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Neurodiversity in the workplace

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Recently, there has been a growing recognition of the unique skills and perspectives that neurodivergent individuals bring to the workplace. Modern society is striving for more inclusivity and there has been a push to create more opportunities for neurodivergent individuals in the workforce. Employers are beginning to recognise the value that autistic and ADHD individuals can bring, and as a result, there is a growing movement to provide employment opportunities that furnish their strengths and abilities while being able to support their challenges at the same time. 

Neurodivergence doesn’t only refer to autism and ADHD but is an umbrella term for any individuals whose brain functions differently to those of the typical population and this also includes those with dyslexia, OCD, acquired brain injury and more. Autism and ADHD are neurodevelopmental conditions that can present both varying challenges and strengths in the workplace. Autistic individuals often have an excellent attention to detail, great memory for facts, and a keen focus on their chosen areas of interest. On the other hand, those with ADHD may demonstrate creativity, high energy levels, and the ability to thrive in fast-paced environments. There are also a high number of individuals who present with both conditions and there is much overlap of these strengths.  However, both groups can face difficulties with organisation, social interactions, and sensory sensitivities, which can impact their performance at work. It is also important to note that support needs are different for each individual and that these needs also vary over time. 

In order to support the employment of autistic and ADHD individuals, workplaces need to develop a sense of inclusivity and adapt to the needs of each individual. In the UK, employees are allowed to ask for Reasonable Adjustments and companies are required, by law, to provide them to employees who require it. 

These adjustments can be achieved through a variety of means, such as providing clear and written communication, offering flexible work arrangements like working remotely or having more time to complete tasks, and creating sensory-friendly spaces with dimmer lights and quieter rooms. Additionally, employers can implement training programs to educate staff about neurodiversity and how to best support their neurodivergent colleagues through a neuro-affirmative approach. This is already being done by the National Health Service (NHS), where all employees are required to go through autism and learning disability training with The Oliver McGowan mandatory training. There are now many organisations and charities that can provide neurodiversity training services to other companies such as The Brain Charity and ADHD Aware

Companies across various industries have started to implement neurodiversity hiring programs, aimed at recruiting and retaining individuals with neurodiverse conditions. These programs often include tailored interview processes (e.g., video interviews, trials shifts or portfolios instead of traditional face-to-face interviews), on-the-job support, and mentorship opportunities to ensure the success of neurodiverse employees. IT firm Auticon is one example of a company that exclusively employs autistic individuals whilst providing tailored support for them. Additionally, some businesses have partnered with neurodiversity-focused charities and vocational training programs to create pathways for individuals to enter the workforce and thrive in their chosen careers. Two companies that do this include EmployAbility and Exceptional Individuals, who focus on helping neurodivergent individuals find suitable employment. Finally, some charities such as EmploymentAutism also provide useful online guidance on how to start looking for jobs, how to apply, what to expect during interviews and what to do when changing jobs. The leading charity for autism, the National Autistic Society also has schemes in which businesses can go through to ensure their organisation is autism friendly.

Employing neurodivergent individuals not only benefits the individuals themselves but also brings unique advantages to the workplace. Research has shown that neurodiverse workplaces can excel in problem-solving, innovation and increase productivity. More importantly, embracing neurodiversity develops a culture of acceptance and understanding, which can lead to increased morale for all employees. 

While progress has indeed been made in creating employment opportunities for autistic and ADHD individuals, a lot of work is still needed to improve this. The Office for National Statistics (ONS) recently provided data showing that only 22% of autistic adults are currently in employment. Many employers are still unaware of the challenges that neurodivergent individuals face in the workplace. Advocacy, education, and policy changes are sorely needed to further advance the inclusivveness of neurodivergent individuals in the workforce. Improving employment opportunities for autistic and ADHD individuals are not only a matter of social justice but also a strategic advantage for businesses. It is crucial to continue to spread awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace and educate employers so we can unlock the full potential of all employees and build a stronger, more inclusive society.

Author: NeuroDirect