How to support neurodivergent employees: what employers should know

Moira Grassick - Chief Operating Officer

March 22 2024

Published: March 22nd 2024

People think differently, and hiring for a diversity of strengths can benefit your business. Some of these differences may include neurodiversity, an umbrella term for a variety of neurological conditions.

Now more than ever, it’s important for employers to stay informed about neurodiversity. Recent studies suggest that just around one-in-five workers believe their company’s policies and practices support neurodivergent people.

So, what should you know about your neurodivergent employees? How could this information affect your organisation? And what can employers do to better support their neurodivergent staff?

What is neurodiversity and what can it look like?

The word neurodiversity is often used synonymously with neurodivergence. While different, these terms both largely refer to the variety in neurological conditions and disorders among people.

You may hear them used in the names of initiatives to raise awareness, such as for Neurodiversity Awareness week in March.

Many disorders fall under the umbrella term of neurodivergence. This includes Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Autism, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia, which are all classed as neurodevelopmental disorders and/or learning disabilities.

Although categorised similarly and sometimes diagnosed together, these disorders are quite different from each other.

Indeed, they can present through a wide variety of symptoms, including inattention, impulsivity, deficits in communication, difficulties with spelling, impaired physical movement, and more.

What’s more, among neurodivergent people there is as much a range of differences as there is within the rest of the population.

How could neurodiversity affect your business?

In recent years, there’s been a growing worldwide awareness of ADHD and autism in adults. In some countries, this has also come with a significant uptick in diagnoses.

In Ireland, a recent study shows that one-in-ten people surveyed personally identified as neurodivergent. Half of these individuals had been diagnosed, and half had been self-assessed.

For neurodivergent adults, it can be difficult to fit in or to manage certain aspects of day-to-day life. Without support, these conditions can sometimes be distressing to those who experience them.

However, some symptoms within these disorders are also associated with positive traits like intense focus, creative innovation, specialised interests, and bold entrepreneurship. Indeed, many highly successful people in the public eye are neurodivergent.

Not only can leveraging your employees’ skills help to positively impact your business, but providing support for employees who are neurodivergent can also improve morale, increase retention, and benefit productivity.

What are employer responsibilities towards neurodivergent employees?

First, it’s crucial for employers to ensure that any neurodivergent employees are not bullied, harassed, or discriminated against at their workplace.

Indeed, the Employment Equality Acts 1998-2021 protects employees against unequal treatment and discrimination in the workplace. This includes discrimination on the grounds of disability (which includes most, but not all, learning disorders).

To combat discrimination, bullying, and harassment, it’s recommended that employers stay informed on how this problematic behaviour can manifest, and to modify their workplace policy accordingly.

When unaddressed, discrimination, bullying, and harassment can all result in costly and stressful claims.

How can employers support their neurodivergent employees?

There are also a variety of tangible ways that employers can support their neurodivergent employees. Below, we’ve put together a list of some ideas of how this may look.

Offering staff training:

It’s always good practice to provide relevant training to your staff, particularly around disability and inclusion. Overall, specialised disability training has many possible benefits for your business, ranging from making your work environment more open and welcoming to improving customer service for clients with disabilities. What’s more, employers in the private sector can be supported in this effort through the Disability Awareness Support Scheme.

Providing specialised guidance:

Neurodivergent employees may require extended timelines or have different needs when learning new skills or tasks. In these cases, it could be beneficial to be receptive to potential difficulties that they may face in situations like training scenarios or learning opportunities.

Considering a change in role:

If an employee is not performing well in their current role, a solution could be to move them to another role within the business. Indeed, this may even give them employee the chance to thrive, especially if the responsibilities within a new role align better with their strengths.

Taking into account remote work opportunities:

Employees have the right to request remote work, and within its relevant Code of Practice, accommodating for neurodiversity is listed as a potential reason why they may do so. While it’s not obligatory for employers to approve any request, they must deliver a response within four weeks outlining the reasons for their decision, and they must keep records of any approved arrangements.

Making as many accommodations as possible:

Your business’ day-to-day working environment can be a crucial aspect of a neurodivergent employees’ experience. This is true for your whole staff, but particularly so for those with some neurodevelopmental disorders. These employees may benefit from accommodations including noise reduction, adjusted lighting, lack of interruptions when working, and more.

Providing wider adaptations:

Larger structural adaptations could also help your employees with disabilities. These could include assistive technology, adaptive equipment and facilities, aids and appliances, and more. To help implement these, employees and employers in the private sector can apply for the Workplace Equipment Adaptation Grant (WEAG).

Making the recruitment process more accessible:

Providing support can also start as early as the recruitment process. Here, many standard hiring practices can make the process more inaccessible for some neurodivergent individuals. Some behaviours to re-evaluate could include the tendency to discard CVs showing non-traditional career paths, the inclusion of timed exercises in the interview process, or the prioritisation of certain forms of non-verbal communication such as a firm handshake and appropriate eye contact. Removing or limiting these elements could help support neurodivergent candidates.

Have any additional questions?

Just like each disorder is distinct, so too are all neurodivergent people, their symptoms, and their needs. No two situations are alike, and each issue also may require a different approach.

Want help learning more about how to support your employees?

You can call our 24/7 helpline to learn more about how best to manage employee behaviour and protect your business at 1800 719 216.

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