Embracing Neurodiversity: Catering to Varied Learning Needs

One size will rarely fit all when it comes to learning at work. Each employee will have their own abilities and preferences, and it’s crucial that the L&D team considers this. 

Why Does Understanding Neurodiversity Matter?

A lack of understanding has led to work learning being curated to fit the needs of some but not all. This means the offered learning often doesn't consider different learning needs. 

Organisations often promote EDI and recognise the link between a responsible and high-performing workplace. However, neurodivergence is frequently overlooked within this remit, which may stem from a lack of understanding. This means that many potential talent pool members could be overlooked, and they’re unable to be their most productive at work, negatively affecting employee well-being. 

A CIPD survey shows the disconnect between business goals and their commitments to creating a fair and diverse workforce but the reality for neurodiverse individuals within their teams. 

70% say EDI is a critical priority for their organisation, and 83% say employee wellbeing is. However, just 60% say that neuroinclusion is a focus for their organisation, and a low 33% say it’s in their EDI strategy or action plan.  

These results show that neuroinclusion isn’t necessarily a priority for these organisations, whether due to a lack of understanding or prioritisation. 

What Does a Neuroinclusive Organisation Look Like?

As the CIPD study shows, neuroinclusion needs to be improved in organisations, and this could be because people are unfamiliar with the concept. However, it can be tackled by starting slow and having a workshop session where neurodivergent individuals, if they’re comfortable, hold a session talking about what it’s like and how they like to work or learn. Information is critical to bringing this need to the forefront. 

Support individuals' needs, and it’s important that this is delivered in a way tailored to each individual. This will involve creating a culture where employees know they can ask for help or for what they need. It’s essential that their privacy is respected when this does happen. So, having a psychologically safe environment is key. 

On the note of culture, organisations should aim for one that is aware of neurodiversity in their teams, better informed of their experience and what barriers they may face, and willing to surface and explore preferences. This may mean organisations implement training so employees are comfortable talking about neurodiversity and establishing basic etiquette will help put people at ease. 

Roles That Help Contribute to Neuroinclusion 

Leaders are essential when it comes to advocating for neurodivergent workers. This is due to their influence on the organisation’s culture. A leader's actions and behaviour are often seen as the “done thing” within the team, so it’s critical that they contribute to a neuroinclusive environment. 

That being said, it is everyone’s responsibility to help create a neuroinclusive environment, and this can be done through:

  • Deeping their understanding of neurodiversity 
  • Being inclusive in projects and meetings and recognising that other perspectives are vital to thinking outside the box. 
  • Knowing how to respond if someone tells them they’re neurodivergent. 
  • Taking a neuroinclusive approach to hiring. 

Considerations for the Workplace

There are some environmental considerations for neurodivergence, as some can struggle with sensory overload, which may be triggered by environmental factors such as noise, temperature and lighting. 

  • Lighting—A bright environment can be overwhelming for some individuals, so considering dimmer lights and using natural lighting where possible can help with this. 
  • Noise levels - background noise can negatively impact productivity and the well-being of neurodiverse employees. Creating quiet areas for individuals to use if they wish, where noise is kept to a minimum, can reduce the impact on individuals. 
  • Temperature—The office temperature should be kept at a comfortable level for all employees. Too hot or too cold can negatively affect those with neurodivergence, making them uncomfortable and unable to focus on their work. 

Employers can do many things to help neurodivergent employees thrive in the workplace. The first is deepening their understanding of neurodivergence and knowing how certain things will affect their employees. Moreover, ensuring leaders support their employees helps encourage acceptance and accountability from others within the organisation.