If you are neurodivergent, it means that your brain is wired to think, learn, solve problems, and interact with others in a way that is different from neurotypical people. New Zealand employers who embrace neurodiversity value and leverage unique skills and perspectives neurodivergent kaimahi (employees) bring to the table.
What Exactly is Neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a concept that offers an inclusive perspective on neurological differences among individuals, seeing these as natural variations in the brain rather than deficits.
What’s more, the neurodiversity concept suggests that these differences in the way our brains work are not just something to acknowledge but to celebrate, as people who are neurodivergent have valuable strengths to offer to their community, organisations, and society.
The Most Common Types of Neurodiversity
There are many types of neurodiversity, and often, neurodiverse people are more than one type. Neurodiversity is not something that you “get” or treat to make it go away, rather it is how some of us are wired. Here are the most common types:
- Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): People who are ADHD often experience challenges with attention, impulsivity, hyperactivity, distractibility, and organisation. A person who is ADHD may make careless mistakes, struggle to concentrate or meet deadlines, but often thrive under pressure such as being able to make brave decisions quickly, produce a lot of work, and be passionate and motivating to others.
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Autism is sometimes referred to as Asperger’s for those on the milder end of the Autism spectrum. People who are Autistic have differences in social interaction, communication, and social behaviour. They can have trouble reading social cues and may have a strong need for routine and predictability or have particularly keen interests. They often know a huge amount about topics of interest and can pay excellent attention to detail.
- Dyslexia: This is a learning challenge, sometimes referred to as a learning disability, that predominantly impacts a person’s capacity to read and understand the meaning of letters and words. A person who is dyslexic is often a “top-down” thinker and may think in pictures rather than words, an advantage for strategic and creative mahi (work).
- Dyscalculia: This is a learning challenge similar to Dyslexia that primarily involves difficulty understanding numbers and math concepts.
- Dyspraxia: This involves difficulties processing sensory information and is most commonly associated with difficulties with movement and coordination, affecting the person’s fine and gross motor abilities.
While it’s good to be aware of the above, these are generalisations and neurodiverse people’s experiences vary widely. Don’t make assumptions and instead try to appreciate an individual’s unique challenges and strengths.
How Common Are Neurodivergent Conditions?
It is estimated that 15-20 per cent of the global population are neurodiverse.[i] According to the New Zealand Centre for Gifted Education, about 20 per cent of New Zealand’s youth are neurodivergent in some way.[ii]
Where to Get Assessed or Get Support
If you think you or someone you know (a family member, friend, or employee) may be neurodivergent, here’s where you can seek assessment and support:
- General Practitioners (GPs): Consider visiting your GP. After an initial assessment, they can refer you to specialists experienced in diagnosing neurodivergent conditions. GPs can also support with coexisting challenges, such as mental health difficulties.
- Specialistic services: MindMatters Clinic offers specialist services nationwide. There are also local specialised clinics and practitioners. For example, ADHD New Zealand offers resources and a directory of specialist providers. People typically find wait times for specialist assessments are between 1 and 6 months and unfortunately adult assessments are not usually publicly funded.
- Education and child services: Schools and tertiary education providers have resources and services to assist neurodivergent people and their whānau (families). Accommodations and supports, such as reader/writers can be provided for learning and free counselling support is often available.
- Support Groups and Organisations: Consider getting in touch with organisations and support groups. There are many, such as Autism New Zealand, Altogether Autism, and the Dyslexia Foundation New Zealand.
- Government Programmes: In Aotearoa New Zealand, there are programmes and services for neurodivergent people, including for work placements. If you’re a business owner, you may be able to hire a neurodivergent employee under a funded programme!
The Importance of Embracing Neurodiversity in the Workplace: What Employers Need to Know
Understanding neurodiversity is essential if you are a business owner or manager. It helps ensure employees are treated more fairly. It can also lead to improved productivity, as diverse ways of thinking contributes to innovative solutions, boosting team creativity and effectiveness.
Using Neurodiversity’s Strengths
A 2022 report by Deloitte highlighted that the inclusion of neurodivergent professionals in some roles can increase a team’s productivity by 30% and boost morale. Embracing neurodiversity in business also helps recruit a wider pool of talent and improves your company’s reputation as an inclusive working environment.
Many neurodivergent people, such as people who are ADHD, are fast learners, curious, spontaneous, and creative and can quickly come up with multiple ideas. Their creativity and ability to link unrelated concepts can result in innovations and new solutions. Strengths vary but many neurodivergent people can also be amazing at getting a massive amount of work done quickly if it’s something they are passionate about when other employees might have given up or lost interest.
Best Practices for Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace
1. Promote an Inclusive Work Culture
People are more open to including others when they understand and feel confident about a subject. So, giving kaimahi (employees) access to resources and information about neurodiversity is a great way to make the workplace more inclusive. Even better, encourage all employees to get neurodiversity training and offer learning opportunities. For example, you may organise an expert from MindMatters Clinic to run a webinar or workshop.
Be mindful that many neurodivergent people have experienced discrimination and bullying, leading them to be sensitive to signs of rejection, have low self-esteem, and hold back at work. An inclusive and encouraging environment can help to unlock their potential.
Another great way to promote neurodiversity is to organise events that celebrate neurodiversity. These can include anything from organising informal events like neurodiversity awareness week or networking events to encouraging management and employees to use terminology that respects and acknowledges neurodiversity.
2. Make Workplace Accommodations
As for accommodations at work, make sure to provide flexible working arrangements within the boundaries of what your specific workplace can provide. Collaborate with kaimahi (workers) to determine what accommodations you can offer to help them deliver their best mahi (work). Examples could include allowing employees to set their hours, providing notes in advance before meetings, having time bands rather than fixed start and end times (e.g., arrive between 8 am and 9 am), paying contractors by the task rather than the time that the work takes, working from home, job sharing or part-time work, or taking breaks and time off for therapy or appointments. It can also be good to provide noise-canceling headphones and quiet areas and ensure lighting doesn’t cause sensory overload.
Various tools, such as assistive technology, can also be helpful. For example, provide digital organisers or calendars for people who are ADHD to help them manage time and stay on top of deadlines. Another great tool is speech-to-text software for dyslexic employees. They can use this software that transcribes whatever a person says into written texts to lower stress and increase productivity, making it easier to complete writing tasks and send emails.
Finally, ensure these digital tools are accessible and allow neurodivergent employees time to learn how to use these tools properly.
3. Be Thoughtful when Recruiting and Hiring
Create inclusive job descriptions that welcome a wide range of applicants with different abilities and experiences. It also means using language that does not unintentionally discourage those with neurodiversity from applying. This helps people who are neurodivergent feel welcome and confident that their unique skills can contribute to the organization.
Also, you may want to focus on essential skills and remove unnecessary requirements. For instance, if you’re searching for an entry-level graphic designer, you can consider dropping the degree requirement because a candidate may be talented and self-taught while lacking traditional training.
Likewise, to promote flexibility during the interview and selection process, consider allowing the candidates to choose between in-person and online interviews or giving interview questions ahead of time.
In essence, neurodivergent people can think, learn, and behave differently due to the unique wiring of their brains. As kaimahi (employees) their unique views and abilities can greatly benefit business, providing an inclusive and supportive work environment. Striving to understand, accommodate, and support neurodiverse people and to acknowledge and embrace neurodiversity in the workplace is more than the right thing to do. It’s also a wise business move that promotes a more creative, inclusive, and productive workplace.
NZ’s leading clinical experts in workplace mental health and wellbeing, contact us today to be connected to the best psychologist to meet your specific needs. MindMatters Clinic provide individual executive coaching and psychological support to businesses, as well as working with organisations to manage mental health and psychosocial risks. We also do speaking events.
Visit MindMatters online: https://www.mindmatters.clinic/