Neurodiversity – is your organisation missing out?

Lutfur Ali, Senior Policy Advisor, CIPD. 

By looking at my seven-year-old you may not be able to tell, but his brain functions very differently. If you were to meet him, you’d probably notice that beyond his ‘normal’ looks he doesn’t often make eye contact. Then you may start noticing that he is also extremely sensitive to bright lights, afraid of loud noises and crowds.

He doesn’t talk, but if you looked into his eyes, you’d see a piercing intelligence. When you get to know him a little, you start noticing he’s listening to every conversation around him and when he wants he will occasionally gesture (with his face or hands) his feelings. He can’t read, write or eat like most children and is fed a special milk through a gastrostomy tube in his stomach. Because of his low immune system, the casual flu/fever, and regular infections are life-threatening. He has frequent episodes of chronic vomiting and requires round the clock care. On the other hand, he can operate all electrical devices around the home better me.

He is one of the UK’s estimated 15% of the population of being neurodiverse and of the 14.1m people who are ‘disabled’. And if you add his ethnicity – this is quite some intersectional diversity mix. I don’t see my child as a burden or impediment, but as my greatest gift – my blessing. Each day he inspires me through his tenacity, resilience and the love he spreads – even when he is in pain. I am proud of his autism and his different abilities – not ‘disability’.

My child and I are part of the neurodivergent community, a group of people whose brains are wired a bit differently from the ‘average’ person (someone who is neurotypical). Neurodivergent people can be autistic, like my child, or have ADHD, dyslexia like me, dyspraxia or a range of other neurodivergent experiences. Like many parents and people with neurodiversity, it’s not easy to share our experiences.

As a father, carer, and someone who has spent the last 30 years championing and working to support organisations to develop and deliver equality, diversity and inclusion, I’m sharing my child’s story to help bring greater awareness and understanding of neurodiversity inclusion in the world of work and people management.

The working world is stacked in favour of neurotypical people by default, and all too often neurodivergent people are left to fend for themselves. Accessing and progressing in the world of work can seem near enough impossible – whether reading a job advert, applying, being interviewed or day to day work.

Without effective support and adaptations, neurodivergent people may not even get on to the job ladder let alone progress in organisations, or those who are already working may leave. This is not just unfair but hugely missed opportunities to benefit from the many jobs neurodiverse people can often do far better than those who are neurotypical. The evidence showing that diverse teams are more creative, make better decisions and have higher performance is clear.

Here, Dr Jill Miller introduces the CIPD and Uptimize Neurodiversity at work guide. The guide aims to raise awareness among employers of neurodiversity in the workplace and to inspire more employers to take action to create more inclusive workplaces where neurodivergent individuals can thrive.

People with neurodiversity or neurocognitive different abilities have talents, perspectives and skills that can be distinctly advantageous in many work environments. More and more employers are beginning to understand this and are developing hiring initiatives that focus on recruiting and retaining neurodiverse colleagues. Hiring neurodiverse people can provide organisations with a competitive edge that brings tangible benefits, both financially and in terms of workplace culture.

Some examples of the different experiences of neurodiverse people are provided in an article by Jo Faragher in the CIPD people magazine.

Where do you begin when it comes to attracting, selecting, and onboarding someone who is neurodivergent? You can start by having conversations with colleagues about neurodiversity – by sharing understanding and experiences. Mostly, by making sure you are actually actively listening to our stories. Hearing people’s stories and experiences is so important to recognise our different perspectives and truly learn from each other. You cannot design systems and services unless you take time to hear the voices of not only those who speak loudly but also of those of us who are missed every time because you may not notice we are here.

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