Understanding Neurodiversity and Learning Disabilities for HR professionals

What exactly are Neurodiversity and why do I need to know anything about it?

by Gill Rudge, MA, Genius Within Coach and HR Business Partner with 30 years Corporate industry experience.


What exactly is Neurodiversity and why do I need to know anything about it?  It is a question you may be asking if you work in HR or perhaps you have never heard of the term.   Simply put, it means that the brain (neuro) waves work in different ways for people who have:-

  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia or Developmental Coordination Disorder
  • Autism
  • Asperger’s syndrome
  • ADHD (Attention Deficit Disorder)
  • Acquired Brain Injury
  • Chronic neurological conditions

These are the most typically occurring conditions in the workplace although there are others.


Why do you need to know?


Employers are obliged to put in place “workplace accommodations” for employees with disabilities under the Americans with Disabilities Act


But have I got anyone in my workplace with dyslexia? They can all read and write and spell!

Do I have anyone with ADHD?  They all seem to be able to sit?

Yes, they probably can sit, read, write and spell – it’s amazing how handy spell check is these days!

People with dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions,have been finding ways around their condition since their school days. They have “coped” with it, but they have probably been working at 120% to get to where their colleagues get to every day. This additional pressure often manifests itself in depression, anxiety, and low self-esteem.

The more common difficulties associated with neurodiverse conditions in the workplace can include:-

  • Time management
  • Planning and prioritising
  • Organisation
  • Getting distracted by background noise
  • Working Memory weaknesses, i.e. the ability to hold multiple things in your attention at one time
  • Processing Speed, e. the ability to focus attention and visually scan and sequence information


What can I do about it?

Ask questions to find out how best to help and support your neurodiverse employees. Everyone with a neurodiverse condition is different. They often have particular strengths in:-

  • Seeing the big picture
  • Thinking outside the box
  • Connecting ideas
  • 3D thinking
  • Generally being creative and inventive


How much are you using the neurodiverse strengths of your employees?

We know that the instances of stress-related absence are increasing in the workplace.

When this happens, try and find out if the employee has a neurodiverse condition. Be sensitive; they may often not know themselves.

Workplace accommodations can be easily made. These can range from software to translate speech into text and vice versa, or coaching in coping strategies to help employees better manage their condition.

Increase awareness of neurodiversity amongst your employees. Estimates suggest that as many as 1 in 10 people might have dyslexia. Awareness-raising sessions can help manage your sickness absence rates and improve line management skills, both of which can in turn, lead to increased productivity.

A virtuous circle!