Neurodiversity with different coloured brains

12 Mar 2024

Harnessing Neurodivergent Strengths in the Workplace

Neurodiversity is about recognising and celebrating the unique ways our brains work. 

Firstly, our society tends to have these ‘norms’ that decide what is considered normal or good. But who gets to decide what’s normal? Often, it’s the majority – and that might not be fair. What’s normal for one person might be uncomfortable for another. That’s where neurodiversity comes in, acknowledging and celebrating the differences.

Now, when it comes to work, neurodivergence is not new. Neurodivergence, and identification of neurotypes including ADHD, autism and dyslexia, have been recognised for quite some time now. Thankfully, awareness and understanding of neurodivergence has increased, but there’s still work to be done.

Understanding neurodiversity at work means realising that people experience and interact with the world in different ways because of diverse cognitive, emotive and sensory perceptions. We need to embrace these differences and use them as strengths, whilst simultaneously acknowledging that there can be disabling impacts – this is why we commonly use the term ‘dynamic disability’ to underscore that neurodivergent traits can have varying impacts.

Here’s the catch – many neurodivergent people don’t disclose their differences at work because they fear stigma. This lack of disclosure means they miss out on personalised support, potentially affecting their wellbeing and job satisfaction. So, it’s crucial for workplaces to be safe spaces where everyone feels comfortable being themselves.

Studies have shown that teams with neurodivergent members can be more productive and creative. So, it’s not just about doing the right thing; it’s also good for business.

Practical adjustments and accommodations can make a big difference. Things like awareness training, reasonable adjustments and inclusive recruitment practices go a long way.

Consider adapting work environments to suit diverse needs – quiet areas, desk dividers – or allowing the option to deactivate a camera during meetings can all make a huge difference to people at work.

Communication is key. Clear expectations, regular feedback and addressing concerns immediately help create a supportive atmosphere. Remember, it’s a two-way street – both employees and managers need to be aware and supportive.

In a nutshell, understanding and celebrating neurodiversity benefits everyone. It’s not just about being inclusive; it’s about tapping into a wide array of strengths that make our workplace better for everyone. 


How to Better Support Neurodivergent Colleagues

Being an ally to our neurodivergent colleagues is an essential part of creating an inclusive and supportive workplace. Here are some practical techniques and tips that each of us can use to empower and support our neurodivergent colleagues:

  • Educate Yourself: Take the time to learn about different neurotypes and traits/ characteristics. This knowledge helps you better understand your colleagues’ strengths and potential differences;
  • Open Communication: Create an environment where open communication is encouraged. Let your neurodivergent colleagues know that you are open to discussions about their unique needs and preferences. Be willing to adapt your communication style to ensure everyone feels heard and understood;
  • Use Inclusive Language: Words matter. Be mindful of the language you use, avoiding stigmatising or exclusionary terms. Encourage and model the use of inclusive language within the team. For example, avoid “normal”, replacing with terms like “typical” or “common”;
  • Respect Different Communication Styles: Understand that not everyone communicates in the same way. Some colleagues may prefer written communication, while others may excel in verbal discussions. Be flexible and adapt your communication style to accommodate different preferences;
  • Provide Clear Instructions: When giving instructions or feedback, be clear and concise. Break down complex tasks into smaller, manageable steps. This not only benefits neurodivergent colleagues but can improve communication for the entire team;
  • Offer Support without Assumptions: If you notice a colleague experiencing difficulties, offer support without making assumptions. Ask how you can help and respect their autonomy. Remember, not everyone wants or needs the same kind of assistance, so it’s crucial to inquire about individual preferences;
  • Create a Neuro-inclusive Environment: Advocate for changes in the workplace environment that promote neurodiversity. This could include flexible work arrangements, quiet spaces and sensory-friendly adjustments. By fostering an inclusive atmosphere, everyone benefits; 
  • Encourage Self-Advocacy: Support your neurodivergent colleagues in identifying their strengths and expressing their needs, aiding with self-advocacy. Encourage them to communicate their preferences with managers and team members. This empowerment promotes a culture of understanding and collaboration;
  • Be Patient and Understanding: Recognise that everyone works at their own pace and may have different ways of approaching tasks. Be patient and understanding, avoiding unnecessary pressure. A supportive environment encourages neurodivergent colleagues to bring their best selves to work; 
  • Celebrate Differences: Finally, celebrate the diverse strengths and talents that neurodivergent individuals bring to the team. Recognise and appreciate the unique perspectives they offer, contributing to a richer and more innovative workplace.

By implementing these practical tips, each of us can play a role in creating a workplace where neurodiversity is not just acknowledged but celebrated, fostering an environment where everyone can thrive.


Neuro-affirming Language

Language is a powerful tool that can have a significant impact on how we perceive ourselves and others. When it comes to neurodiversity, using affirming language is essential to creating a supportive and inclusive environment.

Neuro-affirming language is language that acknowledges and respects the differences in how people’s brains work, and it’s an important aspect of creating a more inclusive workplace.

Here are a few ways that you can use neuro-affirming language in your daily life:

  • Avoid using Labels as Insults: Labels like “autistic” or “ADHD” should never be used as insults. These are terms that describe how someone’s brain works and using them as insults can be hurtful and dismissive. Instead, focus on the individual and their unique strengths and qualities;
  • Use Clear and Concise Language: It’s important to use clear and concise language. Avoid using slang or jargon that may cause miscommunication and confusion – strive to be as concise and specific as possible. This can help ensure that everyone is on the same page and can work together effectively;
  • Ask for Clarification: If you’re not sure what someone means or if you’re having trouble achieving successful communication, don’t be afraid to ask for clarification. Asking questions can help you better understand someone’s perspective and can prevent misunderstandings;
  • Celebrate Diversity: Finally, it’s important to celebrate diversity and acknowledge the unique strengths and qualities that everyone brings to the table. Instead of trying to make everyone fit into a specific mould, we should be celebrating the things that make us all different. This can help create a more supportive and inclusive environment for everyone.

Using neuro-affirming language is an important aspect of creating a more inclusive workplace. By being considerate with the use of word choices, using clear and concise language, asking for clarification and celebrating diversity, we can help create an environment that supports and respects everyone's unique way of thinking.