Before we can answer that question, we need to understand what Neurodiversity is and how it affects people. This blog gives a few examples of where companies have put things in place to support their Neurodiverse employees.
What is Neurodiversity?
This is a term that is used to describe people who have a brain that function differently to a typical person. (A typical person can be described as Neurotypical). Neurodiversity can cover several conditions, such as:
- Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia
People who have a Neurodiverse brain can often have challenges in the work place that are not a concern for people who are Neurotypical. However, in direct contrast, they often have special skills or abilities that a Neurotypical person would not, and it is that skill that makes them a great asset in any company. This blog looks at the different ways we can support Neurodivergence at work and what steps a company can make to allow the Neurodiverse to thrive.
What can Neurodiverse people do for my business?
Well, that pretty much depends on what you need them to do! Probably not best to have a dyslexic as a proof reader or someone with dyscalculia as an accountant but put these same people in a job that suites their strengths and they won’t let you down.
I have known some people with Autism be fantastic at logical tasks and be out of this world with computer code, excel or analyzing data. People with ADHD are great out the box thinkers, breathing new life and ideas in to your office, which is also the same for people with Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia.
The secret to unlocking their full potential is not to make assumptions and to create a world around them so they can be at their best. Let’s look more at how we do that…
Companies are missing out on talent due to using personality profiling and testing at interview stage. They are discounting fabulous talent as they are taking too much stock from a test that profiles an individual’s personality traits. People who are neurodivergent don’t often fit into a box or personality trait as such due to the unique way they think.
Simon was a great accountant, he could balance books in his head as quickly as someone with a calculator. He interviewed a job, and after the interview took a personality trait test. He was confused by the questions and got flustered by them, as a result didn’t finish the test. The person who ran the testing/interviewing assumed he wasn’t interested in the role and therefore didn’t offer him the job. However, Simon interviewed for a rival firm who didn’t use these profilers and was hired straight away. His attention to detail and natural mathematic ability to save the finance team a number of hours looking for mistakes, as Simon would spot them quickly and rectify them. He became one of the departments most trusted members and had respect from everyone around him.
There is no one size fits all approach to supporting people with a Neurodiverse condition, so the most important thing you can do is ask and understand what you can do to help. For example, I know a lady called Emily – she is autistic and struggles to process information quickly when it is spoken. Her boss provides her with an overview of the agenda prior to a meeting so she can research the information and make notes prior to the meeting. Then as people discuss things she can follow the flow of conversation. They also make space for her in meetings to make points, as she struggles to know when to interject and give contributions. Emily’s ideas regularly get used as they are so creative and give people a different prospective on things.
Prior to understanding about Emily’s autism, her boss thought she was just quiet and didn’t really have much to say. When giving Emily feedback and asking for more contribution she opened-up about her situation and worked with her boss to find a way to support her contribution in meetings. Emily’s manger was a little upset with themselves for making assumptions about her and says from now on, they will ask questions to understand before jumping to conclusions.
Test & Learn
Now, not every idea is going to work straight away. The manager and the Neurodiverse person could make things worse before they get better. In which case if you do put strategies in place to help someone in the workplace, revisit them regularly to ensure they are still working in the way they were designed. Don’t be scared to make tweaks and changes along the way until everyone is happy with the situation.
Andy had ADHD and regularly got out from his desk as couldn’t sit still. To support him, the managers agreed he could have 10 min time away from his desk every hour to move and get rid of any nervous tension. Andy was thankful and tried to put this into place, however he would have periods of Hyper focus where he wouldn’t want to leave his desk and extended periods where he couldn’t concentrate for due to fidgeting. Being constrained to 10 minutes per hour wasn’t giving him the freedom he needed. Andy asked if he could have a standing desk, which the company agreed to. Within a week of the desk being set up, he had completed more work in that time than he had the previous month. This was because the standing desk gave him the freedom to move while he was working, and he didn’t need to leave his desk to do this. The following year Andy received an employee of the month award as he had put forward and implemented a new idea that had save them both time and money.
Neurodiverse people don’t always have the ability to prioritise tasks that need to be undertaken. They often become overwhelmed when there is so much to do and struggle to know where to start. Investing some time teaching these people strategies about how to priorities can make a difference in their everyday life.
Timone was really struggling juggling the priorities that always seemed to be changing. He would often just deal with the problem that was in front of him and not think of any of the other tasks he had to deal with. Things would often get forgotten and he would miss deadlines. His manager thought he was lazy and didn’t care about his work. Timone was constantly working and didn’t understand why he could never finish a task.
He was referred to occupational health, where they discovered that he was dyslexic from testing that was done and used the feedback from the test to put software and strategies in place to help him cope. Timone feels so much more confident with himself and his manager is really impressed with the changes he has put in place. They regularly check up on him though, just to make sure he is ok with everything and see if there is anything else they can do to help him. His manager learnt a valuable lesson, not to jump to conclusions and condemn people before you have explored the possibilities.
Another adjustment that can be made in an office or even home environment to help people who are Neurodiverse is make areas that support people with sensory overload. Dyslexics, Autistics and people with ADHD can be overloaded by a number of sensory issues and giving them a space to go in social situations can ensure that sensory overload issues are managed and controlled.
Susan suffered with sensory issues of noise, but the main sound that frustrated her was the sound of people chewing. Her hearing was sharper than most due to her autism and when in the canteen, she was surround by people banging cutlery and chewing loudly. As a result, she hardly ever ate lunch and was never very productive in the afternoon. When her manager approached her about her productivity, Susan bravely explained how she felt and that company policy banned people eating anywhere but the canteen, which Susan agreed was a good idea as it meant she wasn’t distracted by people chewing while at their desk.
Susan manager spoke with HR and they agreed to create a small lunch room, using a meeting room that was booked out each day for Susan at the same time, so she could eat her lunch in peace, staying calm and relaxed. Over the following months Susan’s productivity increased and she felt valued by her manager.
As you can see from the scenarios I have told you about today, by making small adjustments to how people work can make a massive impact in the long run. Neurodiverse people do not need any more special treatment than anyone else in the work place. They just need to be treated in line with the skills and abilities having ‘reasonable adjustments’ made where they can be, which is no different to how UK law states we should treat everyone.
So, my conclusion is that we can make anyone great by putting them in the right environment and giving them the support and tools they need. Its shouldn’t matter if you are Neurodiverse or Neurotypical, it should only matter that you are the right person for that job.