10 workplace adjustments to support neurodiversity
It’s vital to think about the types of workplace adjustments that will support neurodiverse employees to help provide an inclusive culture and meet your legal duty to support neurodiversity.
An adaptive working environment needs to take an individualised approach that utilises employees’ individual strengths and acknowledges areas of development. This approach also helps normalise our differences and create compassion for neurodiverse employees who may have more specific support needs.
Getting to know your team and creating an environment where each person can thrive will help your team to remain resilient in the face of challenges and support each other’s personal growth.
So here are some practical ways to help you support neurodiversity and empower every diverse mind…
Verbal and communication workplace adjustments
We all communicate and express our ideas in different ways.
Some of us might be excellent verbal communicators, or we might take a more visual approach when setting our ideas down and working with our colleagues.
If we struggle to communicate our ideas, it does not reduce the value of the ideas themselves. We must find ways to enable effective communication as individuals and take a collaborative approach with colleagues to empower team performance.
#1 Break down tasks and present information in small chunks
When our ability to store information in our memory is likely to differ depending on the individual, it can help us to be aware of how we present information to our colleagues.
Are we speaking too fast? Do we pause before changing the topic? Are we using a lot of text in our presentations or reports?
Breaking down the information we give to our colleagues and putting larger tasks or topics into smaller chunks helps us to process information more easily – this is especially important for employees who experience difficulties processing verbal information.
#2 Repeat information but rephrase it slightly differently each time
Even just one word can change how people interpret what we say – this is just a fact of human interaction.
Learning information is always a process. Very few of us will understand something the first time around, and often explaining it differently is what finally makes it all click into place and the problem becomes clear.
Approaching a problem from different perspectives is also likely to bring the most creative and innovative solutions.
#3 Avoid presenting too much visual information
Nobody likes having huge amounts of information thrown their way. Often, we feel like we need to memorise it all at once. For some of us, it may be more difficult to visually absorb lots of information in one go.
It might make presentations, training or meetings quite overwhelming, which can make these situations feel demoralising or unpleasant.
Keeping visual information paired back to the essentials, in everything from planning documents to final presentations, provides less visual strain for employees who may experience differences in visual processing.
#4 Keep internal communications short and to the point
It can be easy to send emails to colleagues that unintentionally bombard them with written information.
Onboarding information or new company policy can be notoriously dense documents.
Giving individuals who may struggle with their literacy and reading more support and time to respond to such information is important, but it also helps to keep the information as concise and accessible as possible in the first place.
#5 Support employees in their writing tasks
This can mean setting out clear aims for each task, discussing the aims, writing a formal brief and listening to the employee’s ideas to encourage their work in the right direction.
Individuals who struggle with literacy can get lost when they’re writing, so having these clear aims can help them to have a coherent plan for their writing.
It’s also possible to encourage this with tools like mind mapping software or double-spaced word documents.
This writing could be reports, marketing pieces, emails, business cases, filling out forms, customer communications or newsletters – it doesn’t just apply to office-based jobs.
If you know of any employees with strengths in literacy and writing, they can help to review work and provide feedback.
Environmental workplace adjustments
Alongside supporting effective communication in the workplace, we can look at other ways to help people navigate a work environment.
Your organisation is an ecosystem that can either foster diversity or destroy it.
The key here is ensuring a flexible working environment and easily accessible support pathways.
#6 Create workplace mentors
Establishing partnerships between employees is great for learning and growth, but it also offers opportunities for employees to ask more abstract questions about their organisation to each other.
It’s important to build rapport within organisations outside of only a manager, especially in online working environments where it can be harder to feel connected.
Mentoring can help us to build resilience and a shared understanding of some of the skills and knowledge expected in your workplace. It also offers opportunities for more creative solutions and supports people to navigate workplace interactions.
#7 Provide assistive technology
As an example, text-to-speech or speech-to-text software are practical tools for supporting reading and writing and independent working.
Individuals might find that one tool, or both, offer a different approach that reduces stress and the time it takes to work on certain tasks.
For example, speech-to-text software is useful for quick transcription and text-to-speech software can reduce screen time and enable us to learn while doing other things. It can also enhance our literacy and reading skills over time.
If an employee has a physical or mental health condition or learning difficulty and needs communication support, Access to Work grants are available and can “help pay for practical support with your work.”
Personal development workplace adjustments
Some aspects of workplace support will be more valuable in a one to one setting.
Direct managers are best placed to ensure workplace adjustments are having a positive impact on an employee’s wellbeing and workload.
It is, therefore, vital that managers have access to training and resources to support neurodiversity.
The input of leaders has a huge impact on the effectiveness of your organisation’s neuro-inclusion strategy.
#8 Spend more time on planning
Whether you use a checklist of tasks, visualise the process from start to finish or create a change management plan, spending extra time in planning stages can prevent unwanted and avoidable stress further down the line.
It can help staff to visualise what’s going to happen and know what they have to do, which helps them to maintain their attention on a project and see it through until the end.
It also breaks it down and helps people to analyse performance and potentially see where they may have missed a step.
#9 Provide support for numerical-based tasks
Some workplace tasks, like budgeting, invoices, expenses, risk management and even business decisions require mathematical thinking and planning.
Providing training or mentoring around these activities can help employees to understand and complete these tasks with less stress.
When dealing with broader strategic decisions or metric and target-led tasks, there needs to be a collective responsibility for these decisions and opportunities for staff to learn about these processes as part of their progression plans.
#10 Set realistic goals
The key to setting powerful goals is to try to be realistic and clear. Goals are there to inspire staff, but we can find ways to make them more achievable.
If someone can’t see how they’re going to achieve a goal, they run the risk of being unable to complete it, which defeats the purpose of setting goals in the first place.
It can help to make sub-goals, which create more manageable steps and improves our ability to visualise how we will achieve longer-term goals and projects. Business targets will need to be balanced with individual targets to create realistic expectations.
At Cognassist, we believe in a culture of inclusion, embracing different perspectives and empowering people with the knowledge of how they think and learn. We have even more workplace adjustments to help you take a collaborative approach to neurodiversity to our handy resource below:
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Discover more workplace adjustments to support you and your colleagues in our free handbook, 27 workplace adjustments to support neurodiversity.
Science Communications Manager