I manage someone who is neurodivergent – what can I do to support them?

 “Recognising the strengths as well as the weaknesses of a neurodivegent employee is one of the most effective supports a manager can provide.”
(Fitzgibbon associates)

Line managers and supervisors should receive training in dealing with neurodivergent workers. This will help to remove or alleviate stressful situations for both parties. In addition, it would be advantageous for the member’s work colleagues to receive some awareness training so that they have a better understanding of their behaviour.

Of course, this should only be conducted if the member agrees to disclose their neurodiversity  to their colleagues. As with other impairments or disabilities, the reasonable adjustments required for neurodivergent workers will be specific to an individual’s needs, so it is imperative that they are involved in determining what reasonable adjustments are appropriate for them. These may be relatively straightforward for the employer to provide.

It is important that a proper workplace needs assessment is carried out, preferably by a specialist in neurodiverse conditions, as every individual’s needs will be different and it may not occur to the member what adjustments could be provided for their own circumstances.

How reasonable adjustments helped Malcolm

It should also be standard practice for all employers to make many of the following adjustments proactively, regardless of whether any individuals within their organisations have been identified as neurodivergent, as a significant proportion of their workers are likely to be neurodivergent even if they are not aware of it or have chosen not to disclose it.

Communication

Neurodivergent people may have problems with ‘normal’ forms of communication. Some people on the autistic spectrum, for example, have difficulties in reading other people’s facial expressions, body language or nuances within conversations.

  • try to avoid using jokes, sarcasm or ambiguous statements;
  • be clear and direct, using concise sentences;
  • use short sentences in written communications;
  • sometimes diagrams are better than written communications or instructions;
  • where appropriate, use closed rather than open questions;
  • speech-to-text software may be helpful for digital communications;
  • where there are organisational changes, managers should ensure that people with neurodiverse differences are included in the plans particularly affecting their work and that they are regularly kept up-to-date.

It is important that managers and colleagues are aware of the differences in communication styles for those who are neurodivergent. For example, they may appear to be ‘blunt’ when talking, they may talk to themselves, or they may unintentionally invade other people’s personal space.

Remember that it is illegal under the Equality Act to pass on any costs of adjustments to the individual concerned.