Think positive: why neurodiversity is all about strength
March 5, 2019 - Daniel Aherne
Here are five ways employers can ensure that employees with autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) can make the most of their skills and strengths in the workplace.
Lack of awareness is one of the first problems any employer needs to address. We usually start a piece of consultancy work by talking to the employee’s line manager. What are the gaps in the line manager’s knowledge, and how can we address them? How much do they understand about neurodivergent conditions and what adjustments they can put in place? Something as simple as remembering to give clear, unambiguous instructions – no figures of speech, please! – can make a big difference.
“Lack of awareness is one of the first problems any employer needs to address”.
Second, it might sound surprising, but sometimes neurodivergent employees themselves can benefit from knowing more about their own condition. As Claire, who has ADHD, puts it, ‘Tuning in to my specific needs meant I could set up structures to help with organisation. Now, as the pressure increases, I don’t lose skills I might previously have lost due to anxiety.’ Better understanding – perhaps with some support and guidance from a neurodiversity specialist coach – is the first step towards the employee recognising their own strengths, and the support they may need.
“Individuals themselves can benefit from knowing more about their own condition.”
Third, provided the employee is happy for the information to be shared, it can make a huge difference to make colleagues aware of their condition and what it means in the workplace. Trying to conceal a condition can sometimes cause more stress and anxiety. Here’s Andrew, who is autistic: ‘Now I’m able to speak freely about my needs, I can manage them better. I may ask not to participate in group work for example, or I can ask to sit at the back of the room. I’m able to be a bit kinder to myself.’ We supported one employee with dyspraxia to create a fact sheet with information about their condition, strengths and adjustments and they then shared this with their colleagues. Another employee with dyslexia contributed to an awareness training session, that was delivered to their colleagues.
“Provided the employee is happy for the information to be shared, make their colleagues aware of their condition and what it means in the workplace.”
That links to the fourth area, workplace culture. In the corporate world, there is sometimes an expectation that people will work long hours, and still be in the office at 8pm. That can be challenging for people with neurodivergent conditions. Like lots of people with ADHD, Claire tends to focus very intensely for short periods of time. She leaves the office at 3pm. It’s easy to see how that could lead to resentment amongst her colleagues, unless they’re in full possession of the facts. So for instance a Lunch and Learn session can be an excellent way of providing understanding to wider staff teams so that there is no resentment to employees being treated differently.
“Lunch and Learn sessions can be an excellent way of providing understanding to wider staff teams.”
Finally, and perhaps most important of all, is the physical environment. Employees with neurodivergent conditions can often struggle in an open-plan office, so we work with employers to find practical ways to mitigate that. Could they be allocated a desk in a quieter corner, rather than by a door or printer or somewhere else that people tend to congregate? Could they wear noise cancelling headphones, or use ear defenders?
“Employees with neurodivergent conditions can often struggle in an open-plan office.”
At Adjust, our work is all about maximising productivity. We want to get to the point where an employer will focus on the fact that an individual excels at bringing in new business and celebrate that, rather than, say, trying to force them to be better at admin. That’s a waste of energy. Put people in the right role, one where they can make use of their strengths, and everyone will reap the benefits. If you are an employer, and you want to find out more about Neurodiversity, and how the strengths of employees that think differently can enhance your business, contact us today.