Neurodiversity describes the variation in how our brains function, how we experience, interact with and interpret the world. Neurodivergence includes conditions like ADHD, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dyspraxia and autism and may result in our attention, emotions, learning, development and mood being different than the majority of the population. Today, mental health disorders such as anxiety, depression and PTSD are also included. Over 1% of us are on the autistic spectrum, 10% of us are dyslexic, 10% are dyspraxic and 3 - 4% of adults have diagnosed ADHD.
Hazel Scott, our PR Director, talked to mother and daughter Naomi and Caitie Glover, who are experts in neurodiversity both because they are neurodivergent and because they work in supporting other neurodivergent individuals.
Caitie Glover is 17 and has dyslexia and dyscalculia and is already running her own successful tutoring business, Syper Education, and employs seven people. Naomi Glover, is an applied neuroscience and brain health specialist, recently diagnosed with ADHD. She’s an associate of Serenity in Leadership and runs Neuro-Informed Ltd, a training, coaching and consultancy company for forward thinking organisations. Naomi is also co-founder of the Applied Neuroscience Association which launched during Brain Awareness Week in March 2022.
How has neurodiversity affected your life?
“When you are neurodiverse people may think you are unintelligent because you aren’t able to read quickly or because you find it hard to concentrate. But actually you might for example have an incredible ability in maths, or you may be doodling but are paying close attention to what is being said at the same time. I struggled in primary school in particular, and lost confidence because I was getting left behind. When you are neurodivergent you tend to go through similar problems at school such as being labelled a ‘naughty’ or ‘dreamy child’.
“We all have strengths and weaknesses but being neurodivergent means that we have more extreme strengths and weaknesses, so it has affected me in many ways. Once I had a diagnosis of dyslexia and dyscalculia, things started to change, and my confidence increased. I started to achieve academically by learning cognitive strategies that addressed my challenges, and I developed skills like perseverance and problem solving which are strengths that often come with being neurodivergent. I was also given a laptop which dramatically improved things. Suddenly the curriculum became accessible and so did the world of work.”
Tell me about your business, Syper Education.
“I started Syper Education when I was 11 because my family and I realised I could combine my ability to hyper-focus with my entrepreneurial skills. I looked at different ways of using technology to identify dyslexia early and that gained a lot of traction. I then started tutoring neurodivergent children in primary and lower secondary. When students are being helped by someone they can relate to, in this case both because we are of the same generation and because we are likely to have had similar challenges, we can achieve so much. Our pupils benefit from having solutions that suit them as individuals with neurodiversity. They can develop their confidence which is then a springboard to greater success. We are also role models as neurodiverse students who have succeeded within the education system and have made it work for them. Now I have recruited seven student tutors and we teach students from age six to 16.”
What can people with neurodivergence do to help themselves with their learning?
“Educate yourself about how different people learn in different ways and know what works for you. Understanding how to help yourself learn is the most empowering thing. If you are dyslexic, you might have advanced logical skills. If you are autistic, you may not want to have direct eye contact, but you might have increased focus. There are so many different ways to learn, from spaced repetition to memory palace to scaffolding techniques, but the best thing to do is to empower yourself by working out what you need and asking for it. The more we understand about ourselves, the more we can access the world and find and enjoy our strengths.”
How well do you think workplaces in the UK are supporting individuals with neurodiversity?
“There has been some improvement but there is still little training and understanding about neurodiversity in the workplace. People with neurodivergence benefit from a strengths-based approach to development, more than most in particular by focusing on where each individual adds value, whilst giving the many support they need, they are likely to gain confidence, develop resilience, bring their best selves to work and succeed both at an individual level and for the business.”
Is having a label like being neurodivergent or any of the conditions under that term, a disadvantage or an advantage?
“For me being diagnosed in later life with ADHD has been really valuable. Having that diagnosis is not the same as being ‘labelled’ but knowledge is power. When we understand ourselves, our brains, our challenges and our strengths, we can gain a better quality of existence. It was different in the past as it was believed that the brain stopped developing in childhood, so even if you discovered a diagnosis, people may have thought there was little that could be done. Research now shows that our brains continue to change throughout life and that through lifestyle factors such as diet, exercise and cognitive training, we can improve our brains significantly. My experience is that once people realise they can become the architect of their own brain, they become compelled to learn more about it.
What can businesses do to help colleagues with neurodiversity?
“A lot can be learnt from schools that are supporting young people with neurodivergence well. Schools have a SENCo (SpecialEducational Needs Co-ordinator) who is responsible for those students with learning differences or disability, but businesses are only just beginning to have specialists such as an ADHD coach who has solutions and strategies to really leverage talent as well as support people to overcome specific challenges.
“Organisations need to look at what gets in the way of someone succeeding and look for solutions whilst focusing on their strengths. Remember that many of these individuals will have grown up with a lot of challenges which can impact on confidence.”
“We need to understand that everyone’s needs are different, whether they have neurodiversity or not. Offering coaching to someone on how to work with their neurodivergence can produce excellent results.”
Would you say training for the whole business is key?
“Training everyone in the workplace about neurodiversity would be a great start. For example, relying on body language is unhelpful. We now understand that lack of eye-contact does not make someone untrustworthy. Not everyone can think on the spot; someone may be more analytical and want to come back with more thought-out feedback. Or someone with ADHD might come up with a lot of different solutions very quickly.
“Training is vital so that everyone is just more aware of why some people do the things they do and to ensure there is total inclusivity and that we are all nurtured for our talents. Right from the beginning at the recruitment stage, imagine how much anxiety there might be for someone with neurodivergence because of how structured the interviews are. But if you don’t welcome diversity, you won’t reap the rewards of different ways of thinking.
“Training all leaders and managers to design meetings, interviews and working practices that are accessible to all will improve organisational trust and psychological safety and support all staff to contribute their best. Careful thinking around having a clear agenda to help colleagues to stay focused and ensuring other opportunities for those who find it hard to speak out in a group should be considered for example. The physical working environment is also important, such as having quiet spaces or flexible working practices wherever possible.”
To finish off, what is the one piece of advice you give leaders to help with neurodivergent colleagues.
“There are two things actually! The workplace would be a better place if everyone felt entirely comfortable about voicing what they find easy and what is more challenging. We need leaders to show vulnerability too. If leaders are open, then everyone else is more likely to be too.
“Secondly, we have to all be supported to work to our fullest potential, and we are all different. Treat everyone as individuals. Celebrating neurodiversity will help us create workplaces that are more suited to the future of work.”