Neurodiversity in the workplace

Caragh Bailey
4 min read
Neurodiversity in the workplace explained by Employment Law Friend
There is a growing awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace, and the benefits that can accrue to employers of employing individuals who think differently, and are less inclined to “group think”. 

Neurodiversity is often considered to be primarily or only about Asperger’s’ syndrome and autism, but can encompass other conditions, for example dyslexia. 

Although not commonly considered to be neurodiversity, with an increasing aging in population, and with increasing numbers of older people in the workplace, conditions such as Alzheimer's and other forms of dementia are affecting the workplace and are also a type of neurodiversity (these conditions are classed as disabilities under the equality act too).

“Neurodiversity” is not a legal concept as such, and so has no specific legal parameters about what it means. That said, it is generally understood to refer to those with specific conditions, which can lead to particular skills, but which almost always bring challenges too, rather than those who think differently, for example workers regarded as lateral thinkers or problem solvers.

Neurodiversity can overlap with disability and the protections that that provides, but not always. For example, someone with mild dyslexia may be neurodiverse, but may not meet the threshold under the Equality Act 2010 for being disabled as a matter of law.

To be disabled in law it is not necessary to be diagnosed with any particular condition(s) – it is based solely on things that you cannot or struggle to do – being neurodiverse would require a diagnosis and need to meet the definition of disability for the purposes of disability protection.

How do you accommodate neurodiversity in the workplace?

Accommodating neurodiversity in the workplace varies a lot based on the type of neurodiversity. The most common example is an individual with Aspergers’ syndrome who may lack neurotypical social skills and have an unusual way of interacting with colleagues and clients, which others may find awkward or insensitive.

Although it is important to always preserve confidentiality, relations with others will generally improve if they are made aware of the reason behind this communication difference, and especially that the person is not even aware that they are behaving in an unusual or brusque manner, let alone doing so intentionally. In contrast conditions ranging from dyslexia to dementia will benefit from activities being written down and assistance with organisation.

How do you manage neurodiverse employees?

How you manage someone with neurodiversity does depend on what the neurodiversity is, but the most important step is always to ask the individual what they think they need assistance with, which may range from assistive technology to changes in office communication style or having access to a quiet place to work or “recharge their batteries”.

When issues arise, it is very important as a first step to clearly explain the issue, and again, make enquiries as to whether you could have done things differently which might have removed or lessened the problem which arose.

How can you promote neurodiversity in the workplace?

Promoting neurodiversity is about promoting understanding, emphasizing that people’s brains are wired differently, and that conditions which can make it more difficult to work with someone for a specific matter or a particular way can also bring advantages to the organisation as a whole. For example those who are neurodiverse can often “see” things that others cannot.

What are examples of neurodiversity?

In the case of someone with Asperger’s syndrome they are likely to take things very literally, but that can bring advantages in interpreting things. Someone with dyslexia will often be a lateral thinker, and a problem solver, able to create alternative new strategies to new or longstanding problems, although they may not be the best person to practically implement any changes.

Frequently Asked Questions
Neurodiversity in the workplace is where people with neurocognitive disabilities, such as Asperger's and Dyslexia who are in work. People with these neurocognitive disabilities have new perspectives and talents which can benefit and diversify the workplace
Neurodiversity can be supported by asking the employee what assistance they need, such as a Quiet Room, Assisted Technology and Changes in Communication Style. This will vary between each employee who suffers from neurocognitive disabilities
Examples of neurodiversity are:

  • Autism
  • Tourettes Syndrome
  • ADHD
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Dysgraphia
  • Dyscalculia

Managing staff depends on what neurodiversity it is but likewise you need to ask the employee what assistance they need to to be productive and happy

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This content is provided free of charge for information purposes only. It does not constitute legal advice and should not be relied on as such. No responsibility for the accuracy and/or correctness of the information and commentary set out in the article, or for any consequences of relying on it, is assumed or accepted by any member of our company. For employment law advice please get in contact and speak to your employment law solicitors.
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