Neurodiversity in the workplace
Just like life outside, the workplace is a hugely diverse environment. We’re all unique with our own life experiences and personal preferences. They shape how we like to work and get things done. Our differences are the reason great things happen in the workplace. And, as we celebrate the strengths that diversity can bring, we must also be proactive in our support.
On this page, we explore what you can do to empower neurodiversity in the workplace.
What is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is the term used to describe natural variations in the human brain. It relates to differences in the way we think, process, learn and behave. Most people are neurotypical meaning that the brain functions and processes in the way that society expects. 1 in 5 people are neurodivergent meaning their brain functions differently in one or more ways than is considered standard or typical. Their unique traits are often characterized as 'neurodiverse conditions'.
ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, and Tourette's syndrome are all examples of neurodiverse conditions.
They're diagnostic labels used to explain the diverse ways of thinking, learning, processing and behaving.
As with all people, we each have our talents and challenges. Neurodivergent individuals often bring to the workplace out-of-the-box thinking, creative solutions and more. They may also spend a lot of time trying to adjust their work environment to suit their needs. That's because typically, working environments are set up for neurotypical ways of thinking and doing.
Organizations must create a workplace that welcomes neurodiversity, and allows employees to work and achieve in their own way. That means adjusting the workplace to suit the needs of diverse thinkers. As you continue reading, you'll uncover advice to help you empower neurodivergent employees at work.
A few neurodiverse conditions explained
Of the global adult population, 10% are dyslexic, 6% are dyspraxic, 5% have ADHD, and 1-2% are autistic.
Each of these neurodiverse conditions will be experienced differently by every individual. As Dr. Stephen Shore famously said, "If you've met one individual with autism, you've met one individual with autism".
As an employer, it's important to get to know your employees on an individual basis. That way, you'll find out more about their personal strengths and challenges. However, to help give you some awareness we've identified some common characteristics below.
- What is Dyslexia?
- What is Dyspraxia?
- What is ADHD?
- What is Autism?
Dyslexia is a language processing difficulty. It's associated with challenges including: literacy difficulties, information-processing, and maintaining focus. As well as strengths including: pattern recognition, problem solving, and verbal communication skills.
People with dyslexia may experience challenges with aspects of reading and writing, such as spelling and proofreading. They may also experience difficulty processing information in their short-term memory. This can mean a difficulty in putting detail into order, as well as maintaining focus. They may also find it challenging to concentrate with background noise.
Alongside challenges, dyslexia can also come with many strengths. For example, dyslexic minds process information visually. That means that they're often able to recognize patterns and see trends in data. They can discover connections that others have missed. Such strengths lend themselves to good problem solving abilities. They also have good verbal communication skills and are very detailed story-tellers. Dyslexic people can also bring to the workplace out of the box, original thinking. They're often able to look at tasks with a holistic and creative approach.
Discover more in these podcast episodes with dyslexic employees. Listen as they share their experiences:
- Dyslexia, the workplace and me, with Colin Moloney
- A look at dyslexic from a dyslexic mind (or two!), with Sam and Andy
Later, we'll explore how you can encourage success for people with Dyslexia at work.
Guide for employers: Neurodiversity in the workplace
In this handy guide, discover more about neurodiversity in the workplace. Download today for free and;
- Gain more insight into neurodiverse conditions
- Discover the benefits neurodiversity can bring to your organization
- Explore how you can create an inclusive workplace culture
- Find out how you can support neurodivergent employees
Neurodivergent people explain their experiences best!
As an employer it's great to have an understanding of neurodiverse conditions. But it's important to remember that hearing directly from neurodivergent employees matters. After all, they're best placed to share their experiences, and tell you what they need.
This is important not only because every individual will have a different experience of the same neurodiverse condition, but because neurodiversity comes in many forms.
Above, we've explored only 4 of the many neurodiverse conditions that exist. Many more include conditions such as Marfan's Phenotype, explained here by our friend and Biomedical Scientist, Deirdre Williamson.
Whilst proactively educating yourself on as many neurodiverse conditions is great, it's vital to create an inclusive workplace culture. That means, a workplace where employees feel comfortable and confident to discuss challenges and be themselves.
We want to do better. Help us to improve.
We have used the term 'neurodiverse conditions' to provide context to existing diagnostic labels. A neurodivergent employee may disclose a diagnostic condition to access workplace adjustments. However, we realize that this term may not be preferred by everyone. At Texthelp, using language that's inclusive and respectful to all people is important to us. Please let us know if you feel we could do better in the terminology we have chosen to use.
Creating an inclusive culture
As humans, we all want to feel like we belong. Creating a culture that makes everyone feel welcomed, accepted, understood and celebrated matters. For this to happen, employers must be flexible, and willing to adapt the workplace to suit individual needs.
As with all forms of diversity, neurodiversity must be considered.
However, just 1 in 10 organizations say that they consider neurodiversity in their people management practices.
That means employers are missing out on some simple but effective adjustments they could make to recruit and retain members of the neurodivergent community. Organizations that welcome neurodiverse teams benefit from a workforce of different thinkers. That brings benefits including creativity, innovation, productivity and more.
An inclusive culture welcomes neurodiversity in all its forms
So far, we've talked about a few different types of neurodiversity (Autism, ADHD, dyspraxia and dyslexia), that are considered as being developmental. That means, neurodivergent traits are present from birth but develop in childhood and adolescence. However neurodivergence can also be acquired, for example as a result of a brain-altering experience.
In the US, acquired brain trauma is the second most prevalent disability. 2.5 million people sustain a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) every year. As a result, over 80,000 people will experience the onset of a long-term disability. As an organization, it’s important to be ready to support your employees through life’s events, and be prepared to help them adjust to their new way of working and living. Creating an inclusive culture can help you to be more prepared.
Discover more in this case study with Nikki Goode, an employee with acquired brain injury.
Case study: an example from the Met Police
Gaining an understanding of how your employees perceive the company culture is a good place to start. It’ll help inform you of what steps you need to take to become more inclusive. The Metropolitan Police are working to adapt their diversity and inclusion strategies to better support neurodivergent employees, and those with disabilities. Hear what they're doing, and gain ideas and advice to take back to your own organization.
Empowering neurodivergent employees
As we've identified, neurodivergent individuals bring many advantages to any workplace. They bring unique perspectives and strengthen the success of projects and tasks. However some may require additional support in the workplace to help them overcome associated challenges, and allow them to thrive..
Below, we identify some adjustments that can help to create a supportive working environment tailored to their needs.
- Encouraging success for people with Dyslexia at work
- Helping employees with Dyspraxia to succeed
- Supporting employees with ADHD to achieve their best
- Empowering Autistic people at work
To harness the power of dyslexia strengths, it’s important to help dyslexic employees overcome challenges. Dyslexia can affect the ability to process information in the short-term memory. Individuals might struggle with concentration, reading, writing and spelling.
To support employees with dyslexia, begin by asking the employee if they need any extra support. Then, work together to discover what adjustments would benefit them. We’ve provided some examples of simple adjustments below. It might help you to kick start the conversation:
- Discuss the use of calendars, planners and alerts to support memory challenges
- Consider desk location and storage facilities. An organized and tidy workspace in a quiet area will help to minimize distraction. This will support concentration
- Explore the best method of communication for the employee. Clear communication and checking for understanding is important. This can be supported by using a mix of verbal, visual and written formats
- Offer the opportunity for regular one to one conversations. This can be with a line manager, or neurodiversity champion. The goal is to ensure support as often as required
- Allow the use noise cancelling headphones to help block out distractions
- Provide extra equipment such a talking calculator to help with numeracy difficulties
- Offer assistive technology software. This enables them to work in a way that suits them best, and supports task completion
For more information, check out our blog all about supporting employees with dyslexia.
Video series: supporting neurodiversity at work
We've joined forces with Lexxic, an occupational psychology consultancy, to help you support neurodiversity and inclusion at work.
In this video series, we help you to gain a better understanding of neurodiversity. Explore common workplace challenges experienced by those with dyslexia, dyspraxia, autism & ADHD. Gain expert advice on how to help neurodivergent employees overcome these.
Digital inclusion in the workplace
In today’s world, offices are becoming increasingly digital. In fact, 95% of organizations agree that a digital workplace is important. With technology having an important role, there's a need to think about digital inclusion in the workplace.
Not every employee reaps the benefits that digital technology can bring to their working day.
For example, 59% of companies provide the apps workers want and need, but don’t make them easily accessible. That means 24/7 access, and compatibility across every device. But accessibility issues can come in other forms too.
Within the digital workplace, we're jumping between many platforms, browsers and devices. We’re accessing everything from emails to web pages and PDFs. Most of the information we’re consuming is in the written format. And, we’re responding with typed communication. This doesn’t suit everybody.
That’s where assistive technology comes in.
What is assistive technology?
Assistive technology describes any device, software, or equipment that supports people with disabilities. It improves their ability to do things in everyday life. They can assist with a range of difficulties, including mobility, memory, communication and literacy challenges.
Assistive technology examples include:
- Low vision assistive technology such as screen readers and speech recognition software
- Assistive reading devices including text to speech software and digital reading guides
- Memory aids such as digital recorders and digital timers
- Literacy support including electronic spell checkers and word prediction
Workplace assistive technology
Within the workplace, assistive technology can come in the form of built-in accessibility features. These are contained in a lot of the popular programs used across organizations. However, going above and beyond, workplace assistive technology includes Saas software like Read&Write for Work.
On average, organizations use 16 SaaS applications. SaaS applications include Slack, Office 365 and Zendesk. They help to keep track of projects, communicate with stakeholders, and manage their customer base. But what about empowering the workforce?
Organizations who invest in the right tools for their staff see an increase in productivity, morale and retention. Read&Write is a literacy and productivity software. It helps employees to work in a way that suits them best. Employees can change the format of their digital documents. They can communicate in their preferred way. And, they gain access to accessibility features including text-to-speech and talk & type dictation.
Preventing disability discrimination at work
Making sure neurodivergent employees have what they need to thrive is the right thing to do. Being as supportive as we can also helps prevent disability discrimination at work.
Disability employment law protects people with disabilities in the workplace.
This includes people with a diagnosed neurodiverse condition. It helps to make sure everyone has an equal opportunity to start and stay in work. And puts the onus on employers to make it a priority. Disability legislation such as the Rehabilitation Act, the Americans with Disability Act and the Canadian Human Rights Act protects employees and job applicants.
Protecting disabled workers rights requires action across recruitment, onboarding, and retainment processes. This includes reasonable adjustments which help staff overcome disadvantage resulting from their disability.
If you've got questions, check out our blog on commonly asked FAQs.
Webinar: Supporting neurodivergent employees
In this recorded webinar, find out all you need to know about navigating employment law.
You’ll also hear from one organization, on how they've created a more inclusive workplace. Gain insight into their new workplace adjustments policy, developed for a diverse workforce.
Achieving inclusive leadership
Do you know what it means to be an inclusive leader in today's workplace?
In our recorded webinar session, we explore this topic and more. Listen and gain practical advice from three inclusive organizations, EW Group, Department for Transport, and Texthelp.
Case studies - Neurodiversity in the workplace in action
Hear from different organizations on their experiences of neurodiversity in the workplace. Each case study demonstrates how assistive technology software, Read&Write, supports employees with neurodiversity at work.
Network Rail provides support to all 38,000 employees
Employing over 38,000 staff, Network Rail delivers a safe, reliable railway for 4.5 million people and businesses every day. Access and inclusion for customers, partners and staff are ingrained throughout their policies and practices.
Supporting employees through life events
83% of people with a disability acquired their disability later in life, whether due to an accident, illness or genetic condition. Nikki Goode, an employee with acquired brain injury, shares how her organization supported her return to work. She also explains how assistive technology has been fundamental to her in the process.
Providing essential support
It's our responsibility to make sure every employee can perform to the best of their abilities...Read&Write for Work delivers the best outcome for all staff.
Check out our 7 top tips for supporting neurodivergent employees working from home
Provide support with our literacy & productivity software
A discreet toolbar, Read&Write for Work helps everyone to work smarter, more efficiently and more confidently than ever before.
Supports people who think, learn and work differently. Helps neurodiverse workforces to thrive.