From Awareness to Action: Creating a Neurodiverse-Friendly Workplace

  • Photo Caris Graham
  • Caris Graham

Speak out

It’s Neurodiversity Awareness Week! It's remarkable to witness the increased prominence of discussions surrounding neurodiversity—a topic that not too long ago often went unaddressed. While it's encouraging to see it becoming a part of mainstream dialogue, we must go beyond mere conversation and take meaningful action to create inclusive work environments that effectively support neurodivergent individuals. Statistics tell us that approximately 15 to 20 per cent of people have brains that develop or function differently. These neurodivergent individuals deserve not only acceptance but celebration for their unique perspectives and contributions. Yet, instead of being embraced and celebrated, neurodivergent individuals often face misunderstanding and exclusion, both in society and the workplace. This must change.

What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity encompasses the concept that individuals engage with and perceive the world in varied ways. There exists no singular "correct" approach to thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.

Types of neurodivergence includes:

Neurodivergent: What It Is, Symptoms & Types (

  • Autism spectrum disorder (this includes what was once known as Asperger’s syndrome).
  • Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
  • Down syndrome.
  • Dyscalculia (difficulty with math).
  • Dysgraphia (difficulty with writing).
  • Dyslexia (difficulty with reading).
  • Dyspraxia (difficulty with coordination).
  • Intellectual disabilities.
  • Mental health conditions like bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder and more.
  • Prader-Willi syndrome.
  • Sensory processing disorders.
  • Social anxiety (a specific type of anxiety disorder).
  • Tourette syndrome.
  • Williams syndrome.

As you can see, neurodiversity spans a wide spectrum and cannot be summarised with a 'one size fits all' approach. It requires ongoing effort, dedication, and occasionally trial and error to establish an optimal environment or inclusive space for individuals who are neurodiverse. One effective starting point is simply listening to the barriers faced by neurodiverse individuals in environments geared towards neurotypicality.

1. Educate Yourself: Take the time to understand the diverse needs and challenges faced by individuals who are neurodivergent. There are numerous free resources available to broaden your understanding. Personally, I find following advocates and individuals with lived experiences of neurodiversity to be enlightening. Continuously exposing oneself to different perspectives encourages a deeper understanding of how to remove barriers and misconceptions. Remember, embracing neurodiversity is an ongoing learning journey, and mistakes are opportunities for growth.

2. Educate Your Team: Ensure that your employees are well-versed in what neurodiversity entails and how it influences communication styles. Recognise that communication preferences vary among individuals and that certain forms of communication may pose challenges for neurodivergent individuals. For instance, individuals with ADHD may struggle to maintain focus during lengthy online meetings without breaks, while those with autism may become exhausted by too many interactions due to ‘masking’. Masking is a strategy used by some individuals who are autistic, consciously or unconsciously, to appear non-autistic in order to blend in and be more accepted in society. Masking can happen in formal situations such as at school or work and in informal situations such as at home with family or socialising with friends ( Masking ( Valuing diverse communication styles creates a more inclusive environment where everyone feels comfortable being their authentic selves.

3. Implement Reasonable Adjustments: Make it clear to your staff that they are entitled to reasonable adjustments in the workplace. These adjustments can range from changes in the physical workspace to modifications in working arrangements or providing specialised equipment and support services. By law, employers are obligated to accommodate the needs of employees who express that they are neurodivergent and might need additional support under the Equality Act (2010).

4. Provide Training: Organise training sessions within the workplace to deepen understanding of how neurodiversity can impact individuals. Lack of awareness among colleagues can lead to feelings of intimidation and potentially affect staff retention. Education fosters a supportive and inclusive work culture.

5. Engage and Encourage Learning: Foster a culture of learning and inclusivity within the workplace through various initiatives such as team training sessions, open group discussions, establishing neurodiversity networks, and celebrating Neurodiversity Week. Encourage participation and provide platforms for anonymous feedback to ensure all voices are heard and valued.

6. Create an Inclusive Environment: Design office spaces that cater to neurodiverse needs, considering factors like noise levels and distractions. Offer accommodations such as noise-cancelling headphones, flexible working arrangements, regular breaks, and supportive technology. For remote employees, ensure their home working environment is conducive to their needs.

7. Adapt Your Communication Styles: Acknowledge that individuals with neurodiverse traits may benefit from tailored communication approaches. Aim for clarity and directness, presenting tasks in easily understandable formats. Experiment with different communication styles, including diagrams, verbal, and written communication, to determine what works best for each individual. Additionally, ensure phone conversations take place in a distraction-free environment to optimise understanding and engagement.

8. Regularly Check-In with Your Employees: Continuously seek feedback from your team members to facilitate learning and growth. Whether you're a manager, senior leader, or even colleague, soliciting input on the effectiveness of your collaboration is vital. By encouraging an environment of open communication, you demonstrate your commitment to their development and productivity. Embrace self-reflection and collaboratively explore adjustments to routines that enhance workflow. Remember, constructive feedback cultivates improvement and reinforces your dedication to supporting their progress.

In conclusion, understanding and supporting neurodiversity in the workplace is essential for fostering a positive and inclusive culture. By embracing diversity and making accommodations where necessary, we create environments where all employees can thrive. Continual learning and empathy are key to building a supportive and inclusive workplace for everyone.

Explore the additional resources below to further your journey in understanding, embracing, and celebrating neurodiversity.

Further reading:

Neurodiversity glossary of terms | College of Policing

ADHD and Work | Welfare Pack to help ADHD in the workplace (

Top autism tips: employment - reasonable adjustments

Neurodiversity Resources For Employers — Neurodiversity Hub

Neurodiversity in the workplace | Texthelp

Reasonable adjustments: examples | Prospect

Workplace neurodiversity training from The Brain Charity

Workplace Neurodiversity Awareness Training - ADHD Aware

"The workplace doesn't need just one skillset or approach, and we should all recognise the value that different employees can often bring with them."

Theo Paphitis, Dragon from BBC’s Dragon’s Den