Celebrating Neurodiversity in the workplace

WHAT IS NEURODIVERSITY?

Neurodiversity describes a community of people who are neurodivergent, specifically used within the context of autism spectrum disorder (“ASD”) and extends to other neurodivergent conditions such as: Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (“ADHD”), Dyspraxia (Developmental Coordination Disorder (“DCD”)) and Dyslexia and Dyscalculia. These neurological differences impact on the individuals’ process of information and neurocognitive functioning (Bewley and George, 2016). Essentially, neurodiversity refers to the idea that people have different experiences and have different ways of thinking and interacting, advocating that there is no “right” way of thinking, behaving, or learning.

Example: ASD describes that there are different ways of communicating, learning, and behaving. Individuals with ASD have differing abilities, strengths, and face various challenges in their day-to-day lives. Some individuals with ASD may be able to live independently, communicate verbally and have a normal or above average IQ. However, some individuals may be co-dependent. For example, affected individuals may be unable to communicate verbally and may struggle with their behaviour which can be harmful and could have an impact on their safety and well-being. Further to this, the suffering experienced by individuals may not be just physical but instead exist as a suffering that derives from being socially disadvantaged as a result of societal norms, leading to social inequality and the feeling of being excluded. 

 

Dyslexia “Dyslexia is a learning difference which primarily affects reading and writing skills. However, it does not only affect these skills. Dyslexia is actually about information processing. Dyslexic people may have difficulty processing and remembering information they see and hear, which can affect learning and the acquisition of literacy skills. Dyslexia can also impact on other areas such as organisational skills.” (British Dyslexia Association, 2019)
Dyspraxia “Dyspraxia is a form of DCD affecting fine and/ or gross motor coordination in children and adults. It may also affect speech. DCD is a lifelong condition, formally recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation.” (Dyspraxia Foundation, 2019)
ADHD “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder is one of the most common childhood disorders and it can continue throughout adolescence and into adulthood. Symptoms include difficulty staying focused and paying attention, difficulty controlling behaviour, and hyperactivity (over-activity).” (ADHD Foundation, 2019)
Autism Spectrum Disorder “Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and how they interact with others. Autistic people see, hear, and feel the world differently to other people. Autism is recognised as a spectrum condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties but being autistic will affect them in different ways.” (National Autistic Society, 2019)

COMMON BARRIERS IN THE LEGAL SECTOR

Barriers in the legal profession make it challenging for individuals with neurodivergent conditions to enter it:

  • the academic requirements make it difficult for them to be accepted onto a qualifying law degree (LLB).
  • Most of the time neurodivergent conditions may not be recognised at early an stage, meaning that universities and firms fail to allow individuals to have the right support in place.

However, these are not the only barriers. Pursuing a career in law is competitive and the societal and psychological barriers often cause individuals to step out before they have stepped in.

However, it has been found that neurodivergent individuals possess many of the skills valued in the legal sector. Neurodivergent individuals are unique in the way they think and have skills such as lateral and strategic thinking, trouble-shooting and creative problem solving. For example, individuals with dyspraxia are very creative and show high levels of emotional intelligence. Individuals with autism can think critically and concentrate for prolonged periods of time, with the ability to produce detailed work.

It has been evidenced that a career in the legal profession is possible, which is largely epitomised by the work of David Boies and HHJ Dhir (A leading dyslexic US trial lawyer). HHJ Dhir describes how “Judges now come in all shapes and sizes. I would say in many ways, the Bar and judiciary are ideal professions for dyslexics and individuals with other special needs, because as judges we have experience of difficulty”.

With consideration of this, The Law Society recently estimated that 10 percent of the population are regarded as neurodivergent. Further findings by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development revealed that one in ten professionals were considered neurodivergent in their management practices. Therefore, it is not the disabilities that neurodiverse individuals experience that are barriers to entry, but it is the societal barriers that they experience every day.

MAIN TYPES OF NEURODIVERSITY

Set out below are the main types of neurodiversity and how they can benefit employers (The Equality Act 2010):

  • Dyslexia: people with dyslexia have strong visual, creative, and problem-solving skills.
  • Dsypraxia: many people who have dyspraxia are innovative and have strong awareness of others.
  • Autism: people with autism have strong fine-detail processing abilities’ and have high levels of concentration.
  • ADHD: people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) have creative abilities, are passionate and are novel thinkers.

The Law Society, 2018

REASONABLE ADJUSTMENTS WORKPLACES CAN PUT IN PLACE

Employers sometimes find it difficult to establish what reasonable adjustments (“RAs“) to implement for a neurodivergent employee. The appropriate RAs can vary between individuals with different neurodivergent conditions, so it is always useful to have a discussion to find out what works best for both the employee and employer.

Common RAs a workplace can implement vary from:

  • Implementing extra time for certain tasks.
  • Allowing the individual to use headphones/earphones in loud office environments to avoid sensory overload.
  • Allowing short breaks throughout the working day.
  • Not overloading the individual, giving them tasks one at a time instead of numerous tasks at the same time.
  • Understanding sensory issues and working with an employee to prevent them from facing situations which may trigger sensory overload.
  • Flexible working hours, such as starting early or finishing later to prevent stress, sensory overload, and distractions.
  • Giving clear, straightforward, and sensible instructions.
  • Supporting verbal instructions with written notes and/or diagrams.
  • Be willing to review RAs with the individual, when it is appropriate, to implement more accommodating measures, wherever necessary.

NEURODIVERSITY CELEBRATION WEEK!

Neurodiversity Week is a celebration week taking place between 21 and 27 March 2022. Neurodiversity Week gives individuals, organisations, and activists the chance to challenge stereotypes and misconceptions about neurodiverse conditions whilst simultaneously raising awareness for the associated conditions. An example of an organisation participating in the celebrations for neurodiversity week is the ‘Neurodiverse Lawyer Project’ (the “Project”). The Project aims to raise awareness for neurodivergent conditions in the legal industry and within education, and tackles barriers faced by neurodivergent individuals by addressing the issues and establishing the best ways to overcome such barriers. To celebrate Neurodiversity Week, the Project has raised awareness of neurodiversity across seven days through a variety of events, including:

  • a discrimination day to address common issues faced by neurodivergent individuals. The discrimination day discussed the best possible ways for an individual with a neurodivergent condition to achieve a training contract; and
  • an ally’s day to speak about how neurotypical people can support those with a neurodivergent condition.

The Project currently has a podcast, providing free resources for support but also aims to raise awareness about neurodiversity across social media platforms including Instagram and LinkedIn.

Neurodiversity  

Noun: diversity or variation of cognitive functioning in people.

Neurodiverse  

Adjective: diversity and variation of cognitive functioning in people.

Neurodivergence  

Noun: cognitive functioning, which is not considered typical eg, autistic, dyslexic, and dyspraxic people

Neurodivergent  

Adjective: described people who have a neurodivergence.

Please click here to follow Cleveland & Co on LinkedIn where you can find out what else we are doing for diversity & inclusion, as well as accessing our articles on the latest industry topics!

Please click on the below links to access the Neurodiverse Lawyer Project’s website and social media platforms:

LinkedIn – Neurodiverse Lawyer Project

Website – Neurodiverse Lawyer Project

Instagram –  Neurodiverse Lawyer Project

 

 

 

 

 

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