This guest post is by John Dowswell, Senior Lead Learning Designer at Kineo.
The third event in the City & Guilds Foundation I&D series was on Wednesday the 16th of June. This time the focus was on developing neuro-inclusive workplaces. The speakers were Prof. Amanda Kirby, founder of website DO IT Solutions and Helen Needham, founder of Me.Decoded.
If anyone missed it, here is a quick summary of some of the points covered in this brilliant session (Note: all of the points made in this post are originally from Amanda and Helen, who are the experts in this field, not myself; I’ve simply tried to capture them here accurately.)
There is an (inexact) bell curve which shows people who have difficulties or challenges in some areas; this could be things like numeracy, socialisation or motor function. At the other end of the curve are people who have a particular specialism for something. And the group in the middle are what society deem to be ‘neurotypical’.
No-one is in one place on this curve. You could have someone who’s a brilliant footballer (excellent control of motor skills) but might find reading difficult. We are all a combination of the range of abilities and challenges within each of the areas that make people neurodiverse. There is no such thing as an average person!
Flipping the narrative
Historically, people with differences in their thinking were seen to have a disability. The language used around these differences always implies something is missing or deficient. But just like in animals, specialisms (the right beak for a certain flower) and behaviours (changing colour when under threat), from an evolutionary point of view, are things that have been retained because they are beneficial.
To think in a more inclusive way about neurodiversity; it’s important to move away from negative framing of things that affect the way people’s minds work. Take ADHD, for example: deficit thinking could lead you to assume that someone diagnosed with ADHD would be impulsive or easily distracted. Whereas, these same effects on the brain may mean that person is highly enthusiastic, creative and copes well with pressure.
Additionally, some or all of the typical characteristics of someone with ADHD might manifest differently or in a more pronounced way for different people. A diagnosis is not a definition, and although there might be shared traits that people with a similar diagnosis may share, that’s not an assumption we should make.
Start a conversation
Challenges and difficulties only exist because of context. People may have impairments, but these only become disabilities based on environmental factors, which often can be adjusted. 15-20% of the population fall into the parts of the bell curve that are not seen as being neurotypical – and 80% of these people feel uncomfortable talking openly about the challenges they face.
Therefore, from an organisational point of view, it’s important to start by fostering a culture of openness. Using targeted recruitment as a first step can be short-sighted, because if you don’t already have the right culture to be inclusive of neurodiversity, then the people you’re targeting will have barriers to success when brought into your organisation.
Think: at every stage of your own or your colleague’s life-cycle as an employee, have there been opportunities to talk about neurodiversity that don’t feel stigmatised? If not, is there more that could be done to help create these opportunities?
Consider asking people about how you prefer to communicate and if that is working for them. Check for understanding, instead of assuming that what you’ve said has been understood. When presenting, offer ways for colleagues to read the information before or after it’s been talked about.
If you shift focus from the idea of being inclusive for neurodivergent people and instead focus on how you can be inclusive of all ways of thinking, the result will be that, without creating confrontational or difficult pathways to talking about differences, the opportunities to have conversations and make adjustment will happen more naturally.
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