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DIFF: Let’s not try to fix neurodivergent people – Brook Graham

  • 20/06/2022
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DIFF: Let’s not try to fix neurodivergent people – Brook Graham
Firms should think of ways to adapt their operations to be inclusive to people who are neurodivergent, rather than make them fit a world that is designed for neurotypical people.


Kieron O’Reilly, senior inclusion and diversity account manager and Punum Telford, emotional intelligence consultant from consultancy firm Brook Graham delivered June’s Diversity and Inclusivity Finance Forum (DIFF) leadership session. The meeting focused on neurodiversity and how the workplace could be more accommodating of those who are neurodivergent. 

O’Reilly said everyone was neurodiverse, simply because we all have different ways of learning, socialising and interpreting information. 

Neurotypical is the dominant way of thinking and the world is built to fit this behaviour. Being divergent is being different to the dominant way of thinking and people who fall into the neurominority may have conditions such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism or dyslexia and are considered neurodivergent. 

O’Reilly said this would either be “innate or brought about through trauma or lifestyle”. 

The session did not focus on how specific conditions presented themselves in society or at work, as Telford said it was “not [about] looking at conditions but widening accessibility”. 

“Are we fixing people or the system?” O’Reilly asked. “Let’s not try to fix people.” 


Focus on abilities 

O’Reilly and Telford said it was imperative not to look at neurodivergent people from the angle of their disability but rather their abilities, such as how certain conditions made them more proficient at certain tasks. 

O’Reilly, who is neurodivergent, said: “One in seven people in the UK are neurodivergent. That doesn’t mean they a medical issue and we’re not here to be doctors or nurses. We don’t need to do that.  

“We often think of the disability and if that’s the first thing that comes to mind, pause and stop. Think, ‘actually, what is the ability in this?’” 

Telford said firms should look at what support neurodivergent people at work may need to tap into their skills. 

Delegates were then made to go through a sensory exercise to get an idea of what navigating through daily life could be like for people in the neurominority. 

This was done by getting everyone to huddle together in groups, face their phone torches towards them, play music on their phones at full volume and speak at the same time. 

When asked how the experience felt, delegates said it was “stressful”, “tiring”, they found it “hard to concentrate or focus”, it was “difficult to communicate”, it gave way for “an individual to dominate” and they “checked out”. 

Telford this was part of someone with a neurodivergence could experience on a daily basis. 


Reframe your thinking 

Telford and O’Reilly gave examples of companies, such as NASA, which partnered with not-for-profit organisations to improve inclusivity for people who are neurodivergent. 

They said it was about reframing one’s way of thinking and tapping into soft skills. 

A delegate asked how a firm could make sure they were giving such people an opportunity when hiring and whether positive discrimination helped. 

Telford said partnering with an organisation was the best route as they would be familiar with particular skillsets and provide a “talent pipeline”. 

“Then you would be looking at what skills those individuals have and how they match your organisation. 

“In terms of resources and support that individual needs that you’re being partnered or matched with, what are you going to give them?” 

She said it was still about looking for people whose criteria fit a place a work, but not necessarily looking for the usual social cues such as making eye contact or being able to engage in small talk. 

Another delegate asked how to deal with a lack of disclosure or diagnosis when working with someone who may be neurodivergent. 

O’Reilly said some people may not know they are neurodivergent, so it was about having a conversation then using external resources to find out how they can be assisted. 

Telford said managers should be having regular conversations with employees already, and these conversations should be framed around what is needed to support them in their work. 

“And that moves away from ‘is there anything you want to tell us?’, or any diagnoses. Everyone has a level playing field and everyone is being helped,” Telford added.  

She also said it recentred the conversation away from what may be going on with a colleague, to focusing on what could be done to help them be productive. 


Five key takeaways 

  • Everyone is neurodiverse, some people are neurotypical while others are neurodivergent 
  • Think about the ability not the disability of people 
  • Consider ways of supporting all employees’ productivity so conversations don’t centre around conditions and diagnoses 
  • Partner with not-for-profit organisations to widen your talent pool 
  • Some people are born neurodivergent but others become so through lifestyle or trauma 

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