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Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace

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A lack of understanding and availability of sufficient resources, to support neurodiversity is one of the main barriers many people with neurodiverse conditions face, when looking for employment. It is estimated that approximately 332,600 adults of working age in the UK have an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), but only 16% are actually in full-time paid employment (I am Autism and work). Furthermore, a report by Forbes highlighted that, “the unemployment rate for neurodivergent adults is three times the rate for people with a disability and eight times the rate for non-disabled adults.” (Forbes: How to build an inclusive recruitment process that supports neurodiversity in the workplace).

A major contributing factor is the lack of available support and, in many instances the ability for employers to recognise and often appreciate the potential that those with ASD can offer. A 2020 study by Mencap identified that negative views, low expectations and the absence of flexible employment programmes and job opportunities, prevented adults with learning disabilities from securing and progressing in a role (Mencap: employment what we think). In fact, “fifty three percent of adults with autism said they want help to find work, but only 10 percent are getting the support” (I am Autism and work).

Tom Pursglove, UK Minister of State for Disabled People, Health and Work, reinforces this view in his latest statement, “We know autistic people can face barriers moving into employment and staying there. This is often down to the employers themselves not having the tools to support autistic people, or truly understanding the value of a neurodiverse workforce.” (Gov UK: New review to boost employment prospects of autistic people).

Neurodiversity is the term used to describe the different ways a person’s brain processes information, causing some people to think, learn, process and behave differently. Conditions can include; Attention Deficit Disorder, Autism, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia. All individuals vary in terms of neurocognitive ability, presenting both strengths and unique differences which create new perspectives, talents and innovation. Something which, Nathan Chung, Adult Autism Specialist and Autism Coach at Asperger/Autism Network (AANE), says is often overlooked, “Organizations often view people with disabilities negatively and as a burden, focusing on what they cannot do instead of what they can do. The script needs to be flipped.” (Forbes: How to build an inclusive recruitment process that supports neurodiversity in the workplace).

So with this in mind, how can businesses attract a wider talent pool ensuring neurodiverse professionals are presented with the same opportunities and subsequently supported in a culture of inclusion?

Re-think your job descriptions

There are a range of roles where neurodivergent people can excel, many include those which require excellent attention to detail, out of the box thinking, the ability to absorb and retain large amounts of information, and the skill to quickly solve complex problems. When writing job descriptions carefully consider wording, requirements and desired qualifications to make the vacancy applicable to a wide range of people. If a specific qualification isn’t truly necessary and could potentially deter a person with neurodiversity from applying, evaluate whether it’s really needed.

Extend your reach using a range of channels

In addition to standard job boards, social channels and advertising, look at unique ways to attract diverse talent, such as posting in Aspergers and Autism Facebook groups and use relevant hashtags so your content is easily searchable.

Reframe your interviewing and onboarding process

The traditional face to face interview method for many neurodiverse people can often create a high anxiety and stressful environment which can prevent individuals from showcasing their skills and experience. In light of this, many organisations are re-evaluating their interview processes by positioning them more as informal ‘chats’ or ‘meet-ups’ where prospective employees are provided with the opportunity to visit an office and meet the team in a less pressurised setting. Then, if the initial meeting is a success, follow-ups to further assess skillsets can be arranged. The same applies to the onboarding process, employers need to ensure that whoever is managing this, has the understanding and ability to support neurodiverse employees with appropriate environmental changes or additional resources, if required.

Partner with networks and institutes

Establishing relationships with support groups, local government and non-profit agencies such as Autism Speaks, will not only help to fill knowledge gaps and develop your understanding of neurodiversity and the associated benefits and challenges, it’ll also help you to develop specific strategies for talent attraction and retention. It’s a key communication channel for businesses to promote employment opportunities, and gather valuable feedback on the challenges and barriers people with neurodiversity experience in the workplace. This can help organisations improve their working practices and support models.

Provide support networks and tools

As well as training leaders, managers and helping employees to understand neurodiversity, it’s useful to have support systems in place for professionals who may need an outlet to share feedback or request changes in their working arrangements. Qualified and experienced networks are often better equipped at providing impartial advice and managing challenging situations. This also helps employers to ensure that people are getting the support, resources and tools they need to succeed in an adapted environment they feel comfortable in.

In the current skills-short market, organisations who are not proactively tapping into wide talent pools are missing out on new ways of thinking and unique skillsets, which will deliver long-term competitive advantage.


Forbes: How to build an inclusive recruitment process that supports neurodiversity in the workplace

Forbes: Untapped talent: How to attract neurodiverse candidates

Gov UK: New review to boost employment prospects of autistic people

I am Autism and work

Mencap: employment what we think

MIND: supporting people living with autism spectrum disorder and mental health problems