Neurodiversity: strategic thinking
“We are all neurodiverse, because no two humans on the planet are exactly alike,” says Judy Singer, The Australian sociologist who coined the term more than 20 years ago. 1,2
Albeit true, neurodiversity is sometimes used as an umbrella term. It can describe a range of different and often overlapping ways of learning, thinking, and behaving that are outside the usual social norms. It is more accurate to describe this as neurodivergence.
The neurodiversity movement recognises that neurological differences are not disabilities. Neurological differences can include:
- being on the autism spectrum
- having ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) and,
- being dyslexic
These differences may have a disabling impact for some. In others there are advantages in not being ‘average’. It allows them to see the world differently and come up with novel solutions. Although it is important to remember that each person is unique and neurodiversity includes all of us – neurodivergent individuals can bring sought-after skills including:3
- strong visual, analytical and problem-solving skills
- the ability to multi-task
- enhanced memory and observational skills
There are wider benefits, too. As the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development says:
“The business case for diversity has highlighted the importance of ‘diversity of thought’ – get people with different perspectives, backgrounds and experience in a room, and your team will be more innovative and creative.”4 This is even more important when we need new ideas, to optimise recruitment and ensure we don’t miss out on talents.
Professor Amanda Kirby is the Emeritus Chair in Developmental Disorders at the University of South Wales, CEO of Do-IT-Solutions and the parent of a neurodivergent family. She warns against the historic simplistic approach. It often aligned neurodivergent ‘labels’ too narrowly to specific traits or skills.
"They overlap more often than not,” she explains. “Seventy per cent of people on the autism spectrum also have ADHD, and many people with autism have dyslexia. A lot of the research relating to specific talents associated with conditions is based on small samples with some selection biases.”
Her advice is: “Be person led, rather than label led. Raising awareness and embedding an understanding of neurodiversity in your systems and processes will benefit everyone, and open the door to more talent.”
"Other neurodivergent traits are associated with similar discrepancies around gaining and sustaining work opportunities."
Dr Ravi Lukha, Medical Director, Bupa UK Insurance, says:
“Neurodivergent individuals have differing needs and communication styles, like all employees and co-workers. Therefore, there is no one-size-fits-all method for how to communicate with a neurodivergent workforce. Instead it is a matter of listening, educating, and evolving in conjunction to find a way that best works for each individual.”
Each individual and situation is unique, but these insights from Ravi will help improve communication styles in the workplace:
- To create a well-supported and diverse workplace, it is paramount to create a culture of open communication whereby managers and co-workers are clear on where barriers may be and adjust accordingly. Building these bridges between different communication styles will ultimately help to build trust and expand collaboration.
- Line managers should be aware of different communication methods (such as verbal, written, visual, face-to-face) and ensure they understand preferences in communication styles and patterns, when appropriate.
- Line managers need to ensure they check for understanding and are clear about processes. A continuous feedback loop is important to maintain a successful neurodivergent workforce.
- Be mindful of sensitivities. For example, people with autism may be disconcerted by sudden change, so it is important to be aware of any sensitivities, communicate appropriately and support accordingly to each individual situation.”
Resources and guides
1 Reflections on Neurodiversity. Accessed: 2022. https://neurodiversity2.blogspot.com/p/what.html
2 Neurodiversity in Business. Accessed: 2022. https://neurodiversityinbusiness.org/understanding-neurodiversity/
3 The Institute of Leadership & Management – Report 2. Accessed 2022. https://www.institutelm.com/resourceLibrary/workplace-neurodiversity-the-power-of-difference.html
4 CIPD. Published: 2018. Accessed: 2022. https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/neurodiversity-at-work_2018_tcm18-37852.pdf (PDF, 0.4 MB)
5 CIPD. Published: 2018. Accessed: 2022. https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/neurodiversity-at-work_2018_tcm18-37852.pdf (PDF, 04.MB)
6 National Autistic Society. Published: 2021. Accessed: 2022. https://www.autism.org.uk/what-we-do/news/new-data-on-the-autism-employment-gap
7 Autistica. Published: 2022. Accessed: 2022. https://www.autistica.org.uk/news/attitudes-index-news
8 The Institute of Leadership & Management – Report 2. Accessed 2022. https://www.institutelm.com/resourceLibrary/workplace-neurodiversity-the-power-of-difference.html
9 University of Bath. Accessed: 2022. https://www.bath.ac.uk/publications/resources-for-researchers-and-the-autism-community/attachments/10-steps-to-creating-a-neurodiverse-inclusive-environment.pdf (PDF, 0.2 MB)
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