Neurodiversity Celebration Week: how to support neurodiverse employees

By Domi Sinclair

This week (March 15th-21st 2021) is Neurodiversity Celebration Week. It is a time to celebrate all of the neurodiverse people in our lives, including our employees, and the strengths they have. It is also a time to consider what we are doing to best support the neurodiverse people we live and work with. 

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity describes learning differences such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, Tourette’s syndrome and dysgraphia. These may have otherwise been known as autism spectrum or "spectrum" disorders. 

In the UK it is estimated that 1 in 7 people are neurodivergent - that’s about 15% of the population. The numbers are similar elsewhere; for example it is estimated that 1 in 8 people in the US are neurodivergent. This means even if you don’t know it, there is a chance you already employ someone who is neurodivergent, although they may not even know it themselves. 

I write all of this as a neurodivergent person myself. I have dyspraxia, and through a lot of determination from my parents, I was lucky enough to have been diagnosed fairly young (in fact, as she was hearing the diagnosis my mother realized she was also dyspraxic despite never having been diagnosed herself.) As an adult now I have developed many of my own coping mechanisms, as will most of the neurodivergent people you work with. Nowadays many employers, especially in the technology sector, are noticing that there are benefits to hiring neurodivergent employees, who often bring a different range of talents and abilities. 

Being neurodivergent can affect people in different ways, depending on their condition, what strategies they’ve developed already and how the condition affects them - none of these conditions affect everyone in the same way. Personally I find that my dyspraxia affects my short-term memory and time management so I need to write a lot of notes and make sure I put things in my calendar.

Neurodiversity Celebration Week blog teaser

How can I help my neurodivergent employees?

When it comes to training your neurodivergent employees, you might find the reminders feature in Totara Learn helpful to assist with any time management issues. Employees with dyslexia might benefit from the inclusion of multimedia resources in Totara Learn courses, as the combination of instructions in both verbal and written formats can be helpful.

A unifying feature for many neurodivergent people is they can benefit from short and concise instructions for tasks, as well as clear structure. You may therefore find that using learning plans in Totara Learn helps them understand and focus on the training they are required to do. 

The British Dyslexia Association offers some great advice for presenting your online material clearly for employees with dyslexia. This includes opting for Sans Serif fonts (such as Open Sans, used by Totara), using bold font rather than italics or underlining and using larger line spacing.

The asynchronous nature of online learning might be beneficial to people with ADHD, as they will find it easier to concentrate at different parts of the day. The flexible approach to learning that can be offered by an LMS like Totara Learn allows them to engage in training when it best suits them. 

You might consider offering training to all employees about neurodiversity, so that everyone in your organization can learn how to best accommodate and understand their neurodiverse colleagues. This could be accompanied by a workspace on Totara Engage where people can discuss their experiences with various learning differences as well as sharing resources and playlists to help support each other. It will be up to you to decide if you want these to be public for everyone to learn or private for neurodivergent employees to support one another. 

Of course, as I mentioned earlier, every neurodivergent person is different and as a manager it is best to talk to each person individually. Having regular, short reviews can be really helpful in supporting neurodivergent employees. Using check-ins with Totara Perform will help you to easily schedule these. It will also allow you to record and store any responses for reference at a later date. It is a good idea to use these check-ins to see how your employee is managing with their condition, ensure they are clear on what they need to do and to ask if there is anything else you can do to support them. 

Useful resources

Below you will find a range of resources for more information about supporting employees with various types of neurodivergence. This list is not exhaustive, but is hopefully a starting point to allowing you to better understand and support your employees. 

Join the conversation

Share your advice for supporting your neurodiverse employees or ask for tips in Domi's thread in the Totara Community.