Celebrating Neurodiversity – Challenging Misconceptions and Stigma

neurodiversity week blog post by diane fb li

“To be yourself in a world that is constantly trying to make you something else is the greatest accomplishment”
– Ralph Waldo Emerson

I am proud to say I have ADHD. It is what drives my insatiable curiosity and enables me to ask a million questions in parallel. Having a mind that bounces around at a million miles a minute enables you to spot patterns and trends that others miss, and it allows you to dig deeper for insights and conclusions that do not sit in the confines of the metaphorical ‘box’. I wouldn’t want to give it up, as it is, without doubt, my biggest gift.

Like many parents of neurodiverse children, my own diagnosis came in my late 40s as a result of my now 10-year-old daughter being diagnosed with autism, ADHD and dyspraxia.  There is no doubt that when in a ‘one-size fits all’ environment neurodiversity can present with challenges, and nowhere do we see this more than in the environment of mainstream schools where rigidity and lack of flexibility can be completely disabling for our kids. There is still much work to be done in both improving teacher training and creating inclusive spaces and curriculums that enables learning for all.

However, it is not only in our schools and further education environments that we need more inclusive and flexible approaches – we also need this in the workplace too. Not only is this morally the right thing to do, but because some of the most creative, talented people I know are Neurodiverse. Given the right environment these people can create change and have insights that transform lives. One such example is Siena Castellon, the founder of Neurodiversity Week and a Young Ambassador for the @ADHDFoundation, where I volunteer as a Trustee on the Executive Board. After facing her own struggles in school, she set out to change the world to make it a more inclusive place for people living with neurodiversity. This campaign, created to celebrate and raise awareness for Neurodiversity, has now become a global success (Go @SienaCastellon!).

Whilst awareness of Neurodiversity is on the rise, there is still much that needs to be done to foster inclusive and diverse workplaces. Shortlisted as a finalist in the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion category of the Business Book Awards, ‘Neurodiversity in the Workplace’ by @Theo Smith and @Amanda Kirby is a must read! This book contains some excellent examples of best practice of inclusion across industries and is a valuable tool for any business.

For example, the Microsoft Neurodiversity Hiring Program has expanded to all aspects of Neurodiversity, including ADHD, autism, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and other cognitive disabilities. Their hiring program has interviews over several days, rather than the usual single day. They also developed Minecraft worlds with customized challenges for candidates to work through together in small groups. The activity allowed candidates to showcase communication skills, teamwork, problem-solving and leadership, through a digital platform.

AutoTrader are another great example. They engaged a Neurodiversity Charity to audit their workplace and practices. Additionally, they created a new workspace configuration with quiet pods for working when people choose to use them, a low sensory arousal area of the canteen and a new electronic tablet booking system on the walls outside meeting rooms. The company also changed their recruitment process and adjusted their interview rooms, which resulted in an increase in successful neurodivergent applicants. As part of their on-boarding, new starters take part in the “One AutoTrader: Creating a Culture of Inclusion” workshop focusing on creating a common understanding of diversity and inclusion, meeting representatives from all the D&I Employee Networks (Women’s, LGBT+, BAME, Disability & Neurodiversity).

Finally, here at JPA, ‘flexibility’ is key to ensuring we create an inclusive environment. In interviews, we focus on ‘what is actually needed’ for the specific role rather than a ‘one-size’ fits all approach. We adopt flexible working hours and give our employees the opportunity to ‘work at home’ when they need a ‘quiet space’ to focus. Overall, we are flexible on adjustments to the work environment that are tailored to the individual. This flexible, tailored approach, we believe, is at the heart of inclusion and creates an environment in which all our employees can thrive in.

In the words of St Catherine of Siena “Be who you were created to be, and you will set the world on fire”.

Diane Wass

Managing Director of JPA Health, International Region
Trustee of the ADHD Foundation-The Neurodiversity Charity