It’s a term gaining in usage in leadership circles, but what exactly is neurodiversity? And why do you need to know about it?

Put simply, neurodiversity is the range of differences in the way that human beings experience and interpret the world around them.

Whilst everyone is different, there are people who are described as “neurotypical” – these are people whose brain processes and functions are within the range expected by society – and people who are described as “neurodivergent” – those whose brain processes and functions in some way fall outside of the expected range.

What are some examples of neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity refers to any way that the brain works differently. This can include autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, depression, anxiety and seasonal affective disorder.

It’s worth noting, however, that whilst many people have specific, identifiable ways in which their brain function deviates from what we consider the “standard”, everyone’s brains work slightly differently from each other. We all process information in different ways – for example, some people are highly visual learners, whereas other people learn better by listening. But the world has been set up for a particular – largely mythical – “normal”, and that world is far more navigable for some than others.

There is infinite variety in humans as a species, and that includes the ways our brains work. Every individual person’s brain interacts slightly differently with their environment, which means that everyone experiences the world in a slightly different way. When you really start to examine it, there is actually no such thing as an objective reality and we’re all actually living in different, co-existing realities shaped by our own thoughts, experiences, feelings and perceptions. Cool, huh? … Just me then.

What’s this got to do with me?

Philosophising aside, neurodiversity has huge implications for the way we work. Every human being you interact with will interpret and process the information you give them in different ways. People give and receive feedback differently, they need instructions and guidance in different forms, they will approach tasks in different ways, they communicate more effectively through different methods, and they may need different kinds of support to be enabled to contribute and participate in full.

If you understand neurodiversity (just the basics, we’re not expecting you to get a psychology degree) and are aware of the variety of ways that individuals can process information and how to support those, then you will be able to harness the skills of a broader range of people and help your team work together more effectively. You will be able to get your message to reach and resonate with a wider range of people, and allow a greater number of people to access your products or services. You will also understand more about how your own brain works so you can be more effective yourself!

Is neurodiversity a disability?

No. Whilst some cognitive function variations, such as autism, may sometimes be accompanied by learning disabilities, they are not necessarily. In addition, some people may find features of their cognitive function variation disabling, whilst some may not. Plenty of people who identify as neurodivergent do not consider themselves to have a disability.

It’s also worth noting that you probably know a lot of neurodivergent people without being aware of it. Neurodiverse thinking isn’t often obvious – you never can tell what’s going on in someone else’s mind. But now we’re straying down the philosophy road again…

Does my organisation need to do anything about neurodiversity?

Legally? Not really. Neurodiversity isn’t a protected characteristic (although most people with a specific diagnosis that relates to cognitive function would likely be able to make a claim for disability discrimination if you were to treat them unfairly, so just, you know, don’t). Morally, of course, you shouldn’t be treating any of your staff unfairly, and could be subject to legal action if a member of staff has been discriminated against or bullied because of any individual differences. From an accessibility or compliance point of view though, only issues that impede everyday activities (and are therefore aligned with disability under the Equalities Act) give you any legal obligation.

From the point of view of wanting your organisation to be successful, on the other hand, you should definitely be thinking about neurodiversity. If you want to:

  • Make sure your team are all on the same page
  • Make sure guidance, instructions and information are clear
  • Enable your team to communicate and collaborate effectively with each other
  • Help people to receive and act on feedback more constructively
  • Get the best out of all members of your team
  • Avoid misunderstandings
  • Encourage a wider range of inputs and ideas
  • Make space for different approaches and ways of thinking
  • Enable your messaging to reach and resonate with a wider audience

then yes, you do need to do something about neurodiversity.

Where do I start with neurodiversity?

One of the first things you can do as an organisation is start to talk about neurodiversity more openly. Having conversations about the different ways you like to work, communicate and process information can make a big difference in helping people to understand one another and work better together.

There’s a lot to consider about the way you recruit, develop, and support each member of staff, as well as the way you communicate and collaborate as an organisation if you want to make your workplace inclusive, accessible and one in which everyone can contribute their best.

If you want to make changes to allow your organisation to benefit from a broader range of thinking, our Introduction to Neurodiversity training will give you tangible actions that you can use to make a start. Get in touch to book a session for your team, online or in person.