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What is neurodiversity?

At Fusion, we work with employers to help them support a wide range of employees with many physical and mental health issues. 

You’ve probably heard of the term “neurodiversity” and you might have wondered what it means and how it might affect some of your staff.

We want to help people understand the concept of neurodiversity more easily and provide some advice on how you can support employees with learning and thinking differences.

So, what exactly is neurodiversity?

The idea of neurodiversity has been around for a while.

The term was coined in 1998 by an Australian sociologist named Judy Singer, who is autistic herself.

It basically means that people’s brain differences are simply that; differences.

Most people are neurotypical, meaning that the brain functions and processes information in the way society expects.

The concept of neurodiversity suggests that conditions like ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism are just variations of the human brain, rather than “abnormalities”.

It’s just a case of people’s brains being “wired” slightly differently. This is known as being “neurodiverse” or “neurodivergent”.

Most importantly, the idea of neurodiversity views brain differences as being normal. So, people with learning and thinking differences should be considered as naturally diverse learners, rather than having something “wrong” with them.

Celebrating difference

The concept of neurodiversity seeks to celebrate the strengths of these differences, making it easier for all neurodiverse people to contribute equally, especially in the workplace.

For example, someone who is dyslexic may have a particular strength when it comes to problem solving. Whereas someone with dyspraxia could be better at active listening.

We’re all neurodiverse

Diversity relates to everyone rather than individuals.

So the entire concept behind neurodiversity is the idea that we’re all neurodiverse in some way, even if we might be classed as “neurotypical”.

In fact, it’s estimated that more than 15% of people in the UK have some form of learning or thinking difference.

Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace

While the workplace is becoming a more diverse place, according to the National Autistic Society, only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment.

More organisations are recognising the importance of employing and supporting neurodiverse people.

It can be difficult to know what adjustments a business might need to make in order to support employees with learning and thinking differences.

Four ways employers can support neurodiversity at work

Here are four ways that business can ensure that their neurodiverse employees are getting the help and support they need in the workplace.

1. Listen to your staff

Personalisation is key to supporting neurodiverse employees. It’s not about what works for the business, but what works for the employee.

Organisations should create an open culture that encourages people to feel comfortable enough to talk about any issues they may be facing.

It’s vital that managers listen to the needs of their staff and research what reasonable adjustments are needed.

2. Reduce distractions in the workplace

While some employees might be happy working in a busy, noisy environment, others can find it almost impossible to focus. Especially those who are neurodiverse.

You can reduce distractions and obstacles in the design of your office by:

  • creating quiet areas for concentration
  • providing instructions next to equipment like printers and photocopiers
  • providing plenty of natural light
  • offering flexible working, including homeworking
  • giving staff their own lockers or cabinets to store their personal belongings

3. Train your employees about neurodiversity

Employers can provide assistance by improving the training and development of staff.

This could include creating neurodiversity champions, mentoring or buddy programmes, support networks for neurodivergent employees or highlighting specific awareness events, such as World Autism Awareness Week. 

4. Recruit and encourage neurodiverse staff members

A business can make its recruitment process more inclusive by:

  • making job descriptions clear and concise, avoiding jargon
  • offering different ways to apply, such as online, by email, post or in-person
  • training interviewers in unconscious bias and how to avoid making assumptions
  • asking clear, specific questions and allowing applicants to see the questions before the interview

A business can encourage neurodiverse employees more effectively by:

  • recognising and highlighting their achievements
  • designing or using training courses that take account of neurodivergence
  • offering a mentor to support their progress
  • ensuring that any workplace adjustments are assessed repeatedly to see if anything has changed

You can find more advice and guidance on the acas website and the CIPD website.

If you want to find out how our occupational health services can help to support neurodiversity and diverse thinkers in the workplace, get in touch with the team at Fusion.

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