Supporting Neurodiverse Staff Whilst we are Working Differently


Neurodiversity refers to the different ways the brain can work and interpret information. It highlights that people naturally think about things differently. People have different interests and motivations, and are naturally better at some things and poorer at others.

Most people are neurotypical, meaning that the brain functions and processes information in the way society expects.

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However it is estimated that around 1 in 7 people (more than 15% of people in the UK) are neurodivergent, meaning that the brain functions, learns and processes information differently. Neurodivergence includes Attention Deficit Disorders, Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.

Most forms of neurodivergence are experienced along a 'spectrum'. Each form of neurodivergence (such as dyslexia and autism) has a range of associated characteristics and these can vary from individual to individual. For example, the effects of dyspraxia on one person can be different to another person who also has dyspraxia. The effects on the individual can also change over time.

Additionally, an individual will often have the characteristics of more than one type of neurodivergence.

It is important to understand how the working environment can affect neurodivergent employees and making the workplace more accommodating and supportive can reduce much of the stress those who are neurodivergent often experience.

The uncertainty we all face in the current climate, and coping with the changes it has brought, can be particularly challenging for people who are neurodivergent.

This guidance covers the ways in which we have been working differently as a result of these changes, whether that is where staff are working from home or where they are starting to return to campus, recognising this may feel very different to the pre-Covid working environment.

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Maintaining Regular Contact

Being away from their normal work environment can result in your team members not having the same access to their regular support network. This can happen if staff are working from home, or even when they start to return to campus as their broader network of colleagues may not be as accessible as they were before. This can make your team members feel isolated.

In addition, staff may feel anxious about the ongoing changes presented by the situation nationally, as well as the measures that have been introduced on campus which may present some challenges.. Some neurodivergent people may struggle to adapt to guidelines that disrupt typical behavioural routines, display conflicting advice/information, or situations where others are not adhering to the rules, for example in shops or public transport.

Managers can support their team members by maintaining regular and informal contact, and checking in with teams via phone, web chat or video call. Ask them how they are coping with the situation, whether they are managing their workload or if they are experiencing any issues with their working environment.

It‘s important to note that these check-in’s should be made to assess the wellbeing of your team members and to offer any support that you can offer. Don’t use them as an opportunity to chase work or add unnecessary pressure.

For those staff who had reasonable adjustments in the workplace pre covid-19, including those who are neurodivergent, it’s important to find out whether those existing measures are still suitable each time their working arrangements alter, for example, when working at home, when returning to campus, or when working in different locations on campus, I as a change of environment or working arrangements may mean other adjustments need considering.

Through supportive conversations other staff may also newly disclose circumstances of their own which may need some accommodation.

Guidance for Managers

Have a Supportive Conversation

It can be difficult and stressful for an employee to talk to their manager about their neurodivergence.

Supportive conversations with staff may help a neurodivergent team member to feel safe and empowered enough to talk about how they could be better accommodated whilst working differently or could enable staff to disclose their neurodivergence for the first time.

To make it easier for the employee to talk more about it, a manager should:

  • Make sure the conversation takes place when there is ample time to talk
  • Listen attentively and be open minded
  • Ask the employee if they have thought about what support might help
  • Make clear what they will do next
  • Suggest a further discussion about what support could be provided

When staff are working differently they may have a number of concerns and anxieties, and for staff that are neurodivergent not having access to regular routines can be especially difficult. Whilst working from home staff may face the challenges of juggling work and family life, they may be feeling a sense of loneliness, or struggling with aspects of work which need to be done in new ways. Coming back to campus can also present some difficulties as staff will need to adapt to the new working environment.

During your conversations, ask how your team member is coping with any of these difficulties. Managers are not expected to be an expert on any form of neurodivergence, however these pages provide some information which should help them provide and signpost to appropriate support.

Everyday Actions That Will Help Neurodivergent Team Members

To support a neurodivergent team member a manager can take some simple everyday actions themselves that will enable issues to be identified early and misunderstandings to be resolved before they escalate. These include:

  • Having an awareness of neurodiversity
  • Communicating clearly at all times
  • Being approachable for staff to come to and being clear how they can do this whilst working remotely
  • Building good working relationships by getting to know each team member
  • Treating each team member as an individual and identifying what they each want and need from a manager
  • Monitoring workloads to ensure individuals are not overloaded or placed under excessive time-pressures
  • Regularly holding one-to-ones to check on how work is going, identifying upcoming challenges and agreeing how best to support them
  • Continually reflecting on how they can better manage each team member and provide the support they need
  • Providing clarity on health and safety measures on return to campus

Identifying What Support is Needed

Each form of neurodivergence (such as autism, dyspraxia and ADHD) has a range of associated characteristics and these can vary from individual to individual. This means that the effects of dyspraxia on one person can be different to another person that also has dyspraxia. These characteristics can also vary over time and depending on outside factors such as stress.

Therefore, when considering what actions and support may help, the best place to start is with the team member and focussing on:

  • How their neurodivergence affects them
  • What difficulties they are experiencing while working at home or on campus
  • What previous support they have had and whether they think it would still be appropriate now
  • What other types of support and adjustments would help.

Managers should be confident talking to employees about their neurodivergence. Getting to know the team member and learning how the neurodivergence affects them in the workplace will make it easier to provide appropriate support. It can also make it easier to spot and sensitively resolve issues before they become serious.

However, managers should not pressure team members into talking about it if they do not want to.

The National Autistic Society have comprehensive guidance that includes useful strategies for managing autistic staff effectively. Many of these are relevant to the changing environment we now find ourselves within, during which different ways of working and communicating may cause anxieties additional to those directly related to coronavirus.

Reasonable Adjustments

Considering What Adjustments Could Be Put In Place

Each individual may be affected differently by their neurodivergence. Some common examples include that:

  • Individuals with ADHD may find it a struggle to start tasks and this may be particularly so whilst trying to adjust to the new remote way of working
  • Autistic and ADHD individuals can be particularly sensitive to sensory inputs, such as sounds, sights and smells. There is potential for sensory overload when returning to campus. The impact will differ between those individuals who are sensation avoidant (hypersensitive) to those who are sensation seeking (hyposensitive)

Some of the usual distractions and obstacles usually present in the workplace may no longer be difficulties if the member of staff is working within their own home. However, they may be replaced with new or different challenges, especially when working with family members or alongside parenting.

For those returning to the campus environment it will be a different experience to the one individual’s were used to pre Covid-19 and managers should take the impact of the new working arrangements and rules into account when considering reasonable adjustments.

Whether the neurodivergence amounts to a disability or not, it makes sense for managers to approach the situation with patience and understanding and try to make changes that will help to improve a team members health and well-being.

It is important to understand the barriers experienced by staff in relation to their job. This will help with the consideration of appropriate reasonable adjustments. This factsheet outlines a range of typical challenges faced by staff who are neurodivergent, and lists some potential measures that may support and enable the individual.

Often small, simple changes to working arrangements or responsibilities will be all that are required.

The checks a manager could make might include:

  • Whether technological solutions will enable the staff member
  • Whether more flexible working times would help them to find a quiet space and time to work
  • Whether instructions are clear enough, especially if jobs are being done in a different way
  • Whether staff have any difficulties in contacting colleagues
  • Whether any new health and safety rules related to working on campus present any challenges

Remember, any adjustment should only be made with the agreement of the team member.

Once in place, adjustments should be regularly reviewed to check they are still appropriate and/or working as intended. Your HR Adviser can provide more guidance if challenges continue to exist.

Further University guidance on the process for identifying and implementing reasonable adjustments, including within the context of academic career pathways, can be found here:

Useful Resources

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Internal Support:

Staff Helpline and Counselling - provided by Health Assured, this free service is a means for all staff and their immediate families to access practical help, information, advice and support to address and resolve problems and issues they may be facing at home or at work.

Occupational Health - our Occupational Health provider, Health Management Limited, can provide advice and guidance on reasonable adjustments to help you thrive at work.

Specific Learning Difficulties - Raising awareness around specific learning difficulties.

ELTC SpLD Tutorial Service - This service provides 1:1 tutorials for staff members  to talk about the strengths and challenges they feel are linked to their learning differences, and to work on strategies for getting around some of the things they find are barriers in the workplace.

ELTC SpLD Awareness and Inclusion Training - The English Language Training Centre has a series of short interactive online training resources for university staff which are designed to increase awareness of Specific Learning Differences (SpLD). Whilst student focused, it is nonetheless a useful overview for managers.

Further Guidance and Information for Managers

Inspirational Individuals

Professor Sarah Rankin - Youtube talk with a dyslexic and dyspraxic scientist, Imperial College

The CODPAST - Interview with a dyslexic landscape designer

Professor Jack Horner - dyslexic paleontologist (The Dyslexic Advantage)