We’re all different. Every one of us is unique. Here, we explore the term neurodiversity and reveal why it’s so important to be aware of it in the workplace.
First, what is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity describes the idea that we all experience and interact with the world differently. It supports the notion that there’s no right or wrong way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and that the differences between us aren’t negative, they’re just part of the wonderful variety of human life.
Because neurodiverse people often think about the world differently and experience it in novel ways, they’re often incredibly valuable in a workplace context. This ‘thinking outside the box’ means an organisation benefits from fresh viewpoints, exciting solutions, and unexpected ways forward, all of which can create a competitive edge. This makes neurodiverse people a real asset to any team wanting to improve their performance, discover new potential and innovate.
Why is neurodiversity at work so important?
It’s important to understand and appreciate neurodiversity and how the neurodiverse process the world around them. Once you respect neurodiversity in others, you appreciate everyone’s thinking and ideas equally, and can support everyone well. As you can imagine this awareness of different neurological wiring directly influences how neurodiverse employees are understood and valued.
Let’s take individuals who are on the autistic spectrum as an example. They are highly skilled at logical thinking. They’re unusually curious and make talented evidence-based decision makers. Being so tenacious and persistent, they focus hard on resolving problems and come up with exciting perspectives. And being famously immune to pitfalls like confirmation bias, groupthink and faulty emotion-led decision making, they don’t get sidetracked by office politics. It’s no surprise tech giants like Microsoft and Dell make a conscious point of hiring neurodiverse workers.
What are the most common neurodiverse categories in organisations?
Generally, is thought that one in seven of us in the UK have some sort of neuro-difference, and being different in this way often comes with high levels of intelligence.
Autism and other autism spectrum conditions are probably the best-know neurodiverse conditions, but there are more. Neurodiversity also includes people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD, Attention Deficit Disorder or ADD, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia – where you struggle with maths – and Dyspraxia, where a person has difficulties with movement and co-ordination.
Problems with cognitive functioning and executive dysfunction can also fall under the umbrella, as can Dysgraphia, where a person finds it hard to write, Misophonia where a person has trouble coping with sounds, plus slow brain processing speed, stammering, and Tourette’s.
How to support neurodiverse people at work
As a leader, manager, or coach it’s important to first recognise and then focus on people’s individual strengths and talents, while at the same time making sure their differences are supported at work. It needn’t be a big thing. Sensory differences might mean a person simply needs access to a quiet place to avoid loud noises, or maybe special headphones that cancel out noise. If they struggle with textures, the usual work uniform might not be suitable.
It’s important to make change comfortable for people who dislike change, and clarify social etiquette at work for those to whom it doesn’t come naturally. Flexible seating, fidget toys, clear and unambiguous communications can make all the difference between a neurodiverse employee who gets by and one who is empowered to make a significant, unique contribution.
Most of all it’s important to ask people about their preferences, needs and work goals rather than make assumptions. To gain understanding about how you can best support and challenge them. Whether an employee is neurotypical or not, time spent with them, finding practical, clear ways to harness their strengths harvests real benefits in the long run. There is a need to be curious, open and respect differences anyway – with everyone.