Neurodiversity is a term used to describe the variety of differences in the way the human brain interprets the world. Most people are what is known as neurotypical, which means that their brain processes information and interprets the world in a way similar to most other people, or in a neurotypical way. The neurodiverse community tend to view and interpret the world differently from their neurotypical counterparts and their brains will function, learn and process information differently.
It is estimated that around 15% of the UK population are neurodiverse. Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that covers such conditions as autistic spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dyspraxia and tic disorders (such as Tourette’s Syndrome) amongst others. These conditions can vary significantly in terms of their effects on different people.
Most workplaces in the UK are designed with neurotypical employees in mind, which can present challenges for the neurodiverse community and make it more difficult for them to access and succeed at work. Issues such as office lighting which can feel too bright or lead to feelings of sensory overload as well as open plan office spaces which can be too noisy, or distracting can be challenging for the neurodiverse community. Neurodivergent employees can also feel unsupported in the workplace which can lead to stress and mental health issues. Whilst these issues may prove problematic or challenging for some neurodivergent colleagues, it’s important to remember that no two people will experience the same condition in the same way. What one neurodivergent employee may find difficult, may not impact another colleague with the same condition in the same way.
Benefits of Neurodiversity in the workplace
There are huge benefits associated with employing a neurodiverse workforce. When supported correctly, neurodivergent employees will bring with them unique skills and talents to the workplace such as problem-solving skills, creativity, innovation, attention to detail as well as the ability to think outside the box and provide a fresh perspective.
How to support neurodiversity in the workplace
There are many ways to support neurodivergent colleagues in the workplace. A good start would be to consider introducing equality and diversity training to all staff to raise awareness and knowledge around neurodiversity. Rolling out additional training to line managers will encourage them to feel confident in approaching conversations on the subject and help them feel better equipped to support neurodivergent colleagues where required.
There are many adjustments that will support neurodivergent employees and many of these are free or involve minimal additional equipment that is inexpensive and easy to source. For example, simple things such as:
- Providing screens around desks, noise-cancelling headphones or allowing the employee to work from a desk that is quieter and free from distractions will help to manage sensory issues.
- If lighting is a problem, adjusting the lighting, providing anti-glare screens for monitors, or allowing the employee to work from a desk which benefits from more natural daylight will help.
- Allowing homeworking or flexibility in working hours will help to minimize stress and fatigue.
- Introducing mentors to support with unwritten workplace rules which can be challenging to navigate for neurodivergent colleagues.
These are all relatively simple adjustments to put in place. Overall, organisations should take a human-centered approach and recognise that there is no one-size-fits-all solution, and that different jobs and people will require different adjustments. If an employee discloses a condition, the most supportive thing you can do is to talk to them to establish what their challenges are, and which type of adjustments would be of benefit to them.
Neurodiversity and the law
In some cases, neurodiverse conditions can be considered a disability under the Equality Act 2010 which places a legal duty on employers to put in place reasonable adjustments to support the disabled worker in the workplace. However, regardless of whether or not an employee’s condition satisfies the definition of a disability under the Equality Act, supporting neurodiversity in the workplace makes good business sense unlocking a vibrant and varied talent pool that will bring unique skills and talents into your organisation.
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