What do employers need to know about Neurodiversity?
Matt Nathan is the editor in chief of DiversityQ and has worked for New Statesman and The Guardian
In this feature, we explain neurodiversity and offer some simple solutions to allow employers to create a welcoming and productive work environment for neurodivergent employees, with a specific emphasis on the autistic spectrum.
Neurodiversity or the ‘Neurodiversity paradigm’ is a rejection of and an alternative to the ‘pathology paradigm’. The pathology paradigm regards a range of modes of thought that fall outside of what is considered ‘Neurotypical’ as medical conditions to be treated and managed. For example dyslexia, ADHD, Tourettes and those on the autism spectrum.
What is neurodiversity?
Proponents of neurodiversity argue that in the same way we acknowledge a diverse range of sexualities, philosophies and cultures, we should accept a range of different modes of thinking as part of the human condition. Furthermore, we shouldn’t pathologize those who experience the world in a different way but learn to embrace and include these different perspectives and modes of thought.
For some neurodiverse people, this can be empowering, although the approach is not without critics, some of which argue that it excludes those with the acutest conditions who require profound levels of care.
For the purpose of this article, we’ll be looking at neurodiversity in the context of accommodating autism and similar conditions in the workplace and overcoming discrimination and stigma. We are not taking a definitive position on the neurodiversity movement, as it wouldn’t be appropriate for me, as an individual who is regarded as neurotypical, to do so.
See also: Auticon: the autism-positive consultancy
Research from the National Autistic Society found that just 16% of autistic adults are in full-time work and yet of those who weren’t 77% wanted to be.
Autism affects more than 1 in 100 people, which means over 700,000 people in the UK are autistic. This means that 2.8m people have a relative on the autism spectrum. That’s a huge pool of underutilized people that could be contributing to workplaces in many sectors that are currently being overlooked. At the same time, many companies are struggling to find talent.
Everyone experiences autism differently, but those on the spectrum often exhibit traits that can make them ideal employees if harnessed appropriately;
- High levels of focus
- A keen eye for detail
- A tendency to be highly loyal and conscientious
- Excellent memory and detailed factual knowledge
Advice for employers
The Equality Act 2010 (UK) requires that employers make;
Reasonable adjustments to support disabled job applicants and employees. This means ensuring disabled people can overcome any substantial disadvantages they may have doing their jobs and progressing in work
The Equality Act 2010
The following are some suggestions to make the hiring and employment of autistic workers more inclusive
- Have a clear and concise job description when hiring – Use plain English and avoid jargon, focus on the skills required and not typical “soft skills” that often pad a job description that those with autism might struggle with. Also, consider making the interview more accommodating by avoiding open questions and offering to allow a supporter to attend to help reduce anxiety
- Consider the working environment – People on the autism spectrum are much more sensitive to sensory detail. Your modern open plan office might be great for some of your employees but could be highly stressful for those on the spectrum.
- Structure workload and be clear about expectations – People on the spectrum often benefit from high levels of regimentation so make sure this is reflected in their duties and how they are assessed.
- Raise awareness with colleagues – Make sure that colleagues have an understanding of the condition so that they can understand and accommodate for differences.
This is by no means an exhaustive list and we would like to hear from you about your strategies and experiences of accommodating neurodiverse workers in your organisations or hear from neurodivergent employees themselves. Please get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
For more information on autism please visit www.autism.org.uk