Create a strengths-based culture and embrace neurodiversity in the workplace

Whether you know it or not, there is a good chance that you work with someone who is neurodiverse.

Employee neurodiversity can have considerable influence on your workplace culture – but it has only recently become a focus of HR practice.

Welcome to the first of our two-part series discussing neurodiversity in the workplace.

Until quite recently, the term ‘neurodiversity’ was a bad word, with negative perceptions regarding conditions such as autism or ADHD. Yet, we all have our individual strengths and weaknesses that contribute to the success of a business, regardless of whether we’re neurotypical or neurodiverse.

Rather than viewing neurodiversity as a negative, we can focus on the strengths of neurodiverse people to not only help them personally flourish, but to utilise their traits to help others and the organisation. Embracing a variety of different types of thinkers – or, neurodiversity – and focusing on enhancing the strengths of your employees can make your organisation more profitable and more enjoyable for your staff.

Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace the people practice

What’s neurodiversity?

The term ‘neurodiversity’ was first used in the late 1990s by Australian sociologist Judy Singer, whose personal experiences with autism led her to study the condition in greater detail..

The official definition of neurodiversity refers to a variation in neurocognitive functioning. Neurodivergent individuals are those whose brain functions differ from those who are neurologically typical – aka neurotypical.

Neurodiversity is used as an umbrella term that encompasses a range of neurocognitive conditions, including:

  • Autism
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dyslexia
  • Dysnomia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Hyperlexia
  • Irlen Syndrome (aka Meares-Irlen Syndrome, Scotopic Sensitive Syndrome, Visual Stress)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Synesthesia
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • It is also used to describe an individual who may not be diagnosed with a specific condition as above, but whose neurocognitive functioning operates outside of neurotypical
Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment?"
— Harvey Blume, The Atlantic, 1998

Common neurodiverse conditions

Here’s a brief look at 4 common neurodiverse conditions.


Autism affects how a person thinks, feels, interacts with others, and experiences their surrounds. It’s a neurological developmental condition characterised by repetitive patterns of behaviour and difficulty in communicating socially. Persons with autism may struggle in dealing with change, multitasking, mandatory actions, or understanding different perspectives. They can also be impacted by sensitivity to light, sounds, and touch, and can find speech and/or information processing challenging. However, their neurodiversity does not impact on their intelligence.

Common autism strengths include:

  • Attention to detail – People with autism will often have great attention to detail and focus, giving them the ability to trawl through vast amounts of information to find specific content.
  • Efficiency – Given the right instruction, people with autism can be quite efficient as they enjoy structure and can be very good at following rules, sequences, and orders.
  • Logical thinking – While people with may struggle to consider emotional factors, they can be highly logical thinkers - bringing an innovative and objective approach to problem solving.
  • Retention – People with autism often have the ability to retain a great deal of information and have a strong visual memory. Some individuals may have the ability to build an encyclopaedic knowledge on topics of interest.

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) affects the nervous system, including the brain, during development from childhood to adulthood. ADHD can manifest through impulsivity, hyperactivity, distractedness, and difficulty following instructions and completing tasks. Other individuals may experience issues with time management, staying on topic, rationality, and articulation, or may exhibit lower risk aversion or impulsivity.

Common ADHD strengths include:

  • Hyperfocus – With high focus and commitment to projects and tasks that they are interested in, people with ADHD can be highly efficient.
  • Creativity – People with ADHD have creative and busy minds, with the ability to originate unique ideas and novel solutions to problems.
  • Enthusiasm – While they can experience periods of low energy, people with ADHD can have bursts of high enthusiasm, speed, and determination.
  • Innovation – Those with ADHD will often take a fearless approach to their work that can lead to bold, innovative ideas.


People with dyslexia experience a learning difficulty that primarily affects their skill in accurate and fluent reading and spelling. It can also include challenges with information processing, short-term memory, organisation, and timekeeping and time management. However, these challenges are not due to a skills deficiency - rather, they are the consequences of a unique brain processing function.

Common dyslexia strengths include:

  • Creativity – Dyslexics are often quite creative, as they tend to think outside the box. They often seek alternate ways to solve problems, find new connections, learn things differently, or makes things easier.
  • Design – Strengths in spatial awareness and pattern recognition means that dyslexics tend to find innovative ways – even ground-breaking – to design graphics, structures, and buildings.
  • Communication – While there is a common misconception that people with dyslexia struggle with communication – however, it is usually a strength. Having to explain how you live with dyslexia, in a way that is easy for others to grasp, requires strong communication skills.
  • Big picture thinking – As well as contributing to design skills, the ability of pattern recognition and spatial awareness gives dyslexic people the ability consider the bigger picture.


Those with dyspraxia have a learning difference that affects how their mind processes sequences of movement and actions. This condition may affect their coordination and movement, balance, articulation of their thoughts, and organisational abilities. This condition can also affect hand-eye coordination and spatial awareness, impacting on their ability to perform everyday functions, such as typing. Often, dyspraxia exhibits similar characteristics to other neurodivergent conditions – sharing challenges of short-term memory, concentration, and social interaction with autism and ADHD.

Common dyspraxia strengths include:

  • Empathy – People with dyspraxia often develop empathy for others who are struggling to refer as a result of their own personal experiences. Therefore, they have a heightened ability to understand and respect what others are thinking or feeling.
  • Leadership – People with dyspraxia often develop strong soft skills – as well as empathy; they can also be talented at active listening and task delegation. Paired with skills in strong communication, those with dyspraxia often make good leaders.
  • Strategy – Dyspraxia does not affect a person’s IQ, but the mind of a person with dyspraxia is usually unorganised and unstructured. Being able to navigate their own minds means that people with dyspraxia will be talented at strategy, with the ability to overcome problems in a structured way.
  • Problem-solving – The skills that people with dyspraxia must develop includes finding innovative ways to learn and help themselves, which can translate into adulthood – where dyspraxic people are able to see alternative routes to others.

Working with neurodiversity

It’s vitally important to be aware of people with neurodiverse conditions so that we can accommodate their strengths and challenges in the workplace. However, it’s equally important to remember that people are not defined by their diagnosis. The above points provide a very broad overview, but there are several ways that these conditions can display. A significant number of those diagnosed with ADHD find it difficult to be organised and structured – however, you may work with a person with ADHD who is, in fact, quite organised. Or, you may have a colleague with autism who appears to be uncomfortable communicating in social situations, whereas people with autism will often find this task challenging.

Everyone is different – but understanding considerations for neurodiverse people will help to thrive and create a positive, strengths-based work culture. Our next blog will discuss how to integrate neurodiverse practices into your workplace. We look forward to seeing you there – or if you’d like some advice in the meantime, please contact us! We’d love to chat.

Renée x

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We are experienced and passionate about embracing neurodiversity in the workplace and helping other companies do the same. If you need a little help or advice on how to embrace neurodiversity in your workplace, get in touch to find out more about how we can help you.

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