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Neurodiversity refers to the broad idea that differences in our neurocognitive thinking style are normal and varied, including a complementary community of specialist and generalist thinkers. In recent years, we’ve begun to realised that dyslexics, autistics, people with ADHD, dyspraxia have talents as well as struggles and can bring exceptional thinking into our workplaces, with a small amount of flexibility. I have been writing a lot recently about the pros and cons of being neurodiverse during the current coronavirus pandemic. It’s a fascinating subject since so much of the advice I give to the companies I work with is about adapting environments and here we are plunged collectively into a totally new way of doing things.
When I work with a business one of the simplest things I can do to help them make their workplace more inclusive to neurominorities, is to survey all their staff asking about the space they work in. It is often the case that an aspect of the work environment such as lighting, or a loud piece of office equipment is distracting and effecting the productivity of a large number of people, not just the neurodiverse staff members. When you realise how much environment impacts everyone it just seems obvious that making small changes is a great way to be inclusive without singling individuals out. Rather than an autistic employee needing to sit at their desk wearing noise cancelling headphones, why not just deal with the noise issue?
Currently with huge numbers of people working from home we see that some people are thriving with this change and others are struggling. How well you are able to cope with the new normal may well be impacted by your neurotype.
As an ADHDer myself, I found that initially I had a creative burst and took advantage of my brain’s ability to hyperfocus during times of crisis. After many weeks of problem solving, helping others and working on new ideas I started to hit burnout and needed to recharge. There is also the social aspect which has been tough for me as I crave in person contact and connection.
For the autistics I know lockdown has also been a mixed bag. On the one hand a big change in routine can be especially tough for autistic brains making the initial adjustment period very tricky, however the quieter life with less busy, noisy spaces has been a welcome change for many. Another interesting piece of feedback I had was that using video conferencing to communicate has levelled the social playing field for a lot of autistic people as it puts their neurotypical colleagues at a similar disadvantage (not knowing when it’s their turn to speak, struggling to read body language etc.)
My advice to employers in all of this is to note who is doing well in the current circumstances and allow them to continue their new way of working once things begin to return to normal. On the flip side, if you have neurodiverse staff members who are struggling, try to offer increased support. There are all kinds of assistive technology out there that can be of use. I have a dyslexic colleague who finds using a screen reader enormously helpful, especially now she is also trying to home school two children. One of my dyspraxic colleagues finds using live captioning during video calls really helpful to her processing speed. Flexibility is the key, there’s no need to stay wedded to a uniform way of doing things now that we have had the chance to see how much environment affects productivity.
Dr Nancy Doyle, Registered Psychologist, CEO founder of Genius Within CIC
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