Reading time:5 mins
Kelly Grainger is a co-founder of Perfectly Autistic, a consultancy that offers autism and neurodiversity webinars to organisations. He is autistic, and is also a father to two autistic children. Here, he shares his experiences of the workplace, and offer advice for neurodiverse people, their employers, and colleagues.
Neurodiversity is still a relatively new term. You may not have heard of it before, or if you have, you may not know what it means. The term covers a range of neurological conditions including Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Tourette’s Syndrome.
As a family, we are truly neurodiverse. After both of our children were diagnosed in 2019, my wife Hester did a lot of research about autism. It started to dawn on me that. I decided that I wanted to know one way or the other and later that same year, I was officially diagnosed autistic at the age of 44. For me, my diagnosis has been incredibly positive and life changing. Since then, I’ve discovered a newfound purpose and now work with a host of organisations, offering training and consulting about neurodiversity in the workplace. I’m also an autism speaker and was invited by The Autism Show and The UN Global Compact Network UK to speak.
What is neurodiversity?
At the end of 2020, both children were also diagnosed with ADHD (it’s fairly common to often have more than one neurodiverse condition). It was also at the end of 2020, when Hester realised she had a lot of similar traits and received an official diagnosis of ADHD at the age of 43.
The term was originally created to describe a new movement towards neurological diversity being accepted and respected in society. The dictionary definition of neurodiversity is: “The range of differences in individual brain function and behavioural traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population.”
It is estimated that 1 in 7 people in the UK, nearly 15%, are neurodiverse, which is not an insignificant number. And actually 50% of these people don’t even know they are neurodiverse.
So, most organisations already have a neurodiverse workforce, whether they are aware of it or not and you probably have.
Within the bracket of neurodiversity there is so much diversity. The key point to understand, is that all people’s brains are different. In the words of my 11 year old daughter, “It’s normal to be different”.
It is really important not to stereotype individuals
Most forms of neurodivergence are experienced on a spectrum, which means they can have a range of associated characteristics. These will vary from individual to individual. It is really important not to stereotype individuals or assume something about someone. For example, not all autistic people are maths geniuses and it’s not true that all people with ADHD can’t sit still.
I often say: “once you have met one autistic person, you have met one autistic person”. This means you can’t assume that one autistic person will be like another – everyone’s experiences of neurodiversity are different, and this goes for all neurodivergent people.
Whilst we’ve come far in our understanding about neurodiversity, research carried out recently by O2 who I consulted with, found that 81% of those with a condition such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, felt that there is an opportunity for them to be better supported at work.
What is more worrying, in the same study O2 found that 64% of employers still admit to having ‘little’ or ‘no’ understanding of the cognitive differences people may have.
This is mostly due to the topic still not being discussed as widely as it should be, especially in the workplace. Many managers are scared of saying the wrong thing, so shy away from openly discussing the subject
The neurodiverse population remains an untapped talent pool
There are many direct benefits of having a neurodiverse workforce. These can include a fresh perspective, hyper focus, attention to detail, absorbing facts and retaining information, loyalty and honesty, creativity and innovation. These are all key traits you would want when building a great team at work and can provide you with a competitive advantage.
And yet the neurodiverse population remains an untapped talent pool. There are many barriers to employment for neurodivergent people. These start with the way organisations find and recruit talent, with many organisations choosing to hire from the same narrow profile.
Whilst creating a workplace that supports neurodiversity, the actions and strategies put in place can benefit all employees and help them thrive.
Bear in mind that despite the differences in the diagnosis, the barriers can be very common.
So some of the areas where workplace adjustments can be made, centre around recruitment, working environment, communication and progression, which is what I talk and advise organisations on.
The key point here, is that neurodiverse approaches in the workplace will benefit all employees. Everyone is unique, everyone is different. By changing the workplace to better meet these needs and preferences will improve the health and well-being, the happiness and productivity of all employees, neurodiverse or not.