Embracing Neurodiversity

At the intersection of technology, inclusion and Neurodiversity

This week I attended a Game Changers dinner, hosted by Sarah from Ginger Public Speaking, for a discussion about "Technology for Good". As someone from a technology background, I was and am excited about the about the potential for technology and artificial intelligence (AI) to transform lives - particularly those of Neurodivergent (ND) thinkers.

Imagine if you could tap into the wealth of research, insights from other people's experiences, and the expertise of a host of professionals? Imagine being able to ask a question, and get an answer based on their collective wisdom. With AI, this is within the realms of possibility and is actively being explored by a myriad of people working on the next wave of technological advancements.  

What a difference this could make to those who are ND. Early diagnosis, taking the guesswork out of identifying anxiety triggers, personalised support plans, identification of legal strategies likely to lead to successful tribunal outcomes, and matching people to job profiles based on their strengths instead of relying on interviews which are more a test of person's social skillset. There is so much I would love to see developed. I believe AI has the ability to transform the way we work and is a huge opportunity for ND employees in the workplace.  

Then there are the assistive technologies, many of which already exist or are in the progress of being developed. Applications to help non verbal people communicate, text to speech apps to help with information processing, directional headphones to eliminate background noise, virtual classrooms to make learning accessible for those who struggle in a classroom environment, applications that are designed to help people stay focused, and the potential for virtual reality to help people experience new situations in a controlled environment before experiencing it in real life.

Just this week, Vodaphone made the first holographic call on 5G and announced a fund to award funding to tech starters with a social purpose. The possibilities of what we could achieve with high speed communications and virtual interactions is huge.

With all this possibility, it is hard not to be excited about what could be. It also means that we need to focus on inclusivity. As technology opens up new opportunities for learners and workers, we need to build inclusive cultures to ensure that Neurodivergent thinkers entering the workplace are supported to be successful.

Every day inclusion

Ever day inclusion was the message of this year's National Inclusion Week. Organised by Inclusive Employers and sponsored by Sky, it is an annual opportunity to raise awareness of inclusion in the workplace. With over 650 organisations, and many others promoting it via social media, it is helping to ensure that more organisations commit to creating inclusive work environment.

With so much focus on other forms of diversity, it was encouraging to see both the Civil service and Direct Line highlight the importance of Neurodiversity as part of the wider diversity and inclusion discussion.

One of the daily challenges for National Inclusion Week was to "make an opportunity to meet new people and see what makes them tick". How great would it be to see people pledging to find out more about Neurodiversity, ND thinkers, and what makes us tick.

The most common response that I get when I talk to people about Neurodiversity and the challenges that autistic people like me commonly face is "I had no idea". From what I see, the number of people not thinking about Neurodiversity and the experiences of those who are ND is the biggest challenge that we face.

Without more people people thinking about this, the changes that we need will not happen.

Neurodiversity in the workplace

In fact just one in ten organisations are focusing on Neurodiversity in the workplace. With so few organisations thinking about Neurodiversity, it is encouraging to see initiatives like DARE focusing on the employment of autistic people. DARE is an new evidence gathering employment programme which aims to get more autistic people into employment, and is setting out a gold standard for autism employment schemes.

Elsewhere there are many organisations other helping to drive the Neurodiversity agenda, and ensure ND thinkers are supported in learning and the workplace.

CIPD has developed the really handy and insightful Neurodiversity at Work guide. Autism Forward is provide funding for adults on the autistic spectrum allowing them to access specialised mentoring services to aid their access to employment and employability. Made By Dyslexia is bringing together some of the world’s most successful and influential dyslexics to discuss, shape and change the future of dyslexia. ADHD action is challenging employers to think about what they can do to ensure their employees with ADHD don't deteriorate at work.

With an increasing number of organisations spreading the word about Neurodiversity and the benefit of creating inclusive environments for those who are ND, I hope that more organisations will follow in the steps of SAP, Microsoft, and Auticon to embrace Neurodiversity and the benefits that come with it.  

Enabling the paradigm shift

As Steve Silberman said "neurodiversity is a huge paradigm shift that is long overdue".  

With more organisations talking about Neurodiversity inclusion and the promise of technological advancements to open up new pathways to diagnosis and support, there has never been a better time for this paradigm shift to happen.

After all, to gain a competitive edge organisations need to think differently. What better way to achieve this, than through the many ND people who have the natural advantage in thinking differently.

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About Helen Needham

Helen is the originator and founder of Me.Decoded. A passionate advocate for Neurodiversity, - diagnosed as autistic in her 40's after a lifetime of feeling like she was on the outside looking in.
  • England