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Neurodiversity what is it & are we Missing a Trick?

Saturday, 2nd April 2019 was World Autism Awareness Day. This year’s theme was Inclusion and Neurodiversity. 13th – 17th May 2019 is Neurodiversity Celebration Week.

What is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is the concept that humans don’t just come in a one-size-fits-all neurologically “normal” package i.e. referred to as ‘neurotypicals’. Instead, it recognises that all variations of human neurological function need to be respected.

Neurological differences, ‘neurodivergences’, like: Autism, Asperger’s, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Tourette’s and ADHD are often the result of normal / natural variations in the human genetic form.

In simple terms:

” ‘neurodivergent’ an individual’s brain and/or senses are wired up slightly differently to ‘neurotypicals’. “

This means that they experience the world and handle stimuli somewhat differently. Hence their behaviours may not be in the so-called “normal” range. It is easy to focus on their perceived “weaknesses” but in doing so we may totally miss their amazing strengths – which are also well out of the “normal” range!

Here I will argue that we, and many organisations, are possibly missing a trick not being ‘neurodivergent friendly’– and it is to our own loss – as well as theirs. I will also outline small easy changes with the potential to make the recruitment processes more inclusive.

Neurodiversity brings unique and valuable strengths to the workforce

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) traits often include energy, tenaciousness, resilience, spontaneity, problem solving, taking risks, creativity, humour, intuitiveness, musical talent, and this is just to name a few.
Individuals with dyslexia and dyspraxia often have the ability to ‘think outside the box’ due to their capacity for being curious and innovative. They can display powerful visual and visionary ‘big picture’ thinking. People with dyslexia are also known for powerful qualitative reasoning.
Many individuals with Asperger’s syndrome, which is a type of mild autism, have exceptional skills e.g. in maths, programming, or science areas. They may have special gifts in the area of memory and have phenomenal expert knowledge or skills in areas that particularly interest them.
Individuals with autism often bring strong analytical skills with a bottom–up data-driven, logical thinking style. They can be intensive, detail focused, like punctuality & loyalty, be highly rule-following, honest & prefer direct communications. A minority have very exceptional skills in one or more areas e.g. musical, artistic, numbers, spatial.

Why is the idea of Neurodiversity important?

Neurodiversity is helping us ‘neurotypicals’ to better understand, appreciate, respect, value, and support ‘neurodivergent’ individuals. The reality is that not so long ago, many in our society treated ‘neurodivergent’ individuals entirely the opposite, using derogatory and hurtful language. Unfortunately, too many still hold negative mindsets and assumptions – just because these individuals function differently.

We need to change that.

Are you harnessing Neurodiversity in your organisation – or are you missing a trick?

It is estimated that around 1 in 7 people within the UK population is neurodivergent in some way. This number should perhaps raise the first big question: what is “normal”?!  This is potentially a significant proportion of an organisation’s job applicants and existing workforce.

Do they know?

It is also worth noting that many people who are neurodivergent may not have been formally diagnosed, meaning that there is a large chance there are significantly more neurodivergent individuals within the existing employee demographic than might currently be thought. Organisations aiming to be truly diverse therefore need to ensure they aren’t excluding such a significant demographic and pool of talent.


Unfortunately, occupational exclusion for neurodivergent individuals is still prevalent.

    • Only 15% of individuals with autism in the UK are in full time employment 
    • Only 1% of corporate managers have dyslexia (compared to a population norm of 10%) *


“The UK’s Forgotten Talent” research found that 76% reported that managers are neither aware of neurodiversity nor trained in how to best optimise a neurodiverse team, however, 90% of respondents felt cognitive diversity could help their organisation to succeed and was “a largely untapped, high potential talent pool”.



Why are Most Organisations Missing Out?


A lack of awareness and understanding has led to selection processes, management practices, and workspaces being designed only with ‘neurotypicals’ in mind. Typically, diversity has been focused on demographics, but many pioneering organisations are now seeing the value of a neurodiverse workforce and have made substantial changes to HR and hiring practises, as well as work environments in order to become ‘neurodivergent friendly‘. Some prominent examples include: Microsoft, Siemens, Ford, EY, Deloitte, JP Morgan, SAP and Willis Tower Watson, with reports suggesting that their investment is already paying off in ways which have a measurable effect on company success.



EY’s 2016 neurodiversity pilot programme

After nine months, EY compared the work quality, efficiency and productivity generated by neurodivergent and neurotypical account support professionals. Quality, efficiency and productivity were comparable, but the neurodivergent employees excelled at innovation.

For example, they: –

    • Identified process improvements that cut the time for technical training in half.
    • Learned how to automate processes far faster than the neurotypical account professionals they trained with. They then used the resulting downtime to create training videos to help all professionals learn automation more quickly.



It starts with the recruitment process. A few small changes could have a significant impact on the talent organisations attract.


The Equality Act 2010 stipulates that employers have a duty to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to support people with disabilities in the workplace – job applicants, as well as employees. A person’s neurodivergence may be regarded as a disability, under the Equality Act 2010, however unlike with a visible disability an adjustment for a hidden disability, including neurodivergence, may not be as obvious.


Job Descriptions / Job Adverts

The language used in job adverts may be unclear to neurodivergent individuals. In addition, job descriptions may include skills requirements that are not totally necessary for the role in question .i.e. “excellent communication skills” is often seen in job descriptions but may put off individuals with autism who are likely to take this literally and may be less socially confident/skilled, even though they may be exceptionally proficient in data analysis or other technical skills which may be the core skill for the role.  So possible improvements:

  • Make it easy for people to understand which are the core skills for the role. Clearly divide job descriptions into ‘must-have’ and ‘nice-to-have’ skills and experience.
  • Ensure role descriptions are as clear and concise as possible, avoiding jargon.
  • Consider if it is written in an easy to read format – font size, colour contrast
  • Include a diversity and inclusion statement, highlighting the organisation’s willingness to make/ discuss reasonable adjustments to the recruitment process and to make the work environment conducive.


Therefore, be brave enough to re-write job descriptions. Ensure they are better adapted for a wider range of individuals – rather than risk losing a very good neurodivergent candidate.


Candidate Exercises

Many organisations put a large emphasis on initially screening candidates based on an application form or CV. Overly tough critique of a spelling or grammar error may mean you unintentionally screen out individuals with dyslexia. A neurodivergent individual may also have had inconsistent or patchy employment in the pass due to not having worked within a supportive environment.  This does not mean they are not competent. Consider alternative screening methods:

  • Reviewing previous work may give a clearer indication of a candidate’s capabilities.
  • The use of psychometric tests that align with the core job competencies e.g. numerical ability tests for a highly data driven role.
  • Provide a practical work sample exercise or exercises that assesses core skills within the job. If you need support with this please contact us.
  • Offer a day in the work place. Many neurodivergent candidates will not interview well. But you are likely to be pleasantly surprised if you give them a chance to do the real work! We had this comment from a client recruiting manager: “Based on the interview performance Chris was a clear regret – but we took your advice and used some carefully chosen selection tests and then offered a trial work day. On that day Chris just ‘WOWED’ us all by demonstrating such amazing capabilities!



A conventional interview can primarily be an assessment of recall and social competencies. Making it harder for neurodivergent individuals to demonstrate skills and aptitudes required for the job role. Some individuals may struggle with eye contact, may take questions literally, or may be overly honest regarding their weakness. Memory weakness are common for neurodivergent individuals, especially those with dyslexia, so give candidates time to absorb the questions and think. Candidates with autism will struggle with many social and interpersonal elements of the interview. Do they need to be socially skilled and charming to do the job effectively?

  • Provide information prior to the interview regarding its structure and what to expect – you could even provide candidates with the questions in advance.
  • Avoid hypothetical or abstract questions, instead asking specific questions based on a candidate’s real/ past experience.
  • Avoid rapid fire questions.
  • Provide the interviewers with training to increase awareness and reduce bias or negative judgements.
  • Ensure the interview is carried out in an appropriate space – quiet, free from distractions.


Therefore, organisations need to appreciate and understand the benefits of making a proactive effort to recruit and support neurodivergent individuals – as they have a lot to offer.  What is more, they will be very loyal and great employees if you do your bit.

But be careful, we can try too hard and focus too much on their gifts and talents. They probably do not welcome extra attention – they just want to be given a chance, to be treated fairly and respectfully like everyone else.

* Thanking The Office for National Statistics (2016) Dataset: A08: Labour market status of disabled people (20 July 2016).

CIPD Neurodiversity at work