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Category Archives: Neurodiversity and Work

Forbes Magazine recently updated its study into diversity in the workplace to find out if neurodiversity benefitted an organisation.

Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are respected like any other human variation and includes those who have labels such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autistic spectrum disorder, dyscalculia and others.  

The study found that, just like other types of diversity, neurodiversity contributes to making a workplace great. This is positive for employers of the future, as societies are discovering just how many fit under this banner. For instance at least 10% of the UK population is dyslexic, 5 -10% are thought to fit the profile of ADHD, around 5% are dyspraxic and approximately 4% are on the autistic spectrum.Neurodiversity in business

Companies such as Microsoft have realised this fact. They target recruitment drives towards adults on the autistic spectrum and have lengthened their interview process to last a week. This allows potential employees to show what they can do outside the rigors and stresses of a conventional job interview – a particular issue for autistic candidates. Microsoft want to benefit from the out-of-the box thinking styles, problem solving, attention to detail and tenacity displayed by autistic thinkers. GCHQ – the UK spy headquarters in Cheltenham, have chosen to recruit dyslexics in order to benefit from their well-documented pattern recognition skills. Both have created a supportive work environment that allows employees to give of their best. Both organisations have done so because they realise that neurodiverse individuals think differently and they want to profit from that difference.

So if your organisation relies of coming up with innovative ideas and not taking things at face value in order to keep ahead of the competition, then it will pay for you to have diversity in your teams. Indeed some of the great thinkers in history, such as code breaker Alan Turing, Albert Einstein and Mozart fitted the profiles of neurodiverse thinkers and could be labelled as such if they were still around for psychological analysis today.

If you are interested in your organisation benefitting from such talent, here is what to do…

Think out of the box yourself and contact a neurodiversity specialist to find out the simple changes you can make to your work protocols and practices that will allow you to benefit from the mass of neurodiverse talent that is out there. Don’t wait until your competitors do!

Jan Halfpenny is a neurodiversity consultant specialising in the workplace.  Contact Jan for more information.

Disability discrimination legislation prohibits discrimination against disabled people in employment and in the provision of goods Stairsand services. Service providers and employers must make reasonable adjustment to their premises or employment arrangements so as not to discriminate.

If a neurodiverse person's difficulties are severe enough to impede efficiency in everyday activities, then he or she may be covered by the Equality Act as one of the Act’s 
Protected Characteristics - disability

Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are respected like any other human variation and includes those who have labels such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, autistic spectrum disorder, dyscalculia and others.  

You may find that these labels or conditions are referred to as learning differences or learning difficulties, but for the purposes of The Equality Act 2010, they may be treated as disabilities. (More information on what is counted as a disabiltiy under the Act)

The service provider or employer is obliged to make 'reasonable adjustments' to reduce or remove any substantial disadvantage caused to that person by any of the employment or service provision arrangements in that are in force.

Examples in the workplace where a neurodiverse person could be unfairly disadvantaged:

  • making a job application
  • interviews
  • proficiency tests
  • terms of employment
  • promotion
  • transfer opportunities
  • training
  • dismissal or redundancy procedures

An employer must not refuse to employ someone simply because they have a disability. They also have a duty to think about different ways of working.

Disclosure of neurodiversity in the workplace

It is up to the individual whether they want to declare their disability. They are not obliged to do so. The following stages are appropriate times to declare:

  • on an application form or C.V
  • before or at an interview
  • after being offered the position
  • upon starting the position
  • later on, once in position.

Anticipatory Duty and neurodiversity - the provision of information

When you provide information as part of your service, the Equality Act (2010) says that you “must not discriminate against, harass or victimise people because of a protected characteristic in:

  • what the information itself says;
  • the way it is provided”.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission explains the anticipatory duty:

“…this means an organisation cannot wait until a disabled person wants to use its services, but must think in advance (and on an ongoing basis) about what disabled people with a range of impairments might reasonably need, such as people who have a visual impairment, a hearing impairment, a mobility impairment or a learning disability.”

Making reasonable adjustments for neurodiversity 

Adjustments for people who are neurodiverse can be simple and inexpensive. A willingness to be flexible is the most important thing. So when you provide information as part of your service, you should start to do so in alternative formats. Although it depends on your circumstances, this is likely to be a reasonable adjustment which you must make. You cannot wait until a neurodiverse person wants to use your services, but must think in advance about what people with a range of disabilities might reasonably need.

For more on the Equality Act and making reasonable adjustments in the workplace go to: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/multipage-guide/employment-workplace-adjustments

For more on the Equality Act and making reasonable adjustments with regards to using a service go to: https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/multipage-guide/using-service-reasonable-adjustments-disabled-people

                 Jan Halfpenny trains on neurodiversity and conducts workplace assessments for employers. 

Celebrate diversity: woman with sparklerThe term neurodiversity has only been in use for a short period of time, but it gives an account of facets that have been around for as long as humans. Neurodiversity describes diversity of the brain. It recognises that we are ‘wired up’ differently and don’t all process information in the same way or learn in the same way. As a result we do not all think alike or problem-solve in the same way. Typical examples of neurodiversity are dyslexia, ADHD, autism and dyspraxia.

All organisations will have adults who fit under the term neurodiverse, but because of their lack of a diagnosis, or fear of repercussion from disclosure, they may not be recognised as such by HR.

Neurodiversity in the Workforce

Consider the fact that at least 10% of the UK population is dyslexic, 5 -10% are thought
to fit the profile of ADHD, around 5% are dyspraxic and approximately 4% are on the autistic spectrum. Then consider if your organisation has anywhere near those levels of reported neurodiversity. You need to add to this the likelihood that these statistics are probably underrepresenting neurodiversity in the adult population. This is because when current workers were at school, the education system was inefficient at picking up all but the most obvious examples of each neurotype.

Unfortunately, even though, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism are better recognised now, it is still the case today that unless a condition impacts significantly on schoolwork and attainment, causes disruption in the classroom or creates obvious personal stress, then it is likely to be missed by professionals, parents and even the individual themselves, remaining undiagnosed. However a lack of a diagnosis or label does not mean that it is not impacting on the adult - on their work, their stress levels and their ‘fit’ within an organisation.

Some examples may help to describe how that lack of ‘fit’ may be a growing issue in modern organisations:

  • Characteristics of the autistic spectrum, such as limited ability to make meaningful social interaction and a limited social imagination, may not fit in well with the current recognition of the importance of emotional intelligence. The values placed on building relationships, teamwork and flexibility are growing, but may be harder for autistic adults to keep up with.  
  • Dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD may be at odds with the convention that everyone in the workplace should be organised, attentive and able to communicate quickly and effortlessly in an ever-changing and diverse range of ways.

So if there is such a potential lack of ‘fit’, then why should organisations be celebrating, or even employing neurodiverse adults in the first place? 

Research has shown that positive attributes such as creativity, tenacity, pattern recognition and lateral thinking bring a different perspective to problem solving often required in modern organisations (see Thomas Armstrong’s book The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of your Differently Wired Brain). This set of specialist skills have been recognised and positively recruited for by marketing firms, the British government’s intelligence and security organisation GCHQ and software companies such as Microsoft. Concentrating on the negative aspects of neurodiversity is clearly not good business.

So what can your organisation do to celebrate neurodiversity and reap the rewards that it brings?

Three suggestions of how your organisation may harness the positive traits:

1.  Make sure that your organisation has flexibility in roles rather than a rigidity in job functions. This will allow individuals to play to their strengths and make use of their specialised skills and for your organisation to capitalise on the comparative advantages. If you place a strong emphasis on employees being ‘all-rounders’ you may miss out on the benefits of divergent thinking and create an atmosphere of stress and anxiety, which fails to get the best from anybody. Be prepared to adjust roles and take advantage of competences rather than punish for lack of ability in specific aspects of a role.

2. Raise awareness of neurodiversity amongst staff, especially managers. As you have seen earlier in this article, many may not be aware that they and/or their colleagues are neurodiverse. They may fail to understand why some tasks are stressful and difficult and the simple ways of getting round such difficulties. Making it easy to disclose difference and get appropriate support without stigma is useful for all concerned.

3. Make sure you are an inclusive organisation where talk of difference is knowledge-based through a specialist-led awareness training programme. Disclosure of neuro differences should be met with the correct support and understanding. Neurodiverse conditions are commonly misunderstood and misreported. This is too important to be left in the hands of staff to Google.

From an organisational perspective, celebrating neurodiversity is not just a matter of social conscience. Rather celebration is about being reaping the benefits and competitive advantages brought about by creating a stress-free atmosphere where people are encouraged to think differently.

Jan Halfpenny is a specialist trainer in neurodiversity in adults. 

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