Naomi Humber, Head of Mental Wellbeing at Bupa, addresses five common neurodiversity misconceptions
Interest in neurodiversity has grown over the last few years. More people understand it’s common for there to be differences in how our brains process information.
Following the COVID-19 pandemic, there was a lot of change to process in a short amount of time. A common reaction to change is stress. This can worsen anxiety and symptoms of neurodiverse conditions such as ADHD.
During this time, many people also became aware that their brains were functioning and adapting in different ways to others. The pandemic acted as a ‘diagnostic tool’ for many undiagnosed neurodivergent individuals.
Despite more awareness, there are still common misconceptions when it comes to neurodiversity. This is especially so in the workplace. To support neurodivergent employees and breakdown any stigmas, it is important to understand and debunk common workplace myths about neurodiversity.
- Neurodiversity only focuses on autism
Autism is a neurological condition, and so are ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette’s syndrome. These are all other examples of neurodiversity.
Neurodiversity recognises the biological differences in the way people think and feel and doesn’t solely focus on autism. As an employer, recognising and understanding different neurodivergent conditions is important when thinking about how to support neurodiverse employees.
- Neurodiverse people are all alike
This isn’t true – the way we think, behave and process information is unique to us. And we all sit at different places on this cognitive spectrum.
Neurodiverse individuals often have thought processes that are more unique than most people. Their thought processes are different to what society thinks of as ‘normal’. Therefore, the skills and barriers neurodiverse employees face in the workplace are unique to them. Neurodiverse people do not experience the same challenges or talents as each other.
- Neurodiverse employees are unable to thrive in the workplace
Another common misconception of neurodiversity is that neurodiverse individuals are unable to succeed in the workplace. Whilst neurodiverse individuals may experience challenges at work, for example, difficulty concentrating or adapting to change, many of those with a neurodiverse diagnosis think outside the box, are more creative and innovative. These talents can lead to higher productivity levels than neurotypical employees.
- Neurodiversity is a mental health condition
Conditions such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD are not mental health conditions. They are neurological differences in the way individuals think and process information.
Neurodivergent people are still at risk of experiencing mental health conditions. This can be down to several factors such as workplace stress or bullying. It’s really important to give appropriate support to help neurodiverse employees with mental health concerns.
- Neurodiversity only affects men
It is a common misconception that neurodiverse conditions are rarer in women. However, thousands of women are diagnosed in the UK each year.
Previously, old stereotypes between male and female gender norms and social behaviours often left many women undiagnosed with a neurodiverse way of thinking, such as autism. However, gender should not be a factor in providing workplace adjustments or diagnostic support.
How to support neurodiverse employees in the workplace
How much an employee’s neurodivergence impacts them at work is different for each individual. However, as an employer you can support your employees’ health and wellbeing by supporting their unique talents and understanding their needs.
- Get to know the individual
Try to get to know more about your team member’s neurodivergence, so you understand how you can best support their unique strengths and challenges. A personalised plan of action led by the neurodiverse individual can help them to feel supported in the workplace. Don’t work off stereotypes or make any assumptions – always ask how you can best support each neurodiverse individual.
- Provide supportive technology and equipment
Supportive equipment can help some neurodivergent employees carry out their role. For example, some individuals with dyslexia might struggle with reading and writing, and those with ADHD may struggle to prioritise and plan their day.
Examples of assistive technology are:
- speech-to-text, text-to-speech or mind-mapping software
- dictation tools
- a digital recorder
- a daily planner
A workplace that adapts to support its employees’ needs promotes productivity, wellbeing and job satisfaction. When assigning tasks or roles to your team members, try to consider the tasks that will support their strengths.
Some neurodivergent employees may communicate differently to neurotypical people. For example, individuals with autism may not find it easy to read facial expressions or tone of voice. Try to communicate clearly and use direct language. Providing communication documents in a range of formats can also help neurodivergent team members to feel supported.
Consider the working environment
Many aspects of a typical working environments can cause challenges or barriers for neurodiverse employees. For example, bright lights and noisy open-plan offices can be challenging for those with sensitivity to sensory surroundings.
Whether your team are working remotely or from home, make sure they have access to the right equipment and working environments that support their individual needs. Examples of equipment that can help to support neurodiverse working environments include:
- desk lamps
- quiet zones or areas
- clear instructions near any office equipment
- stationery such as sticky notes, pens and highlighters to help with memory and organisation
Promote an inclusive workplace
Encouraging awareness of neurodiversity can help to educate everyone in your organisation about the barriers neurodiverse employees face daily at work. Raising awareness also helps celebrate the unique strengths they bring to a team. Education can also lead to greater equality and a more inclusive workplace.
Having a neurodiversity policy can also help to establish a framework for managers and employees to follow, reducing the risk of discrimination in the workplace.
If you’re a manager, there are lots of resources available to help you to support neurodiverse employees, break down any stigmas and create an inclusive workplace. Such as, our manager’s guide to neurodiversity (PDF, 0.3MB) and toolkits.