Understanding the value of neurodiversity training: how to celebrate the strengths of neurodivergent employees

15th September 2023

Article written by Meg Shona Halpin-Webster, Graduate eLearning Content Writer at Marshall E-Learning Consultancy, a Ciphr company

In September 2023, a petition to the UK Government to require universities to provide neurodiversity training was closed. The petition raised concerns that universities are failing to provide suitable adjustments and support for neurodivergent students, and that staff are treating these students in a discriminatory manner. Receiving over 16,000 signatures, and gaining traction on social media sites, this petition has brought the issue of the lack of neurodiversity training, to the forefront.

The UK Government issued a formal response to this petition before closing it, stating that “Universities are autonomous institutions, responsible for their own decisions on staff training. They should provide a safe and inclusive environment, including for neurodivergent students.” So what can we learn from this? Perhaps it’s time for both higher education institutions and organisations to exercise their autonomy and provide neurodiversity training of their own accord.

Marshalls strives to equip organisations with effective tools and resources to cultivate an inclusive and positive environment through our range of accessible and informative e-learning courses, such as our popular diversity course range. Our goal is to highlight the importance of neurodiversity training across workplaces and emphasise the meaningful benefits that neurodiversity training can have on all employees, and the wider organisation.

What constitutes neurodiversity?

First coined in the late 1990s by Australian sociologist Judy Singer, the term ‘neurodiversity’ arose from Singer’s recognition that what we call ‘diversity’, ie the value and recognition of the many different people around us, is also applicable to the differences between our brains. Neurodiversity is a broad term, encompassing many types of specific cognitive differences, which can often overlap. The specific learning differences included in the term ‘neurodiversity’ are explored below.

  • Autism: a lifelong developmental disability spectrum that impacts the way a person communicates, experiences and relates to those around them and the wider world and presents differently across the spectrum
  • Attention Deficit (Hyperactive) Disorder (ADHD): a condition that affects the behaviour of an individual, often causing them to be impulsive, inattentive and hyperactive, or all three
  • Dyslexia: a learning difference that impacts a person’s ability to read and write, as well as how the brain processes information that it both sees and hears
  • Dyspraxia: sometimes referred to as a developmental coordination disorder (DCD), dyspraxia impacts and individual’s movement and coordination, affecting their balance, organisation, time management and planning abilities
  • Dyscalculia: a persistent difficulty in understanding numbers or numerical information, including difficulties handling money, judging time, and performing calculations

Having a thorough understanding of these learning differences, and the potential difficulties that neurodivergent people face on a daily basis is important for an organisation, and can help to ensure that employees are given the necessary support to thrive in their role,  and that their individual strengths are being recognised – and utilised.

Why neurodiversity training in the workplace is important?

As demonstrated in the petition to require neurodiversity training, more and more people are pushing for mandatory neurodiversity training for all staff. Research from City & Guilds determined that only a third of HR professionals and only 29% of senior leaders had undertaken specific neurodiversity training in the last 12 months. These figures for senior leadership and HR departments are quite low, could this gap in neurodiversity training be an underlying cause for discriminatory behaviour and unfair treatment of neurodivergent students and employees?

Neurodiversity training can have a positive impact on the overall culture of an organisation, from reducing discrimination to improving communication. Neurodiversity training informs learners of the necessity of behaving in a way that fosters inclusivity, where neurodivergent people feel supported, celebrated, and valued for their unique qualities. Inclusivity is important for every workplace and educational institution. Effective neurodiversity training can inform organisations on how to appropriate showcase and improve their inclusivity through branding, messaging and even recruitment strategies.

For an organisation to be productive, communication is key – even more so with neurodivergent employees with specific communication needs and preferences. Neurodiversity training can significantly improve communication at scale between employees, their managers and the wider organisation. Guiding all employees on how to improve their communication and adjust their approaches where necessary can transform an organisation into a welcoming, positive environment where all employees feel a great sense of belonging. Neurodiversity training can help learners understand how to communicate effectively, whether it be breaking down information, using alternative mediums (text-based vs spoken, for example) or being clearer on desired outcomes and deliverables when assigning tasks.

Perhaps most importantly, neurodiversity training allows neurodivergent people to feel accepted, seen, and valued within an organisation. Neurodiversity training encourages learners to identify and utilise their unique, more of which we will cover next.

How does neurodiversity add value to the workplace?

As mentioned, neurodivergent employees have a lot to offer the workplace, from their unique perspectives to their wide range of professional skills. It’s essential for employers to recognise that people with neurodivergent qualities can think in ways that a neurotypical person cannot, meaning they can often more easily identify complex problems as well as their solutions. We can explore the ways in which thinking differently is a great advantage for any workplace by considering the learning differences that neurodivergent individuals may bring to a professional environment.

For example, autistic people may have enhanced logical thinking ability, leading them to be highly detail-oriented and precise. Individuals with ADHD can demonstrate creativity, persistence, high levels of engagement and energetic approaches, making them well-suited to projects with varied sub-tasks and out-of-the-box thinking. Dyslexic individuals may offer excellent entrepreneurial skills and imaginative thinking, while dyspraxic individuals may thrive with problem-solving, thanks to their ability to comeup with original, creative ideas.

It’s vital to reiterate that ‘neurodiversity’ is a broad term that encompasses a wide range of cognitive differences, that may or may not overlap. Every neurodivergent person is unique and will bring their own skills and advantages to the workplace.

How to value neurodiversity in the workplace?

For a workplace environment to be inclusive, every individual within it needs to feel recognised and valued. There are some steps that your organisation can take to make sure that neurodiversity is celebrated, rather than criticised, so that your employees feel supported.

1. Providing accommodations for those who need it

To ensure that neurodivergent individuals can thrive in the same way that neurotypical employees do, be mindful of any accommodations they may need. Accommodations can range from noise-cancelling headphones and, designated quiet areas of the office, to the offer of a flexible working schedule.

Do not assume that every neurodivergent person will want or need specific accommodations to thrive within their role. Instead, it is best practice to make it widely known across your organisation that accommodations are available to those who may need them.

2. Educate employees on neurodiversity

It’s important for any organisation to have a well-rounded understanding of what neurodiversity is. To boost awareness, consider running regular training sessions, having guest speakers, or organising focus groups to discuss understandings of neurodiversity.

In terms of training, consider facilitated training with a subject matter expert (SME), or opt for accessible and informative e-learning course training where learners can develop their knowledge on their own time. Either form of training is important to improve people’s knowledge of neurodiversity and the support given to neurodivergent people.

3. Improve recruitment strategies to be more inclusive

Consider changing your recruitment strategies to make them more inclusive for neurodivergent people. Recruitment strategies should not be presumptuous or exclusive in any way. Job descriptions need to be accessible and inclusive, with clear, unbiased language that is behaviour-based. For some, attending an interview may not be straightforward without certain adjustments, from sharing questions in advance to changing interview locations. Inclusive recruitment is essential for diversifying the workplace, and improving the overall culture.

How Marshalls can help you with neurodiversity training courses

Here at Marshalls, we provide an excellent Neurodiversity at Work e-learning course that explores in-depth what neurodiversity is and the value of neurodivergent people within the workplace. Featuring real-life testimonials from neurodivergent people about their experiences and offering guidance on how to value and support neurodivergent people, this accessible and informative e-learning course is hugely advantageous for organisations hoping to diversify their workplace and improve their culture by making it more inclusive.

Available both off-the-shelf and as a bespoke, customised e-learning course, tailored to your organisation, our neurodiversity at work e-learning course is a step in the right direction for those wanting to improve their inclusivity. To find out more about this specific course and how you can use it, please get in touch.

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