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This blog explains why it is crucial for employers to understand, support and champion neurodiversity in the workplace.

Read on to learn why and how to champion neurodiversity in your workplace and to support your neurodivergent colleagues.

What is neurodiversity?

To understand neurodiversity in the workplace it is important to understand what neurodiversity is.

Neurodiversity is a relatively new term that was coined in the last 15 years. It describes the fact that people’s brains work differently, which means they have different ways of communicating and thinking. This means that your workplace is full of employees whose brains work in many different ways. By understanding neurodiversity in the workplace you will be better able to understand your employees and enable them to do their best work and add the most value.

The concept of neurodiversity helps us to see this difference as a natural part of humanity and moves us away from stigmatising neurodivergence.

Neurodiversity was originally coined to describe autistic people, but usage has broadened to include ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette’s syndrome, and chronic mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Our neurodiversity glossary can help with your understanding of neurodivergent terms.

Neurodiversity and the social model of disability

Neurodiversity works within the social model of disability. The social model of disability was developed by disabled activists in the 1980s, and aimed to reframe how we think about disability.

The social model sits in opposition to the medical model, which views disability as a disease or illness. It assumes that people are disabled by their impairments or differences and need to be ‘cured’ or ‘fixed’.

The medical model believes that ‘normal’ (non-disabled) bodies and brains are the ideal that we should all aspire to. The social model of disability flips this on its head and argues that people are disabled by an inaccessible world.

A common analogy is that when considering a wheelchair user faced with a set of stairs, the medical model would see the person as needing a ‘cure’ to walk up the stairs, and the social model would ask why there isn’t a ramp.

When it comes to supporting neurodiversity in the workplace, we want to think like the social model of disability. What adjustments can be put in place for neurodiverse people to thrive?

“Deepen your own understanding of neurodiversity to strengthen your organisation’s approach to it in the workplace.”

Read our Neurodiversity Glossary
A South-East Asian neurodivergent employee with a ponytail working from home and smiling. They are wearing red headphones.

How to improve your workplace for neurodivergent employees

Read our expert advice and learn how to improve neurodiversity inclusion in your workplace.

Consider the impact of the working environment

Many neurodivergent people have sensitivity to sensory input. Most standard offices are not neurodivergent-friendly: buzzing fluro lights, kitchen smells, background noise, interruptions, expectations of small talk, uncomfortable clothes. Don’t forget the virtual working environment, colleagues may prefer to join meetings with cameras off, or engage in the chat rather than verbally.  Set clear virtual meeting guidance which allows for a flexible and inclusive approach.

Think about your office environment and your hybrid working arrangements with your neurodivergent colleagues in mind. Talk to your neurodivergent colleagues to learn from them about how they are impacted by their environment and what adjustments could be made to improve this.

Create spaces for deep work with no interruptions: e.g. a quiet work area in the office, or periods of time with no Teams calls and chats.

Allow doodling and fidget toys in meetings.

Focus on improving understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace

Reflect on your organisation’s understanding and attitude to neurodiversity now. Can you deepen your own understanding of it to strengthen your organisation’s approach to neurodiversity in the workplace?

It can be natural to absorb assumptions and stereotypes from wider society, we all have unconscious biases. Taking time to recognise biases is an important part of developing your understanding and improving the support you provide to neurodiversity in the workplace.

Inclusive Employers have a range of Member resources to help raise awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace and understand different types of neurodivergence. These include:

Our Talking Inclusion With podcast, has an episode dedicated to neurodiversity in the workplace. Why not share this episode in your workplace? Our colleagues share their lived experience, as well as expert advice on challenging preconceptions and supporting neurodiversity in the workplace.

Workplace training is a great option if you are committed to embedding an understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace. If you choose Inclusive Employers as a training provider, we will deliver training that is tailored to your organisation’s specific requirements in relation to neurodiversity.

Equip your line managers to support neurodiverse colleagues

Provide a framework for line managers to talk to colleagues about what they need to feel supported and do their best work. The Inclusive Employers Inclusion Passport is a useful guide for these conversations and provides a record of what’s been agreed. Don’t assume everything is fixed and set. Regular reviews – as you would with any employee – are important to ensure you are up to date. For example, colleagues may be going through the diagnostic process or have been through it recently and still learning about what this means for them.

Many line managers do not feel equipped to talk about neurodiversity in the workplace, so as well as providing a framework for discussion like an inclusion passport, build the interpersonal skills your managers need to have these conversations into your line management training offer.

Embed your neurodiversity inclusion in your workplace

We hope you feel more confident in your understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace after reading this blog.

If you would like more detailed and tailored support to build understanding and progress neurodiversity inclusion in your workplace, we would love to hear from you. It’s easy to start the conversation – please send a message using the form below.


Recruit with confidence

Inclusive recruitment is key to diversifying your workforce.

Our experts provide tailored support, whether you’re starting from scratch or reviewing your current practices.

Recruitment audit, training, policy review, and job design; we can support you with all stages of the recruitment process.

Talk to us about recruiting inclusively

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