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ADHD Awareness Month: Supporting employees with ADHD and other forms of neurodiversity

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October marks ADHD Awareness Month. Here Helen Webster takes a look at how employers can look to support employees who have ADHD in particular, although approaches in this article have relevance for all forms of neurodiversity.

The term ‘neurodiversity’ refers to differences in the ways people process information and relate to the world around them. It encompasses a range of conditions, including ADHD, as well as dyslexia, dyspraxia and autism.

ADHD or, given its full name, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, is a neurodevelopment disorder that always starts in childhood, although more adults are being diagnosed as awareness of neurodiversity increases. Type ‘ADHD’ into TikTok for example and you’ll find thousands of videos discussing various ADHD symptoms and – while some have turned to ‘self-diagnosis’ of neurodivergent conditions based on watching these videos – ADHD can only be formally diagnosed by a consultant psychiatrist trained in ADHD assessment.

What is clear is that there are likely people within your organisation who are neurodiverse, whether they’ve been diagnosed or not, so considering how to proactively approach this in your workplace to ensure neurodivergent employees can thrive is incredibly important.

Under the Equality Act 2010, employers must make ‘reasonable adjustments’ so that people with protected characteristics are not put at a substantial disadvantage. These protected characteristics include disability, which may include ADHD if it has a long-term, significant adverse effect on the person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities.

Such effects can include difficulties with concentration, time management, organisation and planning. Procrastination and getting distracted are common, as are acting or speaking on the spur of the moment without thinking and having difficulty controlling emotions. Many people with ADHD have problems with sleep, which can make focusing and getting started on tasks even more difficult.

While all people with ADHD are different, some simple but effective tips that may support neurodivergent employees are as follows.

Working arrangements

A common difficulty for neurodivergent people can be sensitivity to sensory input, such as background noise, kitchen smells and ‘water cooler’ small talk. While the likes of noise cancelling headphones, screen dividers, etc. may go some way to alleviating these issues, cost effective and simple adjustments to their working arrangements could include:

  • allowing them to work from home (either permanently or as part of a hybrid working pattern);
  • giving them their own allocated desk when they are in the office, rather than hot desking, so they have their own space that they’re familiar with and comfortable in;
  • allowing flexible start/ finish times to avoid a commute during rush hour;
  • creating spaces in the office for deep work with no interruptions (when “in the flow” ADHD people can hyper-focus for long periods of time);
  • helping with prioritisation;
  • delegating administrative or routine tasks that they might find particularly difficult; and
  • creating protected periods of the day or days of the week where no Teams meetings/ calls are scheduled (incidentally, some employers are adopting this for all employees).

Making adjustments isn’t a one-size fits all activity or a one-off exercise. Many people with ADHD have found ways to mask or manage their ADHD symptoms and might need to try and see what adjustments will and won’t work for them over a period of time. Ongoing reviews of how things are going should raise awareness of any further needs.

Focus on strengths

The flip side of some ADHD challenges can be great strengths. Ability to multitask, creative thinking, problem solving, openness to change and calmness in crisis situations are positive features of the ADHD mind. People with ADHD have a need for stimulation, which makes them flexible and quite happy with last minute demands.

People with ADHD often refer to these as “superpowers” and, well-managed and supported, an employee with ADHD can be a valuable asset in the right role.

Provide training on neurodiversity

Gaining a formal diagnosis for ADHD and other forms of neurodiversity can be difficult to obtain, meaning many have misinformed, preconceived impressions of what having a neurodivergent condition means. For example, ADHD can be incorrectly viewed as something that is just associated with ‘hyperactive children’ – but providing training on neurodiversity and making it available to all employees can reduce the stigma and build an understanding of the conditions to help break common misconceptions. Training can also lead to new ideas being generated about how the workplace can be best set up to support those with neurodivergent conditions.

The tips outlined in this article will often only require small changes that are simple and cost effective to implement, but the difference they can make to help a neurodivergent employee feel more comfortable in the workplace (in turn, improving retention) can be invaluable.

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