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Neurodiversity - a missed opportunity?

26 Sep 2019

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By Kath Wood, Disability Training and Consultancy Specialist, Remploy

Autism and dyslexia are two of a number of conditions under the umbrella term neurodiversity or neurodiverse conditions, along with ADHD, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Meares-Irlen Syndrome and Tourette’s. There is considerable overlap between the various conditions. 

Dyslexia

Dyslexia is the most common specific learning difference or neurodiversity - it is estimated that around 10 per cent of the population are affected by dyslexia to some extent. Dyslexia can be thought of a continuum as people can be mildly, moderately or severely affected. Written work is likely to be affected with an increased chance of  spelling and grammar errors and difficulty with handwriting. Individuals may have trouble structuring their written communication and difficulty expressing ideas in writing. Many people will have reading issues such as difficulty reading fluently, misreading words, struggling to understand and learn new words or even visual sensitivity to text.

But dyslexia is not just about reading and writing. It can cause difficulties in processing, memory, organisations and time-management which are characterised by concentration issues, needing more time to respond, struggling with sequences of tasks and instructions, missing deadlines and appointments, finding it hard to prioritise and seeming disorganised. All of these issues can contribute to emotional and social effects such as tiredness and stress, struggling with self-esteem and confidence and difficulty mixing with others.   

Despite and perhaps because of these issues, people with dyslexia may have a range of distinct skills including:

  • Being inquisitive and able to absorb information from multiple sources
  • Lateral and/or critical thinking 
  • Ability to visualise how things will look 
  • Being innovative and intuitive
  • Problem-solving by providing alternative solutions
  • Excellent troubleshooting and fault identifying    
  • Bigger picture-thinking and taking a holistic approach 
  • Ability to make connections between different concepts, see inter-relationships between ideas and patterns in information.

Autism

Now let’s consider autism - around one in 100 people have autism in the UK which is 700,000 people. Autism is commonly referred to as a spectrum condition and occurs across all intelligences. When describing autism, some people use the term mild or severe or even low functioning or high functioning. Others say this is not the right way to look at it and labelling people in this way isn’t helpful. Although some people will appear to be mildly affected or high functioning this does not necessarily mean they are less impacted.It may just be that due to their above average intelligence, they may have been able to develop better coping strategies.

Autism generally affects how an individual communicates with, and relates to, other people and also affects how they make sense of the world around them. An autistic individual is likely to have difficulties in three areas - social communication, social interaction and social imagination – these are known as the triad of impairments. Here are some examples: 

Social communication

  • Difficulty with double meanings or similar sounding words
  • Interpreting language literally leading to misunderstanding sayings, sarcasm or jokes
  • Struggling with turn-taking in conversation – ending up interrupting others or speaking for too long themselves
  • Problems using and interpreting both tone of voice and body language.

Social interaction 

  • Finding it difficult to maintain appropriate eye contact – either avoiding it or staring
  • Not picking up on social cues or understanding when other people are uncomfortable or need to leave the conversation
  • Struggling with small talk, to start a conversation or indeed how to choose an inappropriate topic to talk about
  • There may be issues with understanding appropriate personal space. 

Social imagination or flexible thinking

  • Difficulty understanding what other people are thinking or feeling or not being able to imagine what could happen 
  • Struggling with activities outside of normal routine 
  • Finding it hard to prepare for change and plan for the future 
  • Having trouble coping in new or unfamiliar situations.

Many people with autism also experience sensory issues - either over or under sensitivity to one or more of the seven senses: taste, touch, sound, vision, smell, body awareness and balance. Some people may also experience sensory overload – where they feel constantly bombarded by sound, light, colours, patterns, numbers, temperatures, textures and smells and it can become too much. It can seem as if they have no sensory filter so they try to process all the information. It is really important to find out about these to make sure you can adapt your environment and ensure any workplace adjustments are made.

So often we focus only on needs and difficulties, but as with other neurodiverse conditions individuals have different ways of thinking leading to valuable skills abilities and qualities such as:

  • Excellent attention to detail, meticulous, accurate and precise 
  • Good at identifying errors and spotting patterns              
  • Displaying a high level of concentration and focus
  • Thorough, consistent, reliable and conscientious
  • Able to obtain and retain detailed factual knowledge
  • Less distracted by the social side of work and office politics.

If you would like to find out more about dyslexia and autism, please look out for the awareness training sessions provided by the ETF in partnership with Remploy.

About Kath
I have worked for Remploy for over 10 years in a variety of roles both directly with disabled people, supporting colleagues to develop skills and for the last three years with a range of small, medium and large employers.

I have always worked in the field of disability. Prior to entering Remploy, I worked in supported living and day services for people with learning disabilities, complex physical needs, mental health issues and challenging behaviour. 

My role involves providing high quality disability products and services for a wide range of businesses and key to this is understanding both their aspirations and challenges. I have worked on our suite of training products as well developing bespoke training solutions for The Education and Training Foundation (ETF), North Yorkshire County Council, Versus Arthritis and Nationwide Building Society. I have led on the Disability Confident consultancy projects with CHDA, Triage Central and Royal College of Paediatric and Child Health. 

You may also be interested in reading our previous blog Neurodiversity - difference not difficulty.