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Neuroinclusion: Creating a Mentally Healthy Workplace for All Brains

In recent years, the concept of neurodiversity has gained traction, challenging traditional perceptions of cognitive differences. Neurodiversity refers to the natural variations in how people’s brains process information and interpret the world. Research shows 15-20% of people are neurodiverse, meaning they have a brain that functions somewhat differently than what is considered “typical”. Unfortunately, many neurodiverse individuals face stigma, discrimination, and mental health challenges in environments not designed for them. This article provides an overview of common neurotypes, the connection to mental health, and most importantly – actionable steps any organisation can take to become more inclusive. When businesses embrace neurodiversity, they benefit from diverse perspectives and untapped talents while also promoting employee wellbeing. It’s a win-win for both employees and employers alike!


Understanding Common Neurotypes


There are infinite variations in how our brains are wired. However, there are some common patterns that provide insight into different neurodiverse profiles. Each neurotype has its own strengths, challenges, and characteristics. Increased awareness can help bust harmful myths and lead to more effective supports. Here are some of the common neurotypes encountered in the workplace:


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD): Individuals with ASD may have difficulty with social communication and interaction, repetitive behaviours, and sensory processing. However, autistic individuals often exhibit exceptional attention to detail, reliability, analytical thinking, and high levels of concentration.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD): ADHD is characterised by three core difficulties that affect people to different degrees: inattention, impulsiveness, and hyperactivity. Despite these challenges, individuals with ADHD often possess high levels of energy, creativity, adaptability, and may thrive on variety.


Dyslexia: This difference affects reading fluency and comprehension, spelling, and writing. However, dyslexic individuals frequently excel in problem solving skills, creativity, and verbal communication.


Dyspraxia/Developmental Coordination Disorder: A common condition affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination, planning, and organisation. Yet, individuals with dyspraxia often demonstrate high levels of resilience, creativity, and empathy.


Tourette Syndrome: Tourette’s is characterised by involuntary sounds and/or movements called tics. Many people with Tourette’s are highly resilient, empathetic, and creative, and have a great sense of humour.


Of course, each person is unique. But understanding common strengths associated with neurodiverse profiles promotes empowerment rather than a “disorder” view. Workplaces that leverage neurodiverse talents whilst supporting areas of difficulty benefit enormously. JP Morgan Chase, for example, have seen increased productivity, quality, and retention since launching their Autism at Work programme which includes specialised training for managers and employees as well as the pairing of autistic employees with mentors for support.


The Mental Health Connection


While neurodiversity brings unique strengths to the table, it’s crucial to acknowledge the potential impact on mental health. Neurodiversity itself does not constitute mental illness, however many neurodiverse individuals are at higher risk for mental health issues like anxiety, depression, addiction, OCD, and bipolar disorder. There are several reasons for this correlation that may relate to additional stressors and challenges in the workplace, including:


Sensory overstimulation: Sensory overload occurs when the brain is unable to identify and sort sensory information in an optimal way. Noisy, bright, or chaotic environments can trigger anxiety, agitation, stress, and overwhelm. Likewise, some individuals can find certain smells overwhelming and clothing can sometimes cause sensory stress due to different feelings on the skin.


Social isolation: Social and communication challenges can lead to social isolation, loneliness, exclusion, and anxiety in social situations. Accompanied with shame over difficulties can increase risk for avoidance activities and substance misuse as coping mechanisms.


Stigma and misunderstanding: Social stigma, negative judgements, and lack of acceptance can contribute to lower self-worth and depression, especially for individuals with highly visible differences. Negative stereotypes and misconceptions about neurodiversity can also contribute to feelings of inadequacy and self-doubt.


Executive functioning challenges: Difficulties with organisation, time management, and task prioritisation may lead to increased anxiety and stress.

Addressing these challenges requires a proactive approach to promoting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace. Specifically, providing accommodations and cultivating acceptance of neurodiversity are key to reversing the correlation between neurodiversity and poor mental health.


Actionable Strategies for Supporting Neurodiversity and Mental Health


Building a workplace environment where neurodiverse employees feel welcomed, supported, and able to contribute meaningfully is essential for both talent retention and mental wellbeing. Some effective strategies include:


Promoting Awareness and Education: Provide training and resources to increase awareness and understanding of neurodiversity and mental health among employees. Encourage open dialogue and empathy to tackle stigma and foster a culture of acceptance. Provide managers the tools to recognise neurodiverse employee needs, have supportive conversations, and advocate for accommodations.


Creating Sensory-Friendly Environments: Limit sensory stimulation by making accommodations to reduce sensory overload, such as providing noise-cancelling headphones, adjustable lighting, and designated quiet spaces. Consider flexible work arrangements to accommodate individual needs. Allowing modified or compressed hours, working from home, and adjusting start/finish times may accommodate challenges with sleep, commuting, and morning alertness.


Implement Clear Communication Channels: Offer clear and explicit instructions, feedback, and expectations to support neurodiverse employees in understanding tasks and responsibilities. Make written instructions, agendas, transcripts, and captions available for meetings. Utilise visual aids, checklists, and written instructions to enhance comprehension. Provide options for communicating interpersonally like, chat, email, or meeting recaps.


Offer Mentoring and Coaching: Pair neurodiverse employees with mentors or coaches who can provide guidance, support, and advocacy in the workplace. Facilitate relationships where neurodiverse employees can connect, share experiences, and build community.


Provide Access to Accommodations and Resources: Offer reasonable accommodations such as assistive technology, ergonomic workstations, and flexible work arrangements to accommodate individual needs. Connect employees with relevant support services and resources, such as counselling and peer support groups, to empower neurodiverse employees to perform at their best.


By implementing these strategies and initiatives, business can harness the strengths of neurodiversity while promoting mental health and wellbeing in the workplace.

As an example, consider Sarah, a dyslexic customer service advisor who feels overwhelmed by the reports and paperwork required of her role. Some mentoring from a senior dyslexic manager, flexibility around tasks requiring reading, and text-to-speech software may be all she needs to thrive in her role within the workplace.


Measuring Progress and Success


To determine efficacy of any initiative in the workplace it’s important to track metrics over time. The goal is to quantify progress, demonstrate return on investment, and guide ongoing improvements. To measure the impact of neurodiversity and mental health initiatives the following data might be useful: participation rates in programmes, anonymous employee satisfaction survey results, rates of employee turnover, accommodation requests and approvals, rates of mental health related sickness, and gauging awareness before and after training. When the workplace truly supports all brains, the data reflects it.


Conclusion


Neurodiversity represents a spectrum of cognitive profiles, each with its own unique strengths and challenges. Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace not only has the potential to enhance creativity, innovation, and productivity but also promotes inclusion, diversity, and positive mental health and wellbeing for all.

If you or anyone in your organisation is looking for workplace wellbeing training, including mental health and neurodiversity, please contact Olivia at olivia@changingmindstraining.com




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