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Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Last updated on 26th April 2023

Neurodivergence isn’t something that is often acknowledged in the workplace as much as it should be. If someone discloses that they are neurodivergent, the Department for Work and Pensions states that the employer should make reasonable adjustments to ensure that the employee is able to have the same opportunity as everybody else.

According to the Brain and Spine Foundation, there are over 12 million people in the UK living with a neurological condition, so it is a factor in many people’s lives that must be acknowledged and respected. Continue reading this article to find out more about neurological conditions, and what we mean by neurodiversity in the workplace.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is the name to describe how people can have different neurological conditions that can affect them in different ways. A neurological condition is one that affects the brain due to some form of damage that the condition causes.

As well as the brain, it can affect the spinal column and peripheral nerves; which is the name given to other nerves in the rest of your body. Your nervous system is responsible for controlling and regulating the glands in your body and your involuntary movements, so neurological conditions can often cause involuntary body movements due to the condition causing a reduced conscious control of them. This means that your arms and legs may move without you telling them to.

These types of conditions can also alter mental ability but this does not necessarily mean that a person has a reduced mental ability or capacity to work or make decisions. It means that a person may use their brain differently, excel in different areas that other people may not, have different social skills, or have a different way of expressing themselves.

All of these differences are what bring diversity to people who have these conditions.

The nervous system also controls the senses, so people may have different levels of use for their senses. This means that some people who have a neurological condition may have reduced hearing, difficulty in verbal communication, sensitive hearing, over- or under-sensitive touch, or reduced visual capacity.

Another complication that neurological conditions can cause is weakness in muscles. This can be noticed by a reduced physical ability in fine or gross motor skills. Many of the conditions deteriorate which means that, over time, a person could go from being fully physically able to requiring occupational therapist aids to support them with movement.

Man with autism struggling with routine

Types of neurological conditions

Some common neurological conditions include:

  • Cerebral palsy: This is a lifelong condition that affects a person’s fine and gross motor skills as well as their coordination. It can also affect communication and cause learning difficulties in some people. It is usually discovered in babies soon after birth, but occasionally children can develop it in their early years.
  • Autism: Autism is the name of a condition that affects people in many different ways. It can affect communication, thinking and how people feel; it can cause anxiety and cause difficulty in understanding information; and it can cause people to like routine.
  • Parkinson’s disease: Parkinson’s disease damages the brain slowly over many years. Its main symptoms are shaking, slow movements, involuntary movements, stiffness, stammers and inflexible muscles.
  • Epilepsy: Epilepsy causes frequent seizures (which are a burst of electrical activity that affects how the brain works). It usually starts in childhood, but it can be diagnosed in adults too.
  • Dyslexia: Dyslexia is a learning disorder that causes people difficulty reading and writing due to how people with the condition hear sounds and relate them to letters.
  • Migraines: Migraines are severe headaches that create many more symptoms such as sickness, vision difficulty, light sensitivity and sensitivity to sound.
  • Multiple sclerosis: Multiple sclerosis affects the brain and spinal cord causing issues with physical ability. It can make arm and leg movements difficult, cause issues with balance and coordination, and can even cause vision issues. It is a lifelong condition that unfortunately deteriorates throughout life.
  • Stroke: A stroke can also be referred to as a brain attack. Its after-effects can cause a lifelong disability that can vary depending on the severity of the stroke.
  • Vertigo: The NHS describes vertigo as a condition that can get better over time. It causes dizziness to the extent that a person cannot go about their daily life. A vertigo attack can last a few seconds or a few hours, or days in some cases.

Neurodiversity is about normalising the different behavioural traits and brain functions in individuals so that every diverse characteristic is valued.

Having a neurological condition often means that people may view the world differently to others, and have alternative ideas and methods of thinking about or doing something. These differences are what make people diverse and shape us to be individual people.

Who is considered neurodivergent?

There can be many causes of a neurological condition. Sometimes people are born with them at birth, develop them during their life span, or have an accident or injury that brings on the onset of the condition.

According to the Neurological Alliance, there are over 600 different known neurological conditions, and this number continues to increase. They state that one in six people in the UK live with a neurological condition; which means if you don’t have one, it is likely that you know somebody who does (such as a friend or family member).

Being neurodivergent means that you may think differently to most other people – which is often described as the majority. The opposite of this term is neurotypical, which describes a person without a neurological condition; so, they may think in a similar way as most of the population. The word neurodivergent was first invented to describe people who have autism, but this definition has broadened immensely over the years to include all neurological conditions.

Each person who lives with a neurological condition will have their own personal experience of the symptoms. This means that not everybody who has the same condition will have the same views, thoughts or behaviours. Just as with mental health conditions, neurological conditions can cause different symptoms, even when two people have the same condition.

What is neurodiversity in the workplace?

The workplace is an environment that attracts a large amount of diversity. This is because job advertisements can be listed nationwide and be viewed by the entire population at the click of a button.

Having a neurodiverse workplace means that the workplace may include different people with different backgrounds and conditions. When we talk about a neurodiverse workplace, we mean that the workforce may include people who live with different neurological conditions.

For example, an operations delivery team could include:

  • Somebody with dyslexia.
  • Somebody with an acquired brain injury.
  • Somebody with bipolar disorder.
  • Somebody with no neurological condition.
  • Somebody with autism.

People who have a condition can often be described as having complex needs in health and daily living. This means that they may require a personalised package of support from health and social care professionals to support them to live independently in the community.

This care can include medication support, self-management skills, and independent living skills – all of which contribute to a person being able to work in society.

Neurodiversity brain injury

The benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace

The benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace are vast. Having people from different backgrounds and with different abilities in work teams creates a good work culture that accepts every individual.

As well as this, you attract diverse skill sets that can overcome many challenges that the workplace presents. Find out more about the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace below:

Different talents at work

Having a neurodiverse workforce attracts many different people, and with that comes different talents. People with different neurological conditions can each think in their own ways, and enjoy different things. This brings specialised skills that may not have otherwise been considered.

Streamlined processes

When people with different abilities in different areas work in an organisation, it can help the workplace to innovate. This is because neurological conditions can make some people think in different ways to others which can generate ideas that a ‘neurotypical’ person may not have necessarily thought of.

For example, a workplace could have been doing a record-keeping process for years in the same format. When a new colleague joins the team, they suggest a new way of completing this process, reducing the time that it takes to complete the process by an hour.

Learn from each other

The workforce (employees) can benefit from neurodiversity as well as the business. When you join a new place of work, you often meet people whom you may not have otherwise come across in day-to-day life. You can make friends with people who have similar or completely different interests to you, and share knowledge with each other. This can open the door to you gaining new interests and new hobbies, as well as new friends.

Adapted communication

Neurological conditions can sometimes mean that a person requires an alternative form of communication in order for them to understand the information being delivered to them.

This could be in a number of formats such as:

  • Written communication in large font or on different coloured paper.
  • Computer screens with assistive technology to help with using them and reading the information.
  • Having an adapted telephone service to help people hard of hearing use the telephone.
  • Having British Sign Language taught in the workplace.

Have different perspectives

As mentioned earlier in this article, people with neurological conditions have a different way of thinking. With this comes different perspectives. A perspective is a way of looking at something or approaching a task.

You may have a different starting point, an alternative way of rationalising an event or look for a different result. You can learn about having different perspectives by working with new and different people; which can create an open-minded workforce and new or better working practices.

Improved culture and morale

As well as different perspectives, you can have a workforce that has an improved culture and morale when there is diversity. Sharing work with different colleagues can boost morale because it creates a welcoming and accepting environment where people can be their best selves.

Having specified people in specific roles

People with different neurological conditions have their own unique skill sets that can be used in specific roles in a business or organisation. This means that members of the workforce will excel in each of their own specified roles and your business can accelerate due to increased skill.

Building neurodiversity in the work place

How to build neurodiversity in the workplace

Neurodiversity is a strength to have in the workplace. It is very important to ensure that any job applicants that have a neurological condition are treated the same as any other applicant during an assessment and interview stage. Not only is this the right thing to do, but it also ensures that you are meeting equality and diversity laws.

The Equality Act 2010 is a leading piece of legislation that protects people who have different characteristics to be treated fairly in workplace situations; this includes job applications, job interviews, hiring and treatment within their working roles. A neurological condition falls under this piece of legislation through the disability characteristic.

This means that anyone with a disability (such as a neurological condition like autism) is protected against unfair treatment, bullying, harassment and victimisation.

To build neurodiversity in the workplace, there are many things you can introduce to ensure that your workforce is accepting and supportive of all people.

These things include:

1. Have options available for preferred methods of communication – this can include writing on different coloured paper, larger font, and text audio instead of written.

2. Have accessible buildings for people who have a physical disability due to their neurological condition – this can include having wide doorways and ramps for wheelchair users, having lifts or options for working on the ground floor, and having different office equipment for easier use (such as a larger mouse and screen).

Having a neurodiverse workforce is crucial in contemporary society. The world is an ever-changing and ever-evolving place, and with that brings more diverse people. Diversity is something in our culture that must be respected and valued, and having this in the workplace shows that your business is a reputable and welcoming workplace.

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About the author

Maria Reding

Maria Reding

Maria has a background in social work and marketing, and is now a professional content writer. Outside of work she enjoys being active outdoors and doing yoga. In her spare time she likes to cook, read and travel.

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