Each person has a brain that is unique to them; no two brains are quite alike. For over a million people in the UK, these differences mean they are diagnosed with a condition such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia or other neurological condition.
In the past, it was sadly common to view someone with autism, for example, as having an ‘abnormal’ condition that should be ‘cured’. However, since the 1990s the concept of ‘neurodiversity’ has emerged. This tells us that these brain differences are natural variations. Some people's brains simply work in a different way.
This is linked to the Social Model of Disability, which tells us that a person is not necessarily disabled by their health conditions, but by society’s failure to adequately accommodate their needs. This is why we ensure that buildings are accessible to wheelchair users, and have hearing loops for the hearing impaired. Neurodiversity applies this concept to our brains.
Much recent debate has centred on workplaces and whether neurodiversity is a benefit - both for organisations and those who work for them. The basic skills that are typically valued by employers, such as a grasp of numbers or the ability to concentrate for extended periods of time, are often those that people with neurological conditions find the most difficult.
Furthermore, although the Equalities Act requires employers to put in place ‘reasonable adjustments’ for disabled employees, many of these conditions are ‘invisible’. Lots of neurodiverse employees will have trained themselves to ‘act more neurotypical’. This extra pressure is often the cause of stress and depression, and is likely to make some conditions worse.
Just as how it is widely recognised that a workplace diverse in terms of gender and ethnicity is a benefit, a neurodiverse workplace is one that will be full of the many strengths which people with neurological conditions often have: someone with ADHD, for example, may struggle to sit at a desk for eight hours in a row, but may also bring creative and unique ways of problem solving. Autistic employees are likely to bring a variety of interesting, different viewpoints and niche interests that are a boon to any employer.
Neurodiversity reminds us that everyone with a neurological condition is different, and cannot be so straightforwardly pigeon-holed. In many cases, working with neurodiverse people to identify their ideal role as well as potential barriers can lead to the most productive workplace for all.
The Brain Charity has developed a range of training packages to support organisations to understand what neurodiversity is and how to support neurodiverse individuals in the workplace.