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Understanding Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Neurodiversity at work - why better understanding is a good thing for employers

Everyone has ADHD these days... Isn't it just an excuse? Why can't you get yourself organised? The problem with them is that they're just lazy…

Image of Niki McGlynn smiling, leaning against a wall, wearing a yellow jumper and holding books

These are typical comments about people with neurodiverse conditions but understanding how these conditions really affect people can hugely improve their lives as employees and your life as an employer. Around 20% of the population has some form of neuro divergence, some people believe that figure to be higher, but 1 in 5 seems a good estimate. Currently we're seeing an explosion in diagnosis and there are a number of reasons for this. A large part is due to a better understanding of how these conditions present, particularly in women and girls and there is a huge swath of the population who are suddenly realising why they are the way they are, they are are not just lazy, disorganised or difficult.  They have a neurodevelopment condition that is serious enough to be considered a disability.

So I am all for the idea that neurodivergence is a super power - the ability to see the world differently, to be able to cut through to understand the nub of a problem and to be able to understand the solution, to be incredibly creative, to see the big picture or to be able to understand the minutiae of tiny details.  However all too often I see the opposite, the crippling anxiety, the overwhelming procrastination, the shaming disorganisation.  By understanding and supporting people with these areas, employers, businesses and employees can reap the rewards of the former.

Many people who have a diagnosis will often have more than one aspect of a neurodevelopment condition at the same time.  This is especially true for ADHD - ADHD rarely travels alone.  So people will have ADHD and dyslexia, ADHD and OCD, ADHD and Autism (a manifestation that is particularly hard to live with), it’s also common for all of these conditions to come with a side order of anxiety.  So if we focus on ADHD for the purpose of this article, it’s currently in the news and very much misunderstood.

One of the most important reasons for a better understanding of ADHD in particular is the recent research from Sweden which highlights just how dangerous undiagnosed and unmanaged ADHD can be and the catastrophic effect on life expectancy from non-medical causes.

ADHD has three different presentations and it’s important to be aware that ADHD lasts into adulthood, we just get better at masking the condition.  Hyperactive ADHD, which we’re all familiar with, naughty boys at the back of the classroom being disruptive or childrens TV presenters, but there is also Inattentive ADHD, more commonly seen in women and girls and this manifests as lack of attention, daydreaming but masks the internal restlessness, which is why it’s still classed as hyperactive - the hyperactivity is internal.  The third presentation is combined Hyperactive/Inattentive and here the symptoms can swing from one presentation to another, depending on circumstances, mood or time of the month for women as dopamine is impacted by hormonal fluctuations.

Neurodivergence in general causes problems with executive functions - broadly these are the functions needed to execute your life.  They can be treated as 10 areas that can cause problems and people who are neuro diverse can be affected by some or all of these areas on a sliding scale. Not everyone is affected by all of them, all of the time.

Organisation - both mentally and physically

Focus & attention - keeping on task

Task Initiation - actually getting started, procrastination

Planning & prioritising - knowing what’s most important

Time management - arriving and leaving on time, understanding how long a task can take

Working memory - keeping information at the front of your mind whilst using it

Impulse control - thinking before acting or speaking

Emotional regulation - keeping feelings under control and appropriate

Flexible thinking - coping with unexpected changes to plans or directions

Self monitoring - self awareness at any given point

Understanding how these abilities are taken for granted by neurotypical people can then lead to misunderstanding of how difficult life can be for people who are neurodivergent.  Accusations of being lazy when they struggle to start a task or disrespectful when they’re late or disorganised when they don’t finish a project on time, oversensitive when they’re struggling with RSD.  These misunderstandings have very serious real world consequences, leading to low self esteem, depression and in the worst cases, suicide.

Alongside these day to day struggles are other less well known problems.  Anxiety disorders, depression and something called Rejection Sensitive Dysphoria or RSD for short.  This is a sense that people don’t really like you, even close friends are only tolerating you.  That if there is a general invitation - come on everyone, lets go to the pub, the everyone excludes the neuro divergent colleague.  We joke about the vampire effect, that you can only come along if you’re specifically invited.  This also includes a great sensitivity to criticism, real or implied, so this is where neuro divergent people can really take things to heart and experience an overwhelming sense of shame or disappointment.

With all of these issues in mind, it is possible to work together to find the best way to support neuro diverse employees and colleagues.  In the first instance ask what support they require - remember that everyone is different, so one person may struggle most with organising themselves, where another may struggle with flexible thinking and change is extremely difficult.  Once you have identified areas where support is needed, you can start to work together to put that support in place.

If you require help with these processes, then calling in a professional like myself, can save you time, money and heartache.  I can offer short talks on different aspects of neurodivesity, half day workshops or full day workshops on neurodiversity in the workplace and how to support your staff to reduce stress, reduce sick days and improve productivity and team cohesion.  I can also offer therapy to help improve some of these issues.  If you would like help or you would like to discuss your individual requirements, please contact me at

1 comentário

Great summary, I keep being asked what support I need, a question that overwhelms me so this will help to break it down that’s more doable. Susie

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