Over the past few years, neurodiversity has emerged as an important element to consider in inclusion strategies, but what do we mean when we talk about neurodiversity?
Neurodiverse applies to a community of people whose members are neurodivergent. ... The conditions of ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, and Dyslexia make up 'Neurodiversity'. Neuro-differences are recognised and appreciated as a social category on par with ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender, or disability status.
There is also terminology used under the ‘Neurodiversity’ umbrella
- Neurodiversity: the biological reality of infinite variation in human neurocognitive functioning and behaviour, akin to ‘biodiversity’ in the natural world. The term ‘neurodiversity’ is now also being used to describe the fast-emerging sub-category of workplace diversity and inclusion that focuses on including people who are neurodivergent
- The neurodiversity paradigm: a perspective on neurodiversity that suggests neurodiversity is the result of natural human variation, and that there is no one ‘normal’ brain type. Stands in contrast to the highly medicalised perspective (until recently, the dominant perspective globally) that views autism, ADHD and others as ‘disorders’ to be treated.
- Neurodivergent: having cognitive functioning different from what is seen as ‘normal’ – while the term appears to reflect the ‘medical model’ above, it is a term that most neurodivergent people are comfortable with. In this guide we focus on neurodivergence that is largely or entirely genetic or innate – such as dyslexia – other forms of neurodivergence can be acquired, such as via an incidence of brain trauma.
- Neurodivergence: the state of being neurodivergent. It’s worth noting that a common misuse of language is to talk of ‘an individual’s neurodiversity’ – better would be ‘an individual’s neurodivergence’.
- Neurodiverse: this term is often used instead of ‘neurodivergent’, yet is potentially problematic (akin, perhaps, to referring to an African-Caribbean person as ‘racially diverse’). A group can be neurodiverse – an individual is likely better described as neurodivergent.
- Neurotypical: given the biological fact that there is no such thing as a ‘normal’ brain, neurotypical is best thought of as ‘not neurodivergent’ – that is, within parameters of neurocognitive style that have not been either medically defined as ‘disorders’ or culturally defined as ‘neurodivergent’. It’s important not to draw simple lines in the sand between ‘neurotypicals’ and neurodivergent people – human neurodiversity is a highly complex spectrum, in which everyone sits.
- Neurominority: a group such as autistic people, or dyslexic people, defined by sharing a similar form of innate neurodivergence. There is invariably great variety within each neurominority demographic.
In 1998 American journalist Harvey Blume wrote in what is believed to be one of the first uses of the term ‘neurodiversity’ in print. In the two decades since Blume’s article, the world has slowly caught up with his thinking. Autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and more – for so long pathologised as medical conditions are now seen as natural forms of human neurocognitive variation. What have been termed the ‘flip side’ strengths of neurodivergent individuals – from problem-solving, to creative insights and visual spatial thinking – are belatedly being recognised. Similarly, thanks to the ‘social model’ of disability, the realisation has grown that many of the challenges that have previously defined and stereotyped neurodivergent individuals are the result of navigating societies – and workplaces – shaped solely for ‘neurotypicals’.
Fast-moving employers are taking steps to include neurodivergent people now – a group that likely represents more than 10% of the population, and thus in many cases a significant proportion of job applicants, customers, and existing staff.
Thomas Armstrong, author of The Power of Neurodiversity, argues that while as a society we have learned to reject a throw-away culture, employers often continue to unintentionally exclude or discard great talent. Widespread lack of neurodiversity inclusion amongst organisations up to now – and the collective missing out on the benefits it can provide – is likely to have been caused by a number of factors. One is a Neurodiversity at work Neurodiversity at work Introduction typical focus on ‘generalists’ – an approach now challenged by those employers seeking innovation ‘from the edges’ by deliberately building (neuro)diverse teams. Second, a lack of awareness and understanding has led to hiring processes, management practices and workspaces being designed only with neurotypicals in mind. As an example, the orthodoxy of the open plan office may have benefits for some in terms of collaboration and a perception of flat hierarchy, but it can be problematic, too, for those with specific sensory sensitivities. We live in an age where HR priorities are becoming CEO priorities – where corporate goals the world over focus on talent and innovation. Creativity is key, not only to thrive, but to survive – with the average lifespan of a company down to 15 years (down 78% in less than a century), the fear of disruption is real. Machines, too, are disrupting the working world as a whole – taking over rote and ever more sophisticated tasks, across many industries. To be successful, organisations must find ways to include the best information processors, the best creative thinkers.
The new focus on and understanding of neurodiversity is already having a wider impact, beyond the immediate benefits for neurodivergent employees. Even programmes that have initially been focused on better inclusion of a specific neurodivergent demographic have reported wider benefits – most notably, a culture change in the way the organisation thinks about all employees. Once we accept that we are all different, each with our own strengths and challenges, perspectives change. How do we create a workplace in which the whole spectrum of our team can be productive? And how do we hire so that we attract every bit of potential talent that can add value at our organisation?
So how does VERCIDA support those with neurodiverse conditions?
Ben Chalcraft is the Managing Director at VERCIDA Group and has been with the company for nine years.
In his role, Ben ensures the vision of the business is carried throughout each department and the direction of all activities are in line from a cultural, financial and productivity point of view.
Ben was diagnosed with Dyslexia while at school and six years ago was diagnosed with a form of OCD.
Ben’s Dyslexia means that reading is more difficult, words move on the page and he has trouble concentrating. But at the same time, his brain works extremely quickly. The downside of this is that, due to his conditions, he experiences sensory overload which can lead to his gluten levels dropping, causing a feeling of lethargy.
People with neurodiverse conditions such as OCD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) are commonly associated with high levels of creativity and lateral thinking, which are characteristics that can bring significant value to businesses.
“I have a multi-level way of thinking and I can engage with lots of different things at the same time. The way I think allows me to have a fairly high degree of analysis and out-of-the-box thinking. When you have challenges that affect you differently to others you have to be creative to fit in. I’ve had to bypass systems that other people find natural and I’ve had to find innovative ways to get to conclusions,” said Ben.
“We offer time out of the office to receive any counselling or cognitive behavioural treatments. We offer disclosure so we can make reasonable adjustments, like reducing work in times of need. Tech adjustments are also given to anyone that might need them. For Dyslexia, if you need special tech to read and do your job, that’s available. My colleagues are very supportive, they ask how I am and if I need support. We have a lot of open discussion.”
And what advice would you give to employers that want to be more inclusive of those with neurodiversity?
“My advice to employers is to make people feel safe and then you’ll get the reward. It’s the safety of being able to expose it that people need.”
When we asked what Ben would say to young people with neurodiverse conditions he said:
“You can have a normal life as a result of managing your condition/s and it can be part of your personality. You can have as many opportunities as other people.”
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