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13 March 2023

Being wired differently helps us thrive

Image credit: MissLunaRose12

“Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will be best at any given moment?”— Harvey Blume, The Atlantic, 1998

This quote has crossed my mind at least once a day since I discovered it a couple of years ago and does a great job of describing the importance of Neurodiversity Celebration Week. The term neurodiversity was coined more than 20 years ago by Judy Singer an Australian sociologist and marks a turning point in the language we use to understand and support this community. Everyone together is neurodiverse because we are diverse. Within that you have Neurotypical and Neurodivergent.

Neurodivergent is an umbrella term for a number of neurological differences such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia and many more. All exist on a spectrum and can be present in isolation, or together. No two individuals will have the same experiences and with an estimated 15% of the population being neurodivergent, it’s imperative we continuously educate ourselves to provide ongoing understanding and support.

Identifying the support needed

In a previous life I had the pleasure of working with several neurodivergent individuals, some of whom were brought in on a pilot scheme specifically for this community – autistic adults are the lowest employed group in the UK after all. There was a lot of emphasis on ensuring that the scheme worked and created added value because it’s important that pilot schemes produce results to make getting further support in the future is easier. All too often we can ding that many managers are unwilling to “take risks” or “didn’t have the time to provide a lot of support”.

So, we enlisted some amazing charities and organisations to help identify applicants and set-up a separate recruitment portal to filter the applications. We also made a few tweaks to the recruitment journey, such as sending interview questions out in advance, providing details of the interviewers, and offering office tours (these became standard practice). We hired several people through this process and, with a combination of awareness sessions with teams and listening to individual needs, I’m pleased to say they are all still there doing incredible work. One colleague had such personal growth that they have started living independently, something which care workers and experts had told them and their parents was impossible.

The ‘adjustments’ that people were so afraid of turned out to be things that you would consider good management practice such as positive feedback, clearer instructions, support through times of business change and regular check ins.  I’m sure we would all agree that these should be afforded to everyone as standard. There could be other needs which as an employer we were required to meet or met through government funding, but these are no different to a standing desk or access adjustment for limited mobility.

Fostering a more supportive environment

We know the tremendous effect that stable employment can have on the lives of someone who has been given a chance. Neurodivergent people have the right to be valued as contributing members of society and rather than thinking of people as being disabled, I prefer to think of society disabling them by not providing simple support.

As a society, we’ve made good progress in understanding what neurodivergent and neurotypical means but we still have a long way to go. Currently in the UK, the waiting time for an adult neurodivergent diagnosis is as long as seven years and without that formal piece of paper, accessing support can be very difficult. This is because being neurodivergent is often not immediately visible and so the burden of proof falls far too often the individual

Being neurodivergent can bring unique challenges for individuals, but we need to look past this and focus on their many unique strengths. As the Harvey Blume quote states, we need diversity of thought to make sure we have every outlook on a problem or task. We need to recognise that some people are wired differently and utilising everyone for their own set of skills is the only way we can thrive.

I encourage everyone to take a look at some of the free events being run by Neurodiversity Celebration Week here.

Brett Dryden, Organisational Development – Diversity & Inclusion