Mental Health Training

Neurodiversity – meeting the need, by Jane McNeice

Posted by on 14 Dec, 2020 in Mental Health |

Neurodiversity – meeting the need, by Jane McNeice

About Neurodiversity

It is increasingly acknowledged by UK employers that there is a need to have a neuro-diverse workforce and that there are significant benefits of fostering such diversity. Given that estimates suggest more than 15% of the UK population are neuro-divergent (ACAS, 2020) most employers will, in fact, already be employing neuro-diverse people.

Neuro-diverse diagnoses include conditions such as Autistic Spectrum Disorder, Aspersers, ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), ADD (Attention Deficit Disorder), Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, and others. People who experience the diverse aspects of such conditions experience characteristics that sit outside of what is regarded as neuro-typical – that which is shared by the majority in a society. Much like disability more generally, the risk then becomes that society might disable individuals, as opposed to the disability itself, and this can include employers even unintentionally.

Neurodiversity in the workplace

Neuro-diverse issues are covered under the Equality Act 2010 as an area of disability. In the Equality Act, disability means a physical or a mental condition which has a substantial and long-term impact on your ability to do normal day to day activities. This being the case, it shifts us away from someone needing to have a diagnosis to be covered, but rather towards meeting these criteria as the minimum.

Employers are required to make ‘reasonable’ adjustments for employees who meet these criteria to help them to do their job effectively by considering the following measure of ‘reasonableness’:

  • The extent of any disruption that an adjustment may cause to the organisation or other employees;
  • The cost and the organisation’s budget;
  • Practicality;
  • The effectiveness of the adjustment in helping the employee to do their job;
  • The availability of financial or other assistance from schemes such as the Government’s ‘Access to Work’ programme.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) England ‘Line Managers’ Resource’ (2016)

Examples include the use of supportive equipment aids, computer software, different ways of communicating, different ways of planning, training, awareness-raising within colleagues, and many others.

One of the most significant challenges which sits against this backdrop is that many people may have a neurodiversity issue without even knowing it. This includes those that have not been recognised (formally or otherwise) as having one, those that don’t recognise it in themselves, those diagnosed with or experiencing symptoms of other conditions, e.g. anxiety disorders where the neurodiverse issue may be the cause, but it presents as mental ill-health, and those who simply find the world very difficult to live in and feel they never quite fit in but don’t know why. Unfortunately, our systems for establishing neurodiversity don’t yet plug these gaps. We don’t have a simple blood test that can identify them or a patch test; they are more complex to identify.

The tools for assessment of neuro-diversity are typically subjective. In some cases the assessment tools have been developed against symptoms established in boys/men so don’t lend themselves well to accurate and reliable diagnosis in females, e.g. Autism assessments, hence a disproportionately higher diagnosis in boys than girls and effectively a large number of ‘missed’ girls/women.  As this is the case, we as employers are potentially trying to meet an unknown need. The solution, nevertheless, can be the same.

“Person-centred” approach

We can meet the needs of known and unknown neurodiversity using a ‘person-centred’ approach, put simply focussing on the needs of the person regardless. It doesn’t entirely make a difference whether there is a diagnosis or not, whether a person recognises themselves as having characteristics of a neuro-diverse issue or not, we just focus on the person in front of us and their needs. Now, this may all seem very well, but when businesses are developing systems, it can be complicated to meet everyone’s needs all of the time. What is needed is reliable and consistent approaches to draw upon which can flex to be person-centred. Flexible structure can be found in reasonable adjustments and their application by merely applying the principles of these regardless of diagnosis.

A good employer will try to meet employee needs wherever they can, particularly where this is an authentic and well-embedded business value. Reasonable adjustments also take into account the needs of the business, so employers are not being asked to make adjustments at all costs, but rather to consider what is ‘reasonable’ in the circumstances. Now and again I come across employers who say when one person is given particular support, others use that as a comparator for them to access the same. Key again here is ‘person-centred’ and also the criteria of ‘reasonableness’. When these are simultaneously applied the outcome could be different in different situations, situations which at face-value may be very similar. Person-centred support allows for this, and reasonable adjustment criteria allow for this. Both give us a structure but also some flexibility to meet a need.

Employers are going to have many structured systems that allow for a person-centred approach within:

  • Supervision or one-to-one sessions between manager and employee
  • Appraisals
  • Informal discussions
  • Keeping in touch mechanisms for any absence
  • Return to work interviews
  • And other standard workplace systems and management practices.

What is important is that managers are clear on their roles and responsibilities. They need to be knowledgeable and confident in the use of these systems, knowledgeable of the powers of delegation they’ve been given and who their team of support are, e.g. Human Resources, occupational health, their line manager/board of Directors/Trustees/Governing body, and have the support of robust well-communicated Policies and Procedures, including training in how to apply these.

If you or your Managers would like to understand more about applying ‘reasonable adjustments’ and/or supporting mental and emotional difficulties in employees, whether relating to neurodiversity or otherwise, please check out our training courses.