Taking a person centred approach in your workplace and using technology in ways that support neurodivergent staff.
This article offers an approach to finding out what technology supports each person to do their work.
You’ll find that making your organisation a better place to work for neurodivergent people makes it better for everyone.
Neurodiversity was coined in 1997 by Judy Singer. She created it to describe the natural difference in how people’s brains work.
- Gives us a different way to appreciate diversity in how people think and experience life
- Makes it easier to talk about differences in mental functioning
- Works within the social model of disability
- Makes it easier to talk about what people are good at, not only what they aren’t good at
- Moves away from stigmatising disability
- Is more inclusive than the medical model
- Sometimes people think neurodiversity refers only to autism and dyslexia. But it also includes people with Tourette’s, ADHD and ADD, Dyscalculia and OCD. Most people identify as having more than one condition.
Diagnosis is not necessary
You can identify as neurodivergent without having a diagnosis. Online questionnaire tools can measure where you sit on a spectrum of difference. If you score high enough these tools usually suggest you seek a clinical assessment. But not everyone wants an assessment or a clinical diagnosis.
Being neurodivergent is not a gift or superpower
Being neurodivergent can be misconceived as meaning you have a superpower. Media stories about increasing business productivity by employing neurodivergent people influence this idea.
But being neurodivergent is not a gift nor a superpower. Nor is it a talent or an ambition.
Most neurodivergent people will say their superpower is just getting through the day. Like everyone they want to be employed because they are the right person for the job. They don’t want to be employed just because they are neurodivergent.
How do neurodiverse people experience technology?
Technology can remove barriers to work for neurodivergent people by:
- Increasing the accessibility of their working environment and its tools
- Helping them to moderate the pace and structure of activities.
Here’s 2 examples:
Assistive software helps people with dyslexia and dyscalculia to engage with words and numbers.
Online lessons lead to increased engagement from neurodivergent pupils.
How to take a person-centred approach to neurodiversity
A person-centred approach includes:
- creating a safe environment
- operating from a human rights base
- offering choice and control.
It’s important because technology in the workplace can both support and exclude neurodivergent people.
You might not get your approach right the first time but it will be better than what you started with.
Making a safe environment
People need to feel safe to talk about their differences. This is as important with neurodiversity as any other personal characteristic. Make it safer by including neurodiversity within your EDI programmes. Do the extra work to make your culture one of openness and shared values.
How to implement a person-centred approach with someone who identifies as neurodivergent
Person-centred is always a good approach to staff development.
1. Understand their experience
Start by listening to your neurodivergent employee’s journey. Try to understand what they have been through to get to where they are. Ask about the bumps in the road and what support they have in place in their life. Ask what assistive technology they already use.
2. Understand their goals and dreams
Find out what they are trying to achieve personally and professionally. What are their dreams? How might this person and their goals and dreams align with your organisation’s goals?
3. Identify fears
A person-centred approach explores fears and understands what people are trying to avoid. Doing this helps you identify reasonable adjustments for making your workplace inclusive.
4. Identify talents
Your approach needs to also identify skills and talents. Depending on where a person is at these may need time and support to surface. Good facilitation by a manager, mentor or co-worker support helps. You don’t need external expertise to do this. There are training courses that teach leaders and co-workers facilitation and inclusion skills.
5. Always plan together
Work with people to agree goals that help them reach their objectives and yours. Plan the support they’ll need. This may take regular conversations along their employment journey.
9 ways you can use technology to make your workplace more inclusive
How might you use technology within a person-centred approach?
1. Key principle: give control
Everyone has a need for control in their workplace. Neurodivergent people may get that need met in different ways. You can support everyone by:
- Giving people more control over their time. Allow them to identify when they work best in the day.
- Supporting people to track their progress and try different assistive technologies.
- Giving them more control over how and when they interact with others. This helps people manage sensory input.
2. Use technology to support inclusive recruitment
Imagine you’re someone self-diagnosed with Tourette’s, who experiences vocal tics. You have seen a job opportunity that makes better use of your skills. But you feel anxious about how you will be perceived during the recruitment process. Especially if invited to an interview.
Technology can support neurodiversity before someone has even joined your workforce. Use your website and other channels to show how you are an inclusive employer. This makes it more likely you’ll attract candidates with a diverse range of backgrounds. Make your inclusion policies public. Explain openly how you communicate with people. That way everyone can understand you before applying for a job.
3. Use digital technology to support training
Imagine you have ADD. You’re expected to complete a new training course at work. You feel worried because you find it difficult to concentrate for long periods of time.
Digital training offers flexibility to suit individual needs, especially if it is self-serve. Some neurodivergent people will prefer to complete the training in one day. Others will engage better if they can break it up over several days.
Good training software enables people to:
- See their progress
- Understand what they are learning
- Go back and review what they have learnt
- See their achievements, for example by showing accreditations achieved
4. Track people’s development
Imagine you have dyscalculia. It’s important that you feel valued by your organisation and can see your progress with them. That progress needs to be accessible to you. Your manager needs to see it too so they can support your accessibility needs.
Use software to track employee development. Some training platforms enable you to see everyone’s progress. This helps you notice where they might need support.
5. Use better digital communication tools
Imagine you are autistic. Working remotely makes work easier for you. But you struggle to connection with other team members.
Neurodivergent people may prefer to work remotely. But this can also be isolating. Communication tools like Slack, Zoom and Teams connect people more than email. Use them to create community while allowing people control over interactions. Run morning check-ins to help people come together. Create private channels so people can have 1-1 conversations.
6. Adjust communication techniques
Imagine you are dyslexic and experience some ADD symptoms. You need communication to be clear and easy to read, or available in other formats.
Use a person-centred approach to understand people’s preferred communication methods. Expect that these will vary for different situations. For example, some may prefer audio rather than written guidance, or vice-versa. Everyone finds wordy communication difficult to understand. Try to remove idioms and abbreviations. Tips:
Beware of internal jargon
Learn how to be consistent in your use of language. Use the same terms for important things across all platforms and situations
Seek feedback on your communication. Ask neurodivergent staff to proofread things they are expected to read.
Dictation technology can help people with dyslexia communicate with others too.
7. Support turning camera-off on video calls
Imagine that some days you struggle to manage your symptoms. These days are hard. Choice and control are even more important then.
Implement a no-questions-asked policy about turning your camera off in virtual meetings. That way you support staff when they feel anxious or experience sensory overload.
This reduces worry about non-verbal communication. Worries can happen for anyone who struggles to read others’ facial expressions.
8. Support wellbeing
Imagine you have a mix of autistic and ADHD traits. You become very focused on your work and regularly forget to eat lunch. You need support to care for yourself.
Technology can support wellbeing as well as challenging it.
Consider offering your staff access to:
- Digital wellbeing tools like meditation and breathing apps
- Virtual fitness classes
- Online therapy services
- Wearable tech that prompts users to move about when sat for too long
- Virtual prayer facilities.
9. Support wellbeing in the office
Imagine you have OCD and work in an open plan office where hot desking is the norm. To work well you need to feel in control of your environment.
Make reasonable adjustments to how technology is used in your office. This is important for open plan offices as they tend to be noisier and less structured. You can:
- Offer noise cancelling headphones. They help people focus on their work.
- Consider offering people their own desk. This gives control and safety in a space.
- Reduce fluorescent lighting, especially those that flicker. Offer desk lamps for control instead.
Most of your workforce will benefit from these changes.
3 steps to making your organisation more inclusive for neurodivergent people
You can start improving your organisation’s approach right now. Here’s how.
1. Review your workforce culture
You want neurodivergent people to feel good about working for your organisation. But your organisation might not be ready to offer somewhere good to work. This can isolate neurodivergent people rather than including them.
Is your organisation ready to offer neurodivergent people employment? Try answering these questions:
- How culturally open is your organisation?
- How diverse is its workforce in other ways?
- How much appetite has it got for becoming more inclusive for neurodivergent people?
- What do you need to do to welcome people and help them feel safer?
2. Learn about assistive technology
There are hundreds of assistive technologies. Ask people what they use already and what they need to feel safe and comfortable at work. Sometimes solutions can be as simple as a desk lamp and headphones. Sometimes specialist software or devices are needed.
Notice what other staff are already using. Some assistive technologies are useful to everyone.
3. Support routine and structure
Routine and structure are important. Remote working supports some needs but it can also leave boundaries undefined. To avoid this help people understand:
- Your organisation’s expectations of all employees
- How work gets done within teams, offices and workflows
- How people are expected to stay up to date with what they are meant to be doing.
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