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Neurodiversity in the Workplace


Human brain
Image of Brain with Electronic Circuitry

Last week I gave a talk on neurodiversity in the workplace at the University of Highlands and Islands #UHI in Inverness. It was my first time at this venue and my thanks again to David and Gill for the invitation to speak in this modern, welcoming learning environment.


I had 20 minutes, a small amount of time to spend on such a big topic. However, I would like to share the key takeaways if I may by outlining the basic premise of what I had to say.


Cruelly I began by asking the attendees to go through a little “stand up and give us a twirl” routine designed to take everyone out of their comfort zone.  Sorry guys! I could read the discomfort on the faces in the room as I got everyone to stand, wave hands in the air whilst doing a 360 degree turn.


This devilish ploy was a device to demonstrate that generally we operate in two worlds:  our external world, which in this case was a typical lecture theatre environment, and our private internal World of thoughts, feelings, beliefs etc. For a brief moment, this internal world of thoughts and feelings is what most people were strongly connected to when they were following my ridiculous instructions so obediently.


My intention was to highlight how, when stressed,  we often get caught up in difficult thoughts and feelings which make us feel uncomfortable and how challenging it would be to manage things like work, relationships and life in general if we felt like this all the time. 


So what’s this got to do with neurodiversity?  Well if we think about neurodiverse people or people who are neuro-atypical, then essentially what we are referring to is a minority of people who’s brain’s work a bit differently from the majority.


Neurodiversity is rooted more in a social model as opposed to a medical model. This implies that It’s not the person that’s disordered or needs to be fixed.  However in terms of functioning problems do arise when this minority are expected to fit snugly into an environment or external world that has been designed for and by the majority of people who are neurologically different from them. It is this set-up that generates for many, significant work related stress and anxiety.


Fundamentally, this is the issue at the core of neurodiversity in the workplace. Thankfully, organisations such as Mind, The National Autistic Society and The Scottish ADHD Coalition and many more are doing great work and have a lot to offer in terms of guidance, advice and support.


My other key takeaway is that difficult thoughts and feelings are part of the deal for us humans.  From a mental health perspective, whether you are neuro-typical or neuro atypical, it’s getting caught up in them that causes us problems.


Image by Wolfgang Eckhert on Pixabay

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