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Neurodiversity in the workplace

World Autism Acceptance Week (25th to 31st March) sees the release of the Department for Work and Pension’s (DWP) report of autism in the workplace in February.

It marks a growing trend of individuals actively seeking diagnosis and encouraging education within the workplace for neurodiversity.

According to the National Autistic Society, around 1 in 70 people in the UK are autistic.

Therefore, it is important to acknowledge and evaluate your workplace practices to embrace and celebrate our differences and avoid HR pitfalls in managing neurodiverse workforces.

Neurodiversity and Autism

Neurodiversity is defined as “showing patterns of thought or behaviour that are different from those of most people, though still part of the normal range in humans.”

While the majority of individuals are considered ‘neurotypical’, meaning their brain processes information in a way that aligns with typical expectations, approximately 15% of the population falls into the category of ‘neurodivergent’.

Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of neurodivergent conditions such as Autism, but also includes conditions like ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dysgraphia, and Tourette’s Syndrome.

The Equality Act 2010

The Equality Act 2010 provides protection for individuals with neurodivergent conditions if they can be shown that their condition fulfils the legal definition of a disability.

Under Section 6 of the Act, the legal definition of someone with a disability is someone “with a physical or mental impairment that has a substantial adverse impact” on their ability to carry out “normal” day-to-day activities. The disability must have lasted or will last, at least 12 months.

As of January 2024, normal day-to-day activities also encompass an individual’s ability to fully and effectively participate in working life equally with their colleagues.

This means tribunals can, in considering the issue of disability, take account of those tasks that may be specific in certain roles, or more infrequent in nature, such as manual handling, or applying for jobs.

Therefore, it could be easier for employees to establish that they are disabled with this change.

Reasonable adjustments

Under the Equality Act an employer has a duty to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to remove or reduce a disadvantage related to that individuals disability.

Reasonable adjustment will be specific to that individual and workplace; but they could include things like:

  • Allowing staff to work somewhere quiet, providing noise cancelling headphones, desk low lights can help with challenges around concentration and focus.
  • Chairs or desks that allow for movement such as standing desks or balance chairs can help with hyperactivity challenges experienced
  • Avoiding hot desking or allowing staff to work from home to help staff with familiarity and reduce anxiety over unpredictable working arrangements.

Neurodivergent conditions and mental health

There can often be misunderstandings around neurodiversity and mental health.

Neurodivergent people may also have mental health concerns, just like anyone else, but conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD and autism are not mental health problems.

However, neurodivergent people are at a higher risk of developing mental health conditions. This can be due to stress of unadjusted working environments and bullying at work. Therefore, employers should understand the difference between mental health and neurodivergent conditions but be aware that these staff may more at risk than other colleagues.

Supporting staff

CIPD research has revealed 52% of neurodivergent employees do not feel that their organisation is open or supportive enough to discuss neurodiversity.

A culture that is not open and supportive for discussing neurodiversity can make conversations around reasonable adjustments difficult. By seeing the conversation as ‘difficult’ employers and employees often delay or avoid these important topics.

This can often lead to waiting until there are problems and causing relationships to be strained.

In reality, reasonable adjustments can involve simple discussions, and many adjustments are not high costs but more about communication, attitude, and respect.


If someone in your workplace has the confidence to raise their concerns to you as a line manager or HR advisor there are a few tips on what you can do to be supportive:

1. Be person led, not label led

The diagnosis that an employee has may not tell much about how their condition affects them and what they actually need. You should make sure you listen to staff and seek advice from experts such as Occupational Health to understand the employee’s needs better.

This can help implement the right adjustments and avoid a one size fits all approach.

2. Invest in your culture

Get involved in Disability Confident Schemes, explore Access to Work Programmes and consult external autism charities and organisations, you help create a supportive environment where staff feel confident to raise concerns.

This can help reduce time and costs in performance management plans, grievances, and possible Employment Tribunal claims.

3. Training

Work with your managers and supervisors to support them having these conversations is key.

Does the manager know who to ask for support within the company? Does the manager know how to use Access to Work? Is the manager comfortable having emotional conversations?

You can provide your managers with the tools to face these situations to proactively support all employees in the workplace.

If you need advice on neurodiversity in the workplace and want to explore our training packages to handle these situations confidently and fairly, please contact us on 0333 888 1360 or complete the enquiry form and we’ll get back to you as soon as possible.

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