We often see and hear the word ‘diversity’ used by organisations. If you google the word ‘diversity’, Google advises ‘equality and inclusion’ may also be of interest as a relevant search.
ACAS’ website states diversity is ‘the range of people in your workforce with different ages, religions, ethnicities, people with disabilities, and both men and women. It also means valuing those differences’
I think it should also include ‘different ways of and abilities in thinking’.
With Global Diversity Awareness month approaching, my team explored a variety of content for our organisation to engage in throughout October. Amongst many things, a blog on neurodiversity in the workplace was one of the ideas we agreed on – a very relevant and current topic for our organisation and the nation.
Many of us have heard of the more well-known neurodivergent individuals around the world who have innovated, challenged the status quo and who are recognised as leaders in their field. Billie Eilish, Richard Branson, Cher, Bill Gates, Simone Biles, Steve Jobs, Greta Thurnberg, Anthony Hopkins, Jennifer Anniston, Elon Musk, Emma Watson and Albert Einstein to name but a few.
Pictured: Billie Eilish
When considering the key ingredients to success in unleashing the full potential of neurodiverse individuals, I continually find myself reflecting on the experiences and environment communities and societies create and provide. It’s encouraging and inspiring to some extent to hear of Jennifer Anniston, Billie Eilish, Steve Jobs and Richard Branson. However, what was it that enabled and supported them to realise their potential, for others to see their potential and talents, and are they the norm or the exception? Is every individual afforded the same opportunity, support, and environment? Sadly, I think they are exceptions.
It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people (15% of the UK’s population) are neurodiverse. The Office for National Statistics published data in February 2021 showing that only 22% of autistic adults are in any kind of employment, and that number reduces further when looking at paid, full-time, permanent employment.
At Grampian Autistic Society, we hear daily of individuals, parents, carers and families struggling because they are judged and continually having to fight for support, children excluded from school or on ‘’part-time timetables’, adults ‘performance managed’ or disciplined by their employer because they were perceived as rude in a meeting or not producing quality written reports, yet high performing in every other way. The list goes on. Not so encouraging or inspiring. But there is hope and I do believe change is coming.
Anyone who knows me will tell you a large part of my motivation to strive for the absolute best for the autistic and neurodiverse community is my nephew, Josh. At the age of 8, Josh was diagnosed as Autistic, as well as given a diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder (ADHD). Josh is now 17 years old and an amazing young man. From birth, his mum was continuously advised by health, social care, and education professionals that the difficulties experienced while Josh was growing up and developing were due to her parenting. At one point, she started to believe the professionals, doubting her own instinct. Thankfully, she persevered, dug in deep and worked hard to ensure regardless of the views or opinions of others, Josh was provided what was right for him as an individual – she created or ensured the conditions and environment Josh required were provided to unleash his full potential.
Pictured: Billy with his nephew Josh
Fast forward to today, Josh turned 17 in September 2021, and has not only remained in, but succeeded in mainstream education, has National 4 and 5 qualifications, is a successful rugby player in a local team and now undertaking Highers and looking to start university in the next couple of years. Josh is not Billie Eilish or Richard Branson, well not yet, but he is my hero!
My sister fought hard to ensure Josh had a ‘safe space’ when he experienced sensory overload at primary school. She worked hard to educate and inform teachers to understand and see Josh as an individual and respond to him as such, not as a theory or textbook. She fought hard to ensure Josh had a ‘reader and scribe’ within class to ensure he could engage and contribute as equally as his neurotypical peers. These were some the key ingredients to success, together with a huge amount of love.
If provided with the right environment and nutrients, we all can succeed. Already my sister is having to fight hard to ensure the same support remains for Josh in his final year in secondary school as ‘he’s managing well, so no longer requires the same level of support’.
If Josh was to join your organisation today, while very able given the right support as proven, would you be able to support his neurodiversity and unleash his superpowers? His brain is physiologically different to that of a neurotypical brain, so therefore he can see problems differently and think differently, producing different ideas and solutions to the many problems our organisations and society face. I am not confident many organisations could. Yet.
Encouragingly, organisations like Global E&C are actively engaging and working closely with organisations like ours to challenge the way they think, learn and adapt their approach, and how they recruit and work with the neurodiverse community to unleash their superpowers and create supportive and nourishing environments for all their people to thrive and succeed. This is what gives me hope. #WeChallenge
Pictured: Billy presenting at Global E&C
Call to Action –
We are currently engaging with several neurodiverse individuals who are currently in employment to help shape our work with employers. If you identify as neurodiverse and would like to contribute, please contact our Engagement Officer via email at email@example.com or call our head office on 01224 277900.
If you are an employer and would like to either inform our work with employers or are interested in training, guidance or advice, please contact our Business Development Manager Lisa.firstname.lastname@example.org or call 01224 277900 / 07542 024988.
Alternatively, if you would like to volunteer for our organisation, please contact our EEVO on email@example.com or call our head office on 01224 277900.