Designing for neurodiversity in the workplace

Neurodiversity in the workplace

The term neurodiversity has been around since the 1990’s but it is coming much more to the fore these days. It is not just a buzzword, but a real aspect of many people’s lives, and employers need to be aware of it and how to look after employees on the spectrum.

What is neurodiversity?

It was Judy Singer, a sociologist, who is on the autism spectrum herself, that came up with the term. She wanted a word to describe conditions like ADHD, autism, and dyslexia, so she came up with neurodiversity. The idea was to move the negative focus away from the condition and look at it as a different way of thinking and learning.

Neurocosmopolitanism.com defines neurodiversity as “…the diversity of human brains and minds – the infinite variation in neurocognitive functioning within our species.”

Different types of neurodivergence

In the workplace neurodiversity can appear in many forms and will require different solutions.

When the term neurodiversity is used people tend to think of autism. However, there is much more to it than that, and it is important not to stereotype people as each divergence will need its own unique approach.

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorders (ADHD) affects the individuals’ attention and concentration spans and can cause them to be very impulsive. Approximately 4% of the population have ADHD or Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) which is similar but without the hyperactivity. The strengths of working with people with ADHD means they can complete urgent requests, are good at physically demanding jobs and show a great passion for their role.

Autism, which includes Asperger’s Syndrome, changes how people are able to interact with others and how they view the world. It can make life difficult as they often don’t pick up on social signals. They tend to like order and are thorough, punctual and observant.

Dyslexia is the most common form and most well known as 10% of the UK population fit into this category. Although individuals can have problems with processing language, they can be very creative and good at problem solving.

Dyspraxia, also known as Developmental Coordination Disorder, is lesser known and relates to co-ordination and organisation of their thoughts. The positives are literacy skills, creativity and strategic thinking.

How can the workplace help?

Being neurodivergent usually amounts to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. This means employers have a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace and the individual’s role that will remove or minimise any disadvantage to them.

This is a very important point to take on board a legal obligation can’t be ignored.

Sensory inputs such as light, sound and smells can have a big impact on some neurodiverse employees and reducing distractions is important.

Here are more ideas on how to become a neurodiverse friendly environment:
• Putting up dividers to block and reduce noise
• Having dedicated quiet areas
• Consider the different sensory needs of staff
• Provide work areas with more natural light or daylight lamps
• Providing visible instructions next to office equipment
• Allow staff to book meeting rooms for tasks that requires concentration
• Offering flexible working arrangements
• Providing staff with whatever they need to help organise their work

Being a neurodiverse friendly business

Setting up the office for neurodiverse employees is all well and good but is it is also worth considering the recruitment process too. If your business wants to embrace neurodiverse people, then that needs to come across from the outset. So, even how you advertise and organise recruitment days needs to be inclusive.

Neurodiversity is something to be embraced and nurtured within businesses. These are talented individuals with a different take on the world who could bring a new perspective to your workplace. Just make sure your business is ready for this challenging but rewarding change.

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Jayne Cox

I am a wellbeing consultant for Fusion Spaces, which works alongside my private practice of Life Coaching and Stress Management Consultations. I’m passionate about helping people to thrive at work.

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