Thinking differently, naturally

When life was very different to how it is right now we got an intriguing meeting request from Chris Webb, Assistant Director of Studies in the University’s Specific Learning Differences (SpLD) Service. She wanted to talk to us about neurodiversity and about how everyone’s brain works in different ways.

Chris works with neurodiverse staff and students everyday and she knew there was more we could be doing to celebrate diversity of thinking here at the University – to help everyone better understand the different ways the brain can work and interpret information. So, we put our heads together to find a way to start to make this happen. And we’re excited to share with you now six unique stories from colleagues who identify as being neurodiverse.

A massive thank you to Bev, Esther, Jack, Jonny, Maddy and Tim for your courage and for showing us that people naturally think about things differently – and thank goodness for that!

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term encompassing ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and autism, and refers to the different ways the brain can work and interpret information. It highlights that people naturally think about things differently. If you'd like to learn more, why not take one of these short, interactive online training courses?

Visit the Thinking differently, naturally video channel or select one of the individual stories below to learn about neurodiversity - the challenges, the benefits and what this means for our workplace:

Tim

Esther

Jack

Bev

Jonny

Maddy

So, what can we learn from our six colleagues?

Well, for Bev, Esther, Jack, Jonny, Maddy and Tim this is only the beginning and they’d love for us to support their hopes for neurodiversity and inclusion at the University:

  • Tim has set up a dyslexia support group in Mechanical Engineering and it’s going faculty-wide!
  • Bev hopes sharing her story will help her talk to and support PhD students who are struggling
  • Maddy is hoping this work will inspire colleagues and managers to talk more about specific learning differences and neurodiversity
  • Jonny says if we help just one person we will make a difference
  • Jack hopes he will no longer feel his dyslexia is something he has to admit
  • Esther sees a future where neurodiverse staff are encouraged to use their exceptional styles and talents


And what of life during the coronavirus pandemic?

Jonny: "I think it’s been a challenging set of circumstances for all concerned but one that I know we don't face alone. It has perhaps served as a timely reminder that the strength of our University isn't really the bricks and mortar but the people, the enthusiasm and support that's offered by all our colleagues. This support has proved invaluable to me during these difficult times and now more than ever the question 'how are you?’ seems to be asked with genuine concern and unfeigned interest, for which I am grateful. I feel we have been galvanised as a community, coming together to look after each other, and I hope this spirit continues once we have overcome this situation.”

Bev: “I’m coping well with working at home and am much more productive than I am usually because now I’m not wasting time and effort constantly trying to work out where I’m supposed to be and getting lost getting there. It helps that I’m not homeschooling or caring....that would be a stressful juggle.”

Maddy: “I am coping well under the lockdown, I am very lucky to have a garden and have grown very green fingered in the past few months. On the work side of things, our team manager has been really supportive of us all and appreciative of the extra work we are doing; that's really helped keep work morale up.”

Jack: “I think I'm coping well in lockdown. Working by myself is good because it means I can properly dedicate to my working methods, and find a routine that fits me.”

Tim: "I have been thinking about what is hardest about virtual working and for me, I think that it would have to be that a lot of conversation has moved to being by email and hence there is a lot more reading!"

Support

For managers: Looking for advice about how to better support neurodiverse colleagues during the pandemic? Visit our wellbeing pages.

For staff: Our specialist specific learning differences (SpLD) team offers tutorials for staff who have a diagnosis of dyslexia or SpLD, or if you self-identify as such. They are also able to provide specialist assessments for dyslexia and/or SpLDs.


Do you have a story to share?

We know, of course, that it's not just Chris and our video participants who are passionate about building an inclusive workplace. People right across the University are dedicated to encouraging diversity of thinking and ensuring everyone is supported in the workplace.

Professor Elizabeth Milne from the Department of Psychology is just one example. She embarked on a pilot project to raise awareness of sensory sensitivity, one of the biggest sources of distress for autistic adults. The initiative has received some very positive feedback and we are looking at how we can make these resources and feedback mechanisms accessible for the wider University community. You can read about Elizabeth's research and the work in the department on their inclusive workplace Google site.

If you're involved in a project that supports inclusion, we'd love to hear from you. Email: internalcommunications@sheffield.ac.uk

Thinking differently, naturally is a video series highlighting the importance of diversity of thinking. For more examples of how the University is progressing inclusion, visit sheffield.ac.uk/inclusion