Working with Neurodiversity

Usually in my workshops, when participants discuss diversity, they tend to think of characteristics such as race, age, gender and sexual orientation. However, there is also diversity in how the way people’s brains work, and this is called neurodiversity.

“Neurodiversity” is used to explain the unique ways different people’s brains work. While everyone’s brain develops similarly, no two brains function just alike. Being neurodivergent simply means having a brain that works differently from the ‘average’ or “neurotypical” person.

It is believed that about 15–20 percent of the population is neurodiverse. This includes up to 10 percent of people who are diagnosed with dyslexia, 6 percent with dyspraxia, 5 percent with ADHD and 1–2 percent with autism. These figures are also believed to be an underestimate, as there are many Neurodiverse people who have not received a ‘formal’ diagnosis. This means that within any team or any meeting with 10 people, you can be fairly confident that at least 2 of them will be neurodiverse.

Sadly, I occasionally hear people focusing on the challenges they feel they experience when with working with neurodiverse people. What I like to do, is encourage people to think differently about their neurodiverse colleagues or leaders. Firstly, neurodiverse people often spend a lot of time (sometimes their whole lives) practicing and learning how to communicate, interact and process (thinking) in ways that neurotypical people do. Therefore, it is important that we occasionally take a step back from our assumptions about what certain behaviours mean and ask ourselves if there are considerations we can make, that allow us to be more inclusive and accepting of neurodiversity. For example, I have sometimes heard people express frustration that they have a disrespectful colleague. They say this colleague is disrespectful because in conversations, that colleague does not look them (or anyone) in the eye while talking. However, if you understood that people who are Autistic find it easier to listen to you, process what you are saying and self-regulate by avoiding eye contact, you would understand that they are potentially giving your more attention than your colleague who might be looking at you but thinking about something else altogether!

Secondly, neurodiverse people often look at the world from a unique perspective and can offer out-of-the-box solutions to some of our biggest problems. In fact, many of them have been responsible for some of humankind’s biggest breakthroughs.
There are too many well-known neurodiverse people to mention, but here is a list with current and historical names you may recognise:

    Albert Einstein – Autistic
    Great Thunberg – Autistic
    Bill Gates – ADHD
    Steve Jobs – Dyslexia
    Isaac Newton – Autistic
    Billie Eilish – Tourette’s Syndrome
    Emma Watson – ADHD
    Richard Branson – Dyslexia and ADHD
    Jennifer Aniston – Dyslexia
    Emily Dickinson – Autistic
    Justin Timberlake – OCD and ADD
    Michael Phelps – ADHD
    Josh Thomas – Autistic

Within our own organisations, the enhanced abilities that neurodiversity can bring include strong pattern recognition skills, analytical thinking, deep focus and enhanced memory, heightened sensory awareness, creativity and visual processing skills. Most importantly, having neurodivergent people in the workplace enables diversity of thinking. This can only enhance our opportunities for creative problem-solving and innovative ideas. Embracing neurodiversity is fundamental for ensuring we are creating an inclusive and productive workplace.

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