What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is the concept that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving. Neurodiversity commonly refers to individuals with ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, and Dyslexia and it is estimated that around one in seven people (more than 15% of people in the UK) are neurodivergent (Local Government Association, 2020). However, each of these neurodiverse conditions will be experienced differently by every individual. As Dr. Stephen Shore famously said, “If you’ve met one individual with autism, you’ve met one individual with autism.”

As an employer, it can be beneficial to get to know your employees on an individual basis, as you will be able to find out more about their personal strengths and challenges. To provide you with some awareness, we have identified some common characteristics of autism, dyslexia, ADHD, and dyspraxia which are examples of some of the conditions that fall within the spectrum of neurodiversity.

 


Autism

  • Characteristics: Autism affects the way an individual perceives the world and how they interact with others.
  • Challenges: Social communication difficulties and sensory sensitivities.
  • Strengths: Superior creativity, focus, and memory as well as honesty, and attention to detail. It is important to note that autism is referred to as a spectrum condition because the associated strengths and challenges vary widely from person to person, therefore, being autistic will affect everyone differently.

Dyslexia

  • Characteristics: Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that predominantly affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling.
  • Challenges: Literacy difficulties, information processing, and maintaining focus. 
  • Strengths: Pattern recognition, problem-solving, and verbal communication skills.

ADHD

  • Characteristics: ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) is a behavioural condition that impacts the parts of the brain that help us plan, focus on, and execute tasks.
  • Challenges: Difficulty sustaining attention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity.
  • Strengths: Hyperfocus, resilience, and proactiveness.

Dyspraxia

  • Characteristics: Dyspraxia, also known as developmental co-ordination disorder (DCD) causes difficulties with motor (movement) skills.
  • Challenges: Difficulties associated with movement and coordination.
  • Strengths: Holistic thinking, tenacity, and empathy.

 

How can employers support neurodiversity?
Be ready and willing to accommodate

Some neurodiverse employees may be more sensitive to noisy, bright, and overstimulating environments. For that reason, employers may need to provide accommodations such as offering them somewhere quiet to work where they’ll face fewer distractions, noise-cancelling headphones, or flexible working hours, so employees are able to be their most productive. It is vital for employers to listen to their neurodiverse employees. Understanding the challenges that they face and having conversations about how they can help, will mitigate these challenges to help them feel supported and safe in the workplace.

 

Make the recruitment process more accessible for neurodiverse talent

Unfortunately, traditional hiring processes can be particularly challenging for neurodiverse candidates placing them at a disadvantage. For example, in interviews candidates with autism may find it difficult to answer open-ended questions or make eye contact. However, there are a number of steps organisations can take to provide greater equality for neurodiverse individuals in the recruitment process, including:

  • Providing alternative assessments, with a focus on performance-based tasks as opposed to one-to-one interviews.
  • Being transparent about what the hiring process will entail so candidates know what to expect and what the process will involve, helping avoid the anxiety that uncertainty can provoke.
  • Considering the physical environment where the interview will take place, such as the challenges neurodivergent individuals may encounter when faced with noisy and bright environments.
  • Providing training to hiring managers on typical neurodiverse characteristics and on adjusting the recruitment process: how to phrase questions, allow for breaks, and how to avoid unconscious bias against unconventional behaviour.

 

Provide regular training for employees

Neurodiversity Awareness Training is highly beneficial – it educates employees and management about how to create a more accepting, and inclusive work environment where all members of the company can thrive. Training can help employees to become more understanding and accommodating to their colleagues’ differences and can assist management in understanding the challenges that some team members can face, and how they can best offer support.

 

In conclusion, neurodiversity is often a misunderstood topic, and employers have the opportunity to change this by supporting it in the workplace. This will not only provide great benefits to employers and their businesses but will also allow neurodivergent individuals to have the same opportunities in life as individuals who are not on the neurodivergent spectrum.