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My employee has disclosed their neurodivergence…what do I do?!

If you are a leader with little or no experience of neurodiversity, it can be a bit daunting when one of your employees discloses their diagnosis. The first thing that I would like to say to you (as a leader and a person with a neurodivergent diagnosis myself) is “well done”. It is a big deal to disclose your diagnosis to someone, especially at work, and as many and two thirds of ND people choose not to disclose. So, the fact that you’ve been confided in, probably means that you’ve created a culture where the employee feels safe enough to do so. This isn’t universal and is definitely worthy of some celebration! 

 

But what next…? If we’re going to get technical about this for a minute, a diagnosis of a neurodivergent condition is likely to be classed as a disability for legal purposes (although the ND person may or may not choose to identify with that label). This means that under the Equality Act 2010, you have a duty to make reasonable adjustments for that person, where their disability puts them at a substantial disadvantage. If this sounds confusing and daunting to you, you’re not alone! Read on and we will help clarify things.

 

First up we should probably define what we mean by neurodivergence. The world neurodiverSITY was coined by Judy Singer, as recently as 1997. Because it’s such a new concept, relatively few people are able to define it! But here’s my favourite definition: “Neurodiversity is a term that reflects our whole species, just as biodiversity reflects the planet.” (Doyle and McDowall, 2023) So neurodiversity is about how all our brains work differently, it encompasses everyone!

 

There are some of us that would classify ourselves as neurodiverGENT. These are people that have a neurodivergent condition such as autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, OCD or Tourette’s Syndrome (there are others too). These are classified as disabilities and need accommodating as such.

 

So, now you know about your legal obligations and have some definitions under your belt. The next thing that you should know is that your neurodivergent employees are incredibly valuable to you and your business. If you can adjust your workplace to get the best out of them, you are likely to reap the benefits again and again. Since we’re on the subject, if you adjust your workplace in a thoughtful way for your ND employees, you are likely to improve it for everyone. Embracing neurodiversity as a whole, to encompass neurodivergent and neurotypical people means that everyone can play to their strengths and your productivity will increase as a result (just in case you were wondering whether it’s worth the effort)!

 

And the way to do it is (drumroll please….) talk to them and really listen! Make sure you engage your active listening skills, employ your coaching mindset and have a chat. There are definitely great ways to set this meeting up and less great ways. For example, a lot of autistic people struggle with change, especially at the last minute. So a last minute reschedule of a meeting is likely to be an issue. Sometimes this is unavoidable, but it’s definitely something to keep in mind. Your meeting place should really be private, and with minimal distractions and interruptions. Or if your employee likes an active meeting, walking or meeting outside would be a good thing to consider too. 

 

It might be that your employee doesn’t know what reasonable adjustments they need. They may have had a late diagnosis and are just getting to know themselves with this new information. If that is the case then some coaching can really help them to get to the core of what they need at work and at home. For me, as an adult with a late diagnosis of ADHD, it was coaching that was the key to me finding out how I work best. Now I have that knowledge and know what to ask for, everything is just better! But that process did take some time and effort. Having been through that process and having experience of reasonable adjustments from both an employee and a leadership perspective, it has become very clear that we all need different things from this, and working out what they are, rather than having a set of neurodivergent specific reasonable adjustments, is an absolutely essential step.

 

And these reasonable adjustments might be really basic. The change of a lightbulb for a person who is light sensitive can be the difference between having an effective working day or trying to work through a migraine. It really can be that simple and that easy. Making it so that a person can listen to music through headphones while doing an admin task that they might find uninteresting (but might also be essential) can be the difference between the task getting done or repeatedly put off. Some flexibility around uniform policy, start time, break times, desk location, computer screen…all these things can make a world of difference to a neurodivergent person and can mean that a struggling employee can overcome some barriers and unleash their creativity or productivity, or whatever it is that they do best.

 

So here you are, my top tips:


  1. Create a psychologically safe space where you can meet with your employee and really listen.

  2. Let them have time to think about what they need.

  3. Get them some coaching. I’m sorry, I know I’m a coach and it sounds ridiculously self serving but it works, you should do it.

  4. Get some neurodiversity awareness training for your team. They will understand your ND team member much better if they know a bit about what’s going on for them. Understanding can breed compassion and kindness, and we all know about the ripple effect of kindness, don’t we? Your whole team will benefit.

  5. Implement the changes that you have agreed and keep them in review. Have regular check-ins to assess how they are doing. Have their needs changed? Are the adjustments working for them or do they need something different?


And that’s it really, it’s more simple than you thought, isn’t it? If you have ND employees we would highly recommend you join us on our new Neurodiversity for Veterinary Leaders CPD. You can book it now on our website here www.thevetproject.co.uk/ndleadershiptraining


If you need any more help with this stuff, or more examples, or more specific advice, we are very happy to chat about all things ND. Drop us a line on info@thevetproject.co.uk and we can talk. We also offer one to one coaching for leaders, and neurodivergent staff, and have expertise in coaching leaders towards successful conversations in this area.




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