support employee wellbeing more generally within your organistaion, please don’t hesitate to get in touch here.


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