Neurodiversity is the next big thing in diversity and inclusion.
Neurodiverse people form the only marginalised group which is skills-based, yet nine out of 10 companies still don’t have neurodiversity on their agendas. Not only are they missing out on talent, and losing out to their more inclusive competition, they’re also at risk of litigation.
But the good news is, neurodiverse inclusion is straightforward and low-cost – and the proven benefits are enormous, with reports of soaring productivity, lower staff absence and greater innovation.
This article will outline what every company needs to do to be more neurodiverse-aware for 2022 – and how to include people who are extraordinary.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is an umbrella term covering a number of neurodevelopmental conditions.
These include attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia (challenges with movement, sequencing and direction), and dyscalculia (difficulty with numbers, including money and time).
Neurodiverse people are a huge untapped pool of talent. Many have extraordinary skills and are an asset to their workplace. For example, autistic employees tend to be detail-oriented and have high standards, which is crucial on projects where even tiny mistakes can be costly. Dyslexics are natural problem-solvers, finding solutions where no one else can see them. And those with ADHD will come up with myriad ideas before everyone else has even finished their first cup of coffee. They are creative. They’re insightful. And they’re really good at spotting opportunities.
Why should I be inclusive to neurodiverse people?
The first is that it’s the right thing to do. Being inclusive towards anyone helps them feel confident, comfortable and able to participate. But for neurodiverse people, who often feel like they don’t fit in, and aren’t like others, being included makes a massive difference. And that’s something that you can be part of. When a neurodiverse person is welcomed in – to a job, a project, a community or even just a room – that can literally be life-changing.
The second reason is business productivity. Study after study shows that neurodiverse employees are more productive and learn quicker. Inclusive workplaces attract quality talent, have an improved reputation and have better collaboration. Leaders of inclusive workplaces are – unsurprisingly – rated as more competent than others. Neurodiverse inclusion matters to your staff, the people you’re trying to recruit, and to your clients.
How can I be inclusive to neurodiverse people?
Lots of people – particularly managers – approach neurodiversity with caution. Most know very little about it and people are naturally fearful of things they don’t understand.
But it’s likely that you’re already working with neurodiverse people. And you’re legally required to make reasonable adjustments for them, as neurodiversity is classed as a disability under the Equality Act. The good news is these adjustments are likely to be cheap and even more likely to be free.
For example, say you have an employee with ADHD. You’ve noticed they have trouble during meetings. Some adjustments you could make for them include: shortening the length of the meeting or taking breaks. Saying it’s fine for them to walk around the meeting room because they concentrate better if they’re moving. Or asking them to take notes, so they can keep their hands busy.
What if you have someone working for you who is dyslexic? It might still be important for you to make sure things are spelt correctly especially if work is going to clients or the public, so you could get them some specialist software which means you save time by not having a colleague check what they’ve written, but also they start to feel more confident at work, plus they work faster because they’re not agonising over how to spell.
Perhaps you are recruiting and you find an autistic candidate who you think is perfect. They outperform everyone else at the tests, but they don’t interview very well. You offer to send the questions in advance of the interview so they can prepare better and you give them precise information about the interview start and finish times, and who will be there. Suddenly, your autistic recruit is doing brilliantly.
Have you noticed the common thread in the above three examples? Not only are the changes you’ve made quick and easy, but you’ve also been proactive in being inclusive. You haven’t waited for your neurodiverse colleague to tell you what they need, but you’ve offered some things you think they might find helpful.
This is beneficial in two ways. First of all, you’re actively helping the neurodiverse person do their job to the best of their ability. They’re working in the way that suits them best. Secondly, by being proactive, you’ve signalled to them that you understand what they might need and that you’re willing to enable them to feel comfortable, safe and authentic.
Neurodiverse inclusion for 2022
As neurodiversity becomes more talked about and celebrated, what do you need to do to get 2022 off to a great start? Firstly, educate yourself and your staff about neurodiversity. Understand what it’s like to have ADHD, autism or dyslexia. Secondly, make sure you know your legal obligations as far as neurodiverse inclusion goes. And finally, and most importantly, when you don’t know what to do – just ask!
Rachel Morgan-Trimmer is a neurodiversity consultant.