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Dyspraxia and Myths: The hidden condition

What can we learn from the recent Npower autism employment tribunal? It can be an opportunity to provide us all with valuable lessons about neuro-inclusion.

For those who haven’t read about the recent Npower autism employment tribunal, here’s a quick summary. When Tom Sherbourne joined the company as a senior analyst in October 2017, he soon began struggling to cope with the noises and smells of the open plan workplace, while his line manager found his behaviour ‘loud and disruptive’. Stressed and anxious, he asked to work from home but had his request turned down. A breakdown followed, and his GP referred him for an autism assessment.
“he soon began struggling to cope with the noises and smells of the open plan workplace”
Npower suggested a number of workplace adjustments, and offered him a role at a lower grade. That offer was then withdrawn and in September Mr Sherbourne was dismissed. No adjustments had been implemented, and his capability assessment was incomplete. The tribunal found in his favour, ruling that Npower had failed to make reasonable adjustments and had indirectly discriminated against their employee.
“Npower had failed to make reasonable adjustments and had indirectly discriminated against their employee”
It’s a story of misconceptions, a lack of understanding of autism and poor decisions – and it’s one with no positive outcome. An individual has lost their job and the employer faces the cost – and hassle – of recruiting a replacement, not to mention an avalanche of negative publicity just at a time when organisations are waking up to benefits of embracing Neurodiversity.  

So what could have been done differently? We’ve got a few ideas…

 
  1. Organisations can provide Neurodiversity training for all managers to help them understand neurodiverse conditions and the implications for the workplace. Read Mr Sherbourne’s case, and the clues are all there – the struggle to cope with a noisy work environment, and the failure to understand the unwritten rules and behavioural codes of the workplace – but no one picked up on them. Greater awareness and understanding could have led to earlier screening and quicker, more effective action.
“Organisations can provide Neurodiversity training for all managers to help them understand neurodiverse conditions”
  1. Organisations need to recognise the signs of Neurodiversity and take action if a professional refers an employee for a diagnosis of autism.  If Npower had acted on the GP’s advice that the assessment was likely to result in a diagnosis of autism for Mr Sherbourne,  this would have kept them on the right side of the law as set out in the Equality Act 2010.  In addition, any adjustments they made ­– like creating quiet work-spaces, or providing clear, specific briefs for every task – would have benefited neurotypical employees too.
“any adjustments made ­– like creating quiet work-spaces – would have benefited neurotypical employees too”
  1. Organisations should implement reasonable adjustments to an agreed timescale, including dates for assessment and review. Making a few, most likely simple, changes could have saved Npower the trouble and cost of losing an employee who may well have had the perfect skill set for an analyst role.
“Organisations should implement reasonable adjustments to an agreed timescale, including dates for assessment and review”
  1. To achieve Neuro-inclusion, HR professionals need to be neurodiversity confident. The HR representatives at Npower needed to provide Mr Sherbourne’s line manager with information and support – and then follow up to make sure his manager was following the correct process.
 
  1. Finally, organisations should grab the opportunity position themselves at the forefront of the move to embrace Neurodiversity and enjoy the competitive advantage neuro-inclusion can bring. Just look at Npower’s response to the tribunal’s verdict: ‘Npower prides itself on the equal opportunities we provide and our diversity policies specifically include how employees with a disability are treated at work, including employees with autism.’ It’s a cliche, but actions really do speak louder than words.

Conclusion

To learn valuable lessons from the Npower autism employment tribunal we must start viewing Neurodiversity as a strength. This will ensure workplaces are motivated to embrace the benefits neuro-inclusion can bring. To make this happen we must ensure all workplaces are Neurodiversity confident through awareness training for all employees. Contacts us to see how Adjust can help your organisation achieve Neuro-Inclusion    In the second part of our series tackling some of the myths surrounding neurodiversity we focus on dyslexia myths, dyslexia is estimated to affect around 10% of the population. Myth: Dyslexia is all about problems with reading and writing Fact: While it’s true that some people with dyslexia can often struggle with reading, writing and spelling, there’s a lot more to it than that. In fact, dyslexia can bring with it many advantages. For instance people with dyslexia often outperform their neurotypical peers in areas that are hugely valuable to businesses, including problem-solving and creative thinking. More than two-thirds have above-average verbal ability, making them excellent communicators, and it’s been estimated that 40% of self-made millionaires are dyslexic: think Jo Malone, Richard Branson and the Body Shop’s Anita Roddick. Myth: People with dyslexia have problems with their vision, too Fact: While it’s true that dyslexia was first identified by an eye doctor, there is no connection between dyslexia and poor vision. It’s also often said that people with dyslexia see the words moving on the page, but this is only true for about a third of the dyslexic community. It’s worth remembering that the glare from white paper and black writing can cause visual distress for many people, whether they’re dyslexic or not. At Adjust our inclusive approach is to always use a tinted grey background for notes and presentations: that’s far easier to read for the majority of people. Myth: Recruiting people with dyslexia means making difficult – and expensive – adjustments  Fact: Not true. Our advice to businesses is think about being inclusive to everyone. As part of a recent exercise with a client we suggested they give dyslexic candidates a handout listing the main interview questions. Some dyslexic people have difficulty with working memory, which means retaining verbal information and responding to it instantly can be challenging. Having a document to hand with the questions to refer to can be really helpful. Don’t forget that grey tinted background! The employer said that they found this adjustment useful for all candidates, and that this optimised their recruitment process. Myth: There’s a link between dyslexia and low IQ Fact: No, this one’s not true either. This myth has arisen because the way we test intelligence in schools tends to focus so much on reading and writing. As Jo Malone puts it, “At school I struggled. I knew I was smart, but nobody else could see it.” Test someone verbally instead of relying on reading and writing, and the results might look very different indeed. As Albert Einstein put it, “Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish on its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.” Want to know more? Contact us today to explore how Adjust can help your business tap into the potential of people with dyslexia                          In the first of our series aimed at tackling misconceptions about neurodiverse conditions, we focus on dyspraxia and myths. Myth: Dyspraxia is just another word for being clumsy Fact: As with other neurodiverse conditions including ADHD, autism and dyslexia, dyspraxia is a wide-ranging condition that affects different people in different ways. Yes, dyspraxia can often affects both gross and fine motor skills, but it can also affect orientation, organisational and sequencing skills. As always, though, it’s dangerous to make assumptions. Watch England rugby star Ellis Genge – who speaks openly about his dyspraxia – scything through his opponents and you’ll struggle to find any evidence of poor coordination… Myth: Dyspraxia is incredibly rare, isn’t it? Fact: Far from it. One of the reasons  we wanted to focus on dyspraxia and myths was that its such an unrecognised condition. It’s thought that dyspraxia affects around 5% of the UK population, which is as many as 3.3 million people in the UK.  Which is about the same size as the population of Wales! Dyspraxia doesn’t have the media profile that other neurodiverse conditions receive and therefore doesn’t receive the public recognition it deserves, despite celebrities like Singer Florence Welch, actor Daniel Radcliffe and legendary photographer David Bailey being dyspraxic.
“It’s thought that dyspraxia affects around 5% of the UK population, which is as many as 3.3 million people in the UK. Which is about the same size as the population of Wales!”
Myth: Dyspraxia affects intelligence Fact: This old chestnut comes up time and time again in connection with neurodiverse conditions and – guess what? – it’s simply not true. There’s no connection between dyspraxia and intelligence, and people with the dyspraxia often have attributes that make them extremely valuable to employers including great communication skills, high levels of creativity and the ability to think outside the box. Many dyspraxic people described themselves as tenacious too! Ellis Genge puts his success down to sheer determination not to let his symptoms get in the way.
“people with the dyspraxia often have attributes that make them extremely valuable to employers including great communication skills”
Myth: We can cure dyspraxia Fact: There’s no cure for dyspraxia and crucially we are not looking for one. Neurodiversity is the celebration and acceptance that we all think differently. At Adjust we passionately believe that the more employers understand neurodiversity and play to the strengths of their employees, the more productive they will become. However, simple workplace adjustments like providing clear signs in your office, more desk space, mind-mapping software and the time to plan a working week can really ensure you are supporting employees with dyspraxia to reach their full potential in the workplace. Want to know more? Find out how Adjust can help your business tap into the potential of employees with dyspraxia