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  • Writer's pictureHelen Allwood

How to Make Your Veterinary Workplace Neurodiversity Friendly

Updated: Apr 4

Neurodiversity is a big buzz word at the moment. Maybe that’s why you’re reading this? Whatever brought you here, it’s lovely to have you. It’s also really important that you’re here, because behind the buzz words there are a heck of a lot of people working in environments that aren’t suited to their neurotype and are genuinely suffering as a result. And this applies to ALL of our working environments. It’s estimated that 20% of us are neurodivergent, so it’s extremely likely that you’re working with at least one ND person, depending on the size of your team. Even if, by some fluke, nobody in your team is neurodivergent, making your workplace neurodiversity friendly will benefit the whole team. Hopefully you’ll see why as you read on.


First up, let’s properly define what we’re talking about here. The term neurodiversity applies to everyone, it’s sometimes compared to biodiversity, it describes all of our different brains and how they are all wonderfully unique. If we are neurodivergent, that means we have one (or more) neurodivergent conditions like ADHD, autism, Tourette’s, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and many more. What we are trying to do is change the narrative from thinking about these conditions as deficits and disorders to thinking about them as differences. Sometimes these differences can be really beneficial and can confer advantages. Unfortunately the fact that ADHD has both deficit and disorder in the name can make this a bit difficult, but that’s the name we’re stuck with for now. Suffice to say, your neurodivergent colleagues are worth thinking about because if you can get the environment right for us, we can shine and your practice will benefit hugely.


So, here’s what you need to do:


  1. The first thing is to educate. Educate yourself and your team. It’s very simple, but realistically you will need to put some time and money into it. Education breeds understanding and compassion and I’m sure you can see why this is essential. Luckily for you, at The Vet Project we are very passionate about this and have a whole range of training packages available. Drop us an email and we can chat.

  2. Next, you need to listen. Make sure your line managers are practising active listening. When it comes to managing neurodivergent team members, the main thing to realise is that the ND person is the expert on themselves. I’m going to say that again, because it’s really important! The ND person is the expert on themselves. Every ND person is different, and to optimise your practice for your team you must listen to their individual needs. (This is also the case for neurotypical people by the way, everyone is different and everyone is the expert on themselves, which goes back to my point about this stuff being beneficial for everyone.) Adopting a coaching mindset is really useful here. The Vet Project has neurodiversity training for line managers too, email us for more info.

  3. Do what you say you’re going to do! Once you’ve educated your team and line managers around neurodiversity and effective conversations, and made time and space for these conversations with your team, the outcome should be that you have a nice big list of things that you need to action in order to improve the practice for your staff. If that’s not the case then you need to go back to the start and try again. It might be that your team members haven’t yet figured out how they work best (this is really common, we often just try to fit in rather than change our environment to suit us) and if that’s the case then some neurodiversity coaching would be helpful for them. But when you do get your list of things that you’ve agreed, you need to make sure that you actually do it. This is easier said than done in a busy practice, when you’re trying to juggle clinical and management responsibilities but if you do it will build trust, and if you don’t it will erode it.


I’ll give you an example to illustrate all of this. I have ADHD and I’m very light sensitive. For me this means that if it’s a sunny day and I don’t have my sunglasses, I get a crippling headache really quickly and often it goes on for several days. I’m also really sensitive to some electric lights and a whole day in a room with only electric light will also give me a terrible head. I’ve figured out that the best place for me to work is a room with an outside window because the combination of electric and natural light seems to balance nicely. So, that’s good, I’ve figured out what I need to function effectively (it did take a long while to realise this). Now I can ask my line manager for it. They need to listen and follow through with my request and my colleagues need education around neurodiversity to understand why my request is so important to my wellbeing and they realise I’m not just being a diva! And just like that I don’t go home with a thumping head and I can work MUCH more effectively.


I’m sure that you can also see that listening fully to your team when they talk about their needs and strengths, and then actioning what you have agreed on will be beneficial to everyone, not just your ND colleagues. Game changing even. Imagine if all of your team are playing to their strengths. How fulfilled will they be? How strong will the team feel? How much more likely are you to retain them in the team and be able to recruit effectively? I would suggest that a diverse team who feel empowered to fully utilise their strengths in practice would be almost unstoppable. Let’s make it happen, together.


Of course, there are lots of other things that you can do in practice to recruit and retain neurodivergent talent, this is just the start, and we would love to chat about how we can help your practice team. Email us on info@thevetproject.co.uk



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