It is estimated that 15% of the UK population are neurodiverse. Many workplaces will already be accommodating neurodiverse employees but without the proper awareness and understanding of how best to support these employees
With Learning Disability Week taking place this month we have taken the opportunity to explore neurodiversity in the workplace and what employers should be doing. As a starting point, it is worth noting that ACAS has produced some very helpful guidance for employers, managers and employees.
Put concisely, people think differently. Neurodiversity is the way the brain processes and interprets information. One in seven people are neurodivergent, meaning that their brain processes information differently to most. Neurodivergence is experienced along a spectrum and has a range of characteristics which vary depending on the individual. There are various forms of neurodivergence but the most common are autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. While there tend to be certain expectations about the effects of each of these, they all cover a wide range of differences.
Employers are increasingly looking at how to promote diversity and inclusion in the workplace. That should include neurodiversity. The focus should not be on neurotypical minds alone. Neurodivergent employees can excel in the workplace, especially with the right support.
Under the Equality Act 2010, neurodivergent conditions are normally classed as a disability, providing they meet the required conditions. Employers can and should put in place active strategies, policies and measures and make reasonable adjustments to help neurodivergent employees work effectively and make them feel valued and supported.
At the recruitment, stage adjustments could include: providing interview questions in advance; considering the use of a scribe or computer; making those interviewing aware of neurodiversity and the need to be inclusive and considering alternative assessment methods where appropriate.
During employment, adjustments could include: provision of assistive technology; provision of a private room or quiet area to work; offering flexible working arrangements; providing a mentor/buddy and rewarding staff who actively support neurodiverse employees; holding manager training for understanding and accommodating neurodiversity; and creating a policy or guidance on neurodiversity at work to share with employees.
Thinking differently can bring obvious benefits to the workplace. Positive attributes commonly associated with neurodivergent employees can include: creativity and innovation; lateral thinking; strategic analysis; bringing a different perspective; and the development of highly specialised skills. While some time and resource might be required to ensure that the correct support is in place, there are clear advantages to having employees who are not neurotypical.
Demonstrating an employer's diverse and inclusive approach also brings benefits to the rest of the workforce through the creation of a supportive working environment, increasing the talent pool, reducing stigma and improving employee wellbeing and productivity.