From access to inclusion: neurodiversity at work

Making reasonable adjustments at recruitment and employment stages can be invaluable for all disabled candidates, but what do these adjustments look like for neurodivergent people? Arwen Makin shares practical examples and talks us through the importance and impact of adjustments and inclusion.
Over the shoulder profile of bespectacled female executive in early 30s sitting at conference table and laughing as she interacts with off-camera colleague.
Photograph: AzmanL

At recruitment stage, and during employment, neurodivergent candidates may require particular and individualised reasonable adjustments, many of which are simple and cost little or nothing to put in place.

Find out more about neurodiversity

Failing to provide reasonable adjustments not only risks breaching the Equality Act, but also risks organisations missing out on, and making the most of, real talent.

The guidance on reasonable adjustments published by the Law Society is an excellent resource for organisations and sets out many practical examples.

Making adjustments

Adjustments can include anything, from:

  • allowing additional time to read a legal scenario or use of assistive technology for a dyslexic candidate, to
  • simply understanding that eye contact may be particularly difficult for an autistic person

Good interview planning should be designed to get the best out of any candidate, but asking well-structured, precise questions can be particularly important when interviewing a neurodivergent candidate.

“Tell us about yourself” or similar open-ended questions can be particularly difficult to navigate, whereas situational questions such as “tell us about a time when” are more likely to bring the best out of a candidate.

Once employed, many neurodivergent employees require little more than respect and understanding.

However, for those who need a little extra support, simple reasonable adjustments can make the world of difference.

For instance:

  • a good mentor during the induction process can be worth their weight in gold
  • provision of accessible software or noise-reducing headphones can often be funded by Access to Work

An example: hotdesking

To give one practical example, an autistic employee may struggle not only with the uncertainty of hotdesking, but the unwritten politics around it, especially in a new job.

They may also have sensory needs, which means working near a particularly busy break-out space or in a bright area could cause sensory stress.

Offering a permanent desk for this employee would be the sensible approach in this scenario.

It’s important to note that this is not special treatment, but an inclusive and necessary reasonable adjustment.

Educating the team

Education amongst other employees and managers is vital.

Where possible, organisations should share resources and learning materials which increase understanding of neurodiversity generally and specific aspects of it.

Inclusive language should also be considered as part of this learning and training.

There are many assumptions made about neurodivergent people and about specific conditions.

For example, eye contact is always given as an example of good communication, but it can be extremely difficult for some people.

An employee with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) may be more easily distracted, yet be an extremely talented lawyer with an ability to hyperfocus on the task in hand, especially under extreme pressure.

Just because someone may not behave in a neurotypical way, doesn't mean that they are not a good communicator.

My experience

I qualified as a solicitor in 2002.

In 2020, 18 years later, I was diagnosed with autism and ADHD.

My diagnosis led me to re-examine my career and I decided to return to criminal law, which is my true passion.

Interviewing with the Crown Prosecution Service (CPS)

My interview with the CPS was great, and made infinitely less stressful by the simple adjustment of requesting that the panel already knew that I was autistic.

It felt refreshing to be able to relax and answer the questions authentically.

Travel adjustments

Travel is and always has been an enormous source of stress for me.

When I first joined the CPS in the East Midlands, I requested that my travel was limited, and I was retained to attend Nottingham courts only.

This was an easy adjustment for the CPS to make, but it made a world of difference to me.

The benefits of ADHD in my current role

I now work at CPS Direct having been lucky enough to have been successful in my application. I don’t currently require any reasonable adjustments as the role is remote.

I train others, and support and manage a team who provide emergency charging advice to the police, working shifts and antisocial hours which really suits me.

I’ve always much preferred working under pressure and in adrenaline-filled situations, which is one enormous benefit to having ADHD.

I am fortunate that my ability to hyperfocus under immense time pressure, pick up on small details or inconsistencies in cases, and retain information, really means that the role plays to my particular strengths.

I find my role exciting and fulfilling, and I look forward to every shift. I could not imagine wanting to do anything else.

The CPS has been nothing but supportive. The small adjustments made at interviews and positivity in the early days helped me thrive and build relationships within my team, and to subsequent career progression.

I hope this is an example of how good practice can reap rewards for all concerned.

Find out more about reasonable adjustments

Our easy wins resources, both for larger and smaller organisations, offer a structured, practical starting point for making a real difference to disability inclusion.

Read our easy wins and action points for disability inclusion

Take a look at our reasonable adjustments best practice guide for organisations

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