Every March we mark Neurodiversity Celebration Week in our business, but this year we’ve been talking with members of our team and clients who are neurodivergent about what they’d like to see in how we recognise and celebrate this week.  Is celebration even the right term, is recognition not more important?  And how do we carry this throughout the year, ensuring our commitments extend longer than an annual event?

“I have always thought that calendar dates such as Black History Month and Neurodiversity Celebration Week were a time that people could build awareness, learn, and recognise differences as a great thing. A recent conversation changed this, however, when someone told me that it’s during months like these that they are at their most vulnerable and can receive the most hate. As much as I was saddened by this, it unfortunately makes sense. This was a stark reminder to be the best Ally during these ‘celebrations’ and check in on your team if they hold these identities.”

Katy Morrison, EDI Lead at Connect Three

Understanding Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity encompasses the natural variation in neurological functioning present in human beings. It acknowledges that individuals may think, learn, and communicate in diverse ways due to differences in brain development and processing. Neurodiversity is an umbrella term covering a spectrum of differing skill profiles including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette syndrome, dyspraxia and more. Rather than viewing these differences as deficits, neurodiversity recognises them as unique expressions of human cognition and behaviour.

“We all carry a bias that other people think the same way we do, but this can be harmful to ourselves and others. In the workplace, in particular, this bias can prevent companies from supporting neurodiverse employees and recognizing their unique challenges.”
Cara Pelletier, Senior Director of Diversity Equity & Belonging at UKG.

The Importance of Recognition

Experts estimate that, on average, 15 per cent of any workforce will be neurodiverse.  Recognising Neurodiversity Celebration Week serves several critical purposes. Firstly, it raises awareness about neurodiversity and challenges stereotypes and stigmas associated with neurological differences. It fosters a culture of inclusion where individuals feel valued and respected regardless of their cognitive differences. Moreover, it provides an opportunity for organisations to reflect on their policies, practices, and accommodations to better support neurodiverse employees.

Not all neurodiverse employees will display the same skills profile, but there are common themes. For instance, a neurodiverse person will often have distinct peaks and dips in their skillset, while a non-neurodiverse person’s skills profile will be less varied. Employers that make adjustments to balance the impact that these dips can have on a person will see greater benefits at the peaks of their skills.  But where do you begin?

Create an Inclusive Environment

It is incredibly important that we recognise that:

  1. Not everyone who is neurodivergent has been diagnosed.
  2. Not everyone who is diagnosed as neurodivergent wants people to know about their diagnosis.

The difficult truth is that as a leader you cannot wait to be handed a list of problems from an employee that you can then set out to solve.  It also means that the very idea of celebrating Neurodiversity by highlighting those who are neurodiverse within your organisation can be a terrible idea!  Being in the spotlight is not comfortable for many people, and we need to respect that in organisations.

Instead, by creating a welcoming and inclusive workplace, you can amplify the voices of people who need to be heard.  By providing platforms for people who wish to share, and encouraging open dialogue and active listening, you can help to foster empathy, understanding, and collaboration throughout your teams.

Positive Impacts and Reasonable Adjustments

“We need to think about the questions we are asking and do these help to give us the information to make the right adjustments for people. The Business Disability Forum suggests, rather that asking what conditions people have, lead with the adjustment 1st. For example: ‘may find indoor lighting difficult’ or ‘may use assistive technology’. Woking to find out the solutions people need, will allow you to make a more positive impact.” Katy

As we said at the start, there are often common themes across people who have a neurodiverse skills profile and while it can seem impossible to cater for everyone’s individual requirements in a large workforce, by making reasonable adjustments, you can often improve every employee’s experience.

Katy’s favourite example of this is that lowered kerbs at pedestrian crossings were originally put in place to aid wheelchair users, but everyone from cyclists to people pushing buggies now benefits from what was originally a reasonable adjustment for a single subset of society.

In the workplace we can think of similar adjustments which can aid everyone.  For example, people who struggle with organisation or long-term planning can be helped with reminders of important deadlines, and clear messages about what is currently a priority for the team.  Reminders and clarity can foster better communication for everyone, so this reasonable adjustment can have a wider positive impact.  Similarly, many neurodiverse skillsets include issues with concentration and focus, whether it be hyperfocus, or a tendency to be easily distracted.  These dips and peaks in skills can both see a positive impact from time blocking and regular short breaks, which again can be beneficial to all people in a work environment.

So our key take away?  Don’t wait for people to come out as Neurodivergent, and instead, use this Neurodiversity Celebration Week as a spark to start conversations in your teams about adjustments that everyone can benefit from and start to build them into your policies and practices.

Further Support

If you’d like more in depth support on celebrating neurodiversity in your business, why not join our webinar with Glasgow Chamber of Commerce Neurodiversity in the Workplace on Friday 19th April at 10am?  Sign up here.