Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Neurodiversity in the workplace: Adult and child hands holding encephalography brain paper cutout, autism, Epilepsy awareness, seizure disorder,

Neurodiversity describes the diversity of individuals; however, it is used in reference to those with Autism (ASD), ADHD, and/or learning disabilities. The term neurodiversity was first used by Judy Singer (a Sociologist) to promote inclusivity and equality of “neurological minorities”.


What is Neurodiversity in the workplace?

Harvard Health defines neurodiversity as the idea that everyone interacts and experiences the world and their environment differently highlighting there is no single “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving. Viewing things differently shouldn’t be seen as a negative or deficit.

Neurodiversity describes the diversity of individuals; however, it is used in reference to those with Autism (ASD), ADHD, and/or learning disabilities. The term neurodiversity was first used by Judy Singer (a Sociologist) to promote inclusivity and equality of “neurological minorities”.

Since the 1990’s we have seen more and more research into neurodiversity, creating better support mechanisms and understanding across the world. Helping to better support neurodiversity in the workplace.

In recent years, it has also been known as hidden disabilities in the workplace. As we break the stigma, we should be striving to encourage employees to disclose if they have been diagnosed with a neurodiverse disability ensuring they aren’t hidden but supported.

Examples of neurodiversity in the workplace

There are various types of neurodiverse employees, all with their own unique way of thinking and working. These differences include:


      • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder – commonly known as ADHD, employees who are ADHD may have difficulty with attention, hyperactivity, and impulsiveness. 

      • Autistic Spectrum Disorder – known as ASD and a developmental disorder, individuals may struggle with social interactions and communication, and their behaviour can be restricted and repetitive.

      • Dyscalculia – a person will find it difficult to understand and manipulate numbers and mathematical facts.

      • Dyslexia – this is a learning disorder impacting the brain’s ability to process language, someone who is dyslexic may struggle with reading, writing, spelling, and speaking.

      • Dyspraxia – Development Coordination disorder This affects the person’s ability to plan and execute coordinate movements that are complex.#

      • ObsessiveCompulsive disorder (OCD) – characterised by unreasonable thoughts and obsessions/fears causing compulsive behaviours.

      • Tourette Syndrome – this is a neurological disorder characterised by repetitive, stereotyped, involuntary movements and vocalisations known as tics.

    Others include intellectual disabilities, communication orders, social communication disorder (SCD), non-verbal learning disability (NVLD), sensory processing disorder, bipolar disorder, and epilepsy.

    Neurodiversity in the workplace statistics

    It is estimated that 15-20% of the UK population is neurodivergent. The awareness of neurodiversity has increased leading to employers realising the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace.

    LinkedIn has even added to their skill set “dyslexia thinking” highlighting the movement and benefit of embracing a diverse workplace. It is estimated that 10% of the UK population is dyslexic, according to data published by the British Dyslexia Association. As awareness grows more people are finding out earlier, helping them to develop skills for utilising dyslexia in a positive manner.

    The Office for National Statistics published data in 2021 illustrating that within the UK 29% of autistic adults were in employment.

    Unfortunately, 65% of neurodivergent employees opt not to disclose they are neurodiverse. This is due to fear of discrimination from employers or others within the workplace. Data published in March 2023 by Birkbeck’s Research Centre for Neurodiversity at Work. Positives from Birkbeck’s research showed neurodivergent employees have remarkable capabilities and work strengths including 80% being able to hyperfocus, 78% creative, 75% innovative, 71% detail processing and 64% being authentic at work. The research team assessed 1117 individuals including 127 employers and 990 neurodivergent employees. 

    What are the challenges of neurodiverse people in the workplace?

    Stigma and discrimination within the workplace pose a great challenge for neurodiverse employees, some colleagues may have negative attitudes towards employees who are neurodivergent. This can have a lasting impact on self-esteem and how they thrive within their careers.  

    The lack of awareness and understanding in the workplace is a significant challenge, not all employers and managers have the knowledge to proactively support neurodivergent employees. Leaving employees unable to complete tasks and manage workloads. Data published by the National Autistic Society stated that 45% of neurodivergent employees have lost or resigned from their roles due to the challenges of being misunderstood within the workplace.

    Neurodiverse employees may find it difficult to socialise within the workplace, leading to them feeling isolated. Employees may see their motivation decrease due to isolation and the lack of working relationships with colleagues. Furthermore, miscommunication can be a struggle especially when it comes to implicit communication and sarcasm causing misunderstandings with colleagues potentially leading to conflict.

    Conflict within the workplace may lead to a toxic workplace culture, impacting the business’s reputation, and may struggle to hire talented employees.

    Lack of appropriate infrastructure, this includes alternative methods for communication, verbal communication may be difficult for neurodiverse employees to digest, alternatively written communication may be the same. Treating it on a case-by-case basis is essential. Speaking to employees to understand their needs is vital in this situation as understanding how the disability impacts their ability to complete tasks.

    For autistic employees having the option to have quiet areas may be appropriate infrastructure, for ADHD employees allowing noise-cancelling headphones for concentration may be extremely helpful.

    The benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace.

    JPMorgan Chase carried out an Autism at Work initiative which highlighted that neurodiverse employees within the workplace had on average 90-140% higher productivity levels than other employees employed by the business for 5 to 10 years.

    Businesses usually see greater retention of neurodiverse employees, as they tend to be more loyal to a business that supports them and their requirements. Leading to reduced turnover rates. Neurodiverse have a unique skill set including strong attention to detail, problem-solving ability, and analytical thinking.

    Neurodiverse employees tend to be highly creative and innovative, especially when it comes to problem-solving.  Their brain works differently than other employees, helping to bring a fresh and different approach to many situations. Usually seeking a collaborative and inclusive work/team culture.

    Having a strong stance on being an inclusive workforce for neurodiverse employees, helps with the outlook of the business. Potential candidates will see the employers as socially responsible and inclusive, helping to attract talented and unique employees.

    How can I help support neurodiversity in the workplace?

    If you want to help your neurodiverse employee reach their full potential, there is a variety of steps you can take to create a supportive workplace for neurodiversity.


        • Training employees – to raise awareness of neurodiversity, people need training on the importance of neurodiversity and being understanding of employees working in a different way. By increasing awareness and reducing the stigma, employees are more likely to disclose their neurodiversity.  

        • Accessible recruitment – consider if your recruitment practices are inclusive and assess the individual’s skills rather than conventional interview techniques. This type of interview may not accurately represent a neurodivergent talent and capabilities.

        • Accommodations – look at the possibility of being flexible with working hours and environment i.e. remote working. Can you make physical adjustments to the workspace such as quiet spaces or providing noise cancelling headphones?

        • Policy development – develop a policy that is inclusive of neurodiversity taking into consideration the various needs of neurodiverse employees. Work with an HR consultant to create a policy – this may be a stand-alone policy or incorporated within your equal opportunity policy.

        • Provide resources – ensure resources are readily available for employees, especially those who are neurodivergent for support. It may be advantageous to connect with support networks or groups that specialise in neurodiversity in the workplace.

        • Actively promote inclusivity – celebrate diversity in the workplace, start by using inclusive language within all documentation i.e. employee handbook, and be consistent throughout all communications.

        • Understand preferred communication – check in with the employee and understand their preferred communication style. Dyslexic employees may struggle with taking notes during meetings; written communication after meetings with action points may be advantageous to ensure tasks are completed.

      Is neurodiversity increasing?

      We have seen an increase in diagnoses of neurodiversity across the world, this comes from more accurate and inclusive diagnostic criteria from further research and understanding of neurodiversity. Approximately 13 million people in the UK are neurodivergent; 2 million are dyslexic and 700,000 people have autism spectrum condition.

      Autism diagnoses have increased by 787% in the last two decades and ADHD medication has jumped by 800%.

      Neurodiversity in the Workplace Training

      There is a variety of training to improve your understanding of the various neurodiversity; the HSQE has an online training course on Autism awareness. Have 10 employees complete the course and it’s £100, £10 per employee, and a step closer to being a more inclusive workforce.

       Genius Within has CPD-accredited training courses for raising awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace. They are designed to be an introduction to neurodiversity and to recognise the different neurotypes. The training is carried out by professional workplace coaches and psychologists.

      Can I ask an employee if they are neurodivergent?

      Following the Equality Act 2010 in the UK, employers must be extremely cautious when asking employees questions about health and disabilities, including neurodiversity. If you are considering asking an employee directly if they are neurodivergent, this may be discriminatory and invasive.

      We would recommend not asking an employee outright if they are neurodiverse. There are other ways of trying to understand if an employee is neurodivergent. This includes creating an environment where the employee feels safe to disclose, they are neurodiverse voluntarily.

      Case Law
      AECOM v Mallon 2023

      Mr Mallon is dyspraxia, and when applying for a job role at AECOM struggled with the online application in particular with the personal profile registration requirements. This led to Mallon requesting a telephone application due to his dyspraxia, however, did not specify the specific part he was struggling to complete.

      AECOM did offer support, however not his requested telephone application. Mallon did not make any further communication with the company and his application was unsuccessful.

      Following his unsuccessful application, Mallon put forward a claim against AECOM stating they had failed to make reasonable adjustments when declining his telephone application request. It should be noted that Mallon had 3 other failed claims of disability discrimination.

      The claim went to the tribunal, where Mallon’s claim was upheld as AECOM’s decision to not take reasonable inquiries was discriminatory to Mallon and others with dyspraxia.  AECOM appealed this decision to the EAT.  

      EAT found that AECOM should have made reasonable inquiries into Mallon’s dyspraxia including allowing a telephone application; the lack of responsiveness seemed linked to Mallon’s difficulty with written communication. If AECOM had made reasonable inquiries, they would have been aware of the severity of Mallon’s dyspraxia however, they failed to phone him to make these inquiries.

      Rackham v Judicial Appointments Commission

      Jonathan Rackham, a candidate for the bench, lost an employment tribunal claim against the Judicial Appointments Commission (JAC) concerning reasonable adjustments due to his neurodiversity. Rackham was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder and Asperger’s syndrome.

      The JAC acknowledged that their online application forms and multiple-choice situational qualifying tests might disadvantage Rackham compared to non-disabled candidates. However, they argued that the measures taken were proportionate and aimed at a legitimate objective, which the tribunal agreed with.

      Rackham suggested adjustments including making the application form question more straightforward and simpler. Requesting setting up a mock scenario to assess his responses using qualifying test scenarios.

      The tribunal found these suggestions unrealistic and not reasonable, stating that the selection process’s purpose is to test candidates’ abilities and should not be adjusted to an extent that undermines the process itself. They felt it would have gave him an unfair advantage compared to other candidates.

      The JAC’s measures, even though they might put Rackham at a disadvantage, were deemed proportionate and aimed at a legitimate goal. The complexity of the questions on the application form was considered no more complex than the legal questions a tribunal would have to answer at a hearing. The tribunal found that reasonable adjustments were provided to Rackham, such as submitting the application form offline and receiving assistance to complete it. Some adjustments he requested were deemed “simply not realistic.” Furthermore, Rackham’s suggestion of setting up live mock scenarios was considered “far too onerous” on the commission and was not deemed reasonable or realistic.

      Key Takeaways


          • Develop a strong understanding of neurodiversity and the various types, helping to create a more inclusive working environment. Since 1990 research has brought further understanding of the diagnoses and how we can support them. Having a strong understanding leads to an inclusive and positive working environment.

          • Neurodiverse employees face many challenges including stigma, discrimination, and inadequate support within the workplace. This may have a negative impact on their career development and social interactions. Take steps to remove these barriers in your workplace.

          • 15-20% of the UK population are said to be neurodivergent making it more crucial for employers to have measures in place to support employees. Remember under the Equality Act 2010, employers can not outright ask employees about their health or disabilities.



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