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Neurodiversity and the Workplace

An article from internationally recognised expert in Neurodiversity, Professor Amanda Kirby, CEO of Do-IT Solutions.

About 1 in 8 people in the workplace are thought to be Neurodiverse (ND). The term thought to be coined by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist in the 1990s, recognises the fact that our brains (neuro-) naturally vary from person to person (are diverse) and are a part of human variation.

The use of the term has been gaining traction more recently as terms like ‘learning difficulties’, ‘hidden impairments’ and developmental disorder may be seen to have more focus on what people can’tdo instead of showcasing their talent and ability.

A number of international companies such as Goldman Sachs, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Microsoft, EY, JPMorgan Chase and GCHQ are seeing the business benefits of ensuring inclusive approaches, policies and practices for hiring Neurodivergent talent. This goes hand in hand, of course, with meeting their legal obligations.

Under the Neurodiversity umbrella conditions may include:

  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Condition – including Asperger’s syndrome
  • Developmental Language Disorders
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dyslexia
  • Developmental Co-ordination Disorder (also known as Dyspraxia)
  • Tic disorders (including Tourette’s syndrome)

These conditions, although seen as separate in reality all often overlap with one another. Each person has a unique pattern of both strengths and challenges. There is no ‘typical’ person with Dyslexia for example. This is important as two people with the same ‘label’ or diagnosis will have different patterns of strengths and challenges, but the name given to strengths and challenges may represent the one that has been diagnosed.

Our brains don’t separate emotion from doing and being so it is not a surprise to see that anxiety and depression can also be greater challenges for some people who are Neurodivergent.

In employment there may be an assumption that the person will tell you they are Neurodiverse either when applying or at interview. But not everyone will feel confident disclosing that they have Dyslexia or ADHD. There may be different reasons for this. Some people may be concerned by how others view them because of negative past experiences. In a recent report from the Westminster Achievability Commission ‘Neurodiverse Voices – opening doors to employment”, 52% of Neurodiverse people had experienced discrimination during the interview or selection processes; 58% of people had regretted disclosing their condition; 73% of people had not disclosed their condition at all during interview.

Some people may have been unsupported at school or in adulthood. This is especially true of women, where research is only now emerging in the understanding of what ADHD or Autism, for example is like for women. In the past assessment processes may have viewed Neurodiversity through a more male lens in term of experiences and challenges.

The recruitment processes if not accessible may turn talent away without the company realising it. Websites with job descriptions that include skills that are not specifically required for the job; application forms that ‘time out’ if you are slower entering the information; can be some of the reasons for this.

The interview process may also create a barrier for some to succeed. Many adjustments can be easily implemented. These can include sending clear instructions about the venue; providing the format of the interview with timings and questions beforehand; and ensuring tasks undertaken in the interview align to the job. For example, asking the applicant to do a presentation when good oral communication is not a key part of the job could put off good candidates. Providing visits before the interview and work trials can be of real assistance.

When someone is in a job, line managers may lack confidence oravoiddiscussion about support needs in case they make a mistake or cause offence. There is much debate about the ‘correct’ language to use. For example, there is identity-first language and person-first language such as ‘dyslexic’ or a ‘a person with dyslexia’. There is no right or wrong and each person will take their own stance and so best to ask them how they describe themselves. By taking a person-centred stance, and asking the person what their challenges are, and what help they need, the line manager doesn’t need to be an expert in every condition. Support strategies may in reality be easy to do, such as agreeing on preferred methods for communication and having regular meetings to set priorities. They are often not costly but can result in real business benefits attracting, harnessing and retaining neurodiverse talent.

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