Neurodiversity at Work
I’m not going to lie, the past few months have been a wild, self-reflective ride. You see, the things that I’d always put down as being personal flaws are now being slowly re-imagined as challenges related to neurodiversity. Specifically, ADHD.
It all started with a few TikTok videos. I remember thinking, “Damn, the algorithm’s got me pegged.” But more videos led to more research. Questionnaires. Self-assessments. Community forums. Podcasts.
Recently, I attended an event at Google HQ (humble brag) where DEI (Diversity, Equity and Inclusion) formed the backbone of the day’s agenda. One of the topics that struck a chord with me was on neurodiversity, followed by a panel conversation about the challenges for neurodivergents at work, and how businesses can cultivate more inclusivity for their employees.
All I could think was: “Holy heck. This is me. I feel so seen.”
I glanced around and…yep, more nodding heads.
Afterwards, I made my way through the throng of chattering strangers, in search of some solace in one of the quiet rooms provided. Complete with lavender scented air purifiers, noise-cancelling headphones and squishy bean bags. Yep. Five minutes here was just what I needed to reset my social battery. I was impressed with the setup (shout out to Event Well for providing the space). In previous office environments, my only social escape was usually 5 minutes in a toilet cubicle or hidden away in a dingy cloakroom.
But here’s the thing: wherever you work – whether it’s remotely, in an office team or on a shop floor – chances are, you’ll be working in a neurodiverse environment.
Firstly, what is neurodiversity?
You know how biodiversity explains the epic variety of life in our planet’s ecosystems? Well, neurodiversity explains the incredible range of ways that the brains around us work. The majority of these brains are neurotypical (NT) or predominant neurotype (PNT). And then there are the neurodivergents (ND) folks. Neurodivergency is an umbrella term to describe alternative thinking styles like Dyslexia, DCD (Dyspraxia), Dyscalculia, Autism and Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD).
I’m on my own personal pathway to understanding more about what neurodiversity looks like for me. But on my quest, I’ve already run into a few myths (some of which, I admit, I’ve been guilty of believing at some point or another). So, let’s dig in.
Myth #1: You Can Always Spot a Neurodivergent
Nope. One in seven people is neurodiverse, and none are the same. Everyone is unique.
Myth #2: Neurodivergent People Can’t Thrive at Work
Simply not true. Although neurodiverse workers may encounter different challenges at work, these can often be remedied. With the right approach, opportunities and tools, neurodivergent people can be just as productive and efficient as everyone else.
Myth #3: Neurodiversity is Basically a Mental Health Issue
Neurodiversity isn’t a mental health condition. Instead, it explains the different ways that different brains process information and interact with the world. Having said that, studies have found that NDs are more at risk of having mental illnesses (like anxiety or depression) or poor wellbeing, due to a lack of support or the stresses that come with ‘masking’ their behaviours.
Myth #4: Neurodivergent People Can’t Socialise
They can! Sure, small talk might be off the table for some, but when NDs can be their authentic selves, they feel safe to share their passions with others.
Don’t forget, many NDs are expected to navigate the sensory overload in a world made for neurotypical people. Imagine walking into a room and tuning into every single conversation at once; feeling overwhelmed by the lights; the smells; the sensations. And still being expected to focus.
Myth #5: Neurodiverse Employees Can’t Communicate Efficiently
Many people think neurodiverse employees don’t know how to interact ‘normally’ with their co-workers. And although some neurodiverse folks might have a tricky time with typical social settings, this struggle isn’t limited to them. I know plenty of neurotypical people who find teamwork exhausting and prefer to work individually.
Some research found that students with autism tend to prefer non-verbal communication as it’s easier for them to process info first instead of replying on the spot. This is definitely something for employers to bear in mind when planning those training sessions.
Myth #6: Neurodivergent People Need a Medical Diagnosis
Wrong again. The truth is that lots of neurodivergent people don’t have access to a medical diagnosis. Accessing support can be a neurodivergent nightmare with all the form-filling and phone consultations. Plus, the NHS waitlist is usually years and most people can’t afford to go private. So, please keep in mind that self-identified neurodivergent people are valid.
How To Make Your Workplace Neurodivergent Inclusive
Brush up on your recruitment and HR practices
Do you offer a range of ways to apply for a role? Do you ask about access needs? Do you include neurodiversity in all your practices – not just as a reference in your diversity and inclusion policy? Have you explored all the wonderful (and usually free) apps that are great supports for ND folks?
Attend Neurodivergent training
This is a great shout if you’re really committed to understanding neurodiversity to make your company a more inclusive place to work in. It’s often devised and delivered by neurodivergent people, with lived experience which is super important for understanding neurodiversity and all its challenges.
Whether it’s giving a one-pager in advance, offering pictures or a link to the place you’re meeting in, setting up clear agendas or including breaks and allowing for processing time.
Make changes in the office setting
This could mean offering a quiet place away from the main office action or simply adjusting the lighting, seating, noise or smells.
The good news is that most of the above can be done with little cost and huge benefits to everyone!
Many folks with neurodifferences have unique skills that vary from person to person – businesses might miss out on a whole talent-pool of employees if they don’t proactively take steps to become neuro inclusive.
Our strength lies in differences not similarities. If you’re interested in finding out more about how to sow true seeds of change, check out our Diversity and Inclusion training courses.