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Neurodiversity: Tips for Training Professionals

05.04.2018

It’s Autism Awareness Week and I wanted to share some top tips I’ve picked up through research, having autistic family members, and speaking with adult participants who are on the autism spectrum. More specifically this blog considers dyslexia and high functioning Asperger syndrome (now old terminology but one that is descriptive of those who are comparatively closer to neurotypicals).

Neurodiversity Background Info

Neurodiversity is the term used to reflect that how individual’s brains are wired to think varies. 

[Extremely short definitions]

Dyslexia is a learning difficulty that primarily affects the skills involved in accurate and fluent word reading and spelling. On the upside often great at creativity and big picture thinking for example.

Asperger Syndrome traits include difficulties with social communication and social interaction, having repetitive behaviour and routine and highly-focused interests, and often sensory sensitivity. On the upside often great at problem solving and analytical thinking for example.

1 in 10 people have dyslexia. 1 in 68 people are on the autism spectrum (that’s 700,000 people in the UK), 4:1 men to women. Many others won’t have had a formal diagnosis so it’s likely there are more neurodivergent people in the existing employee base than is currently thought.

Diversity is Good for Business

Fortunately, the business case for diverse thinking is now commonly accepted and businesses such as Google, EY and Microsoft are actively supporting staff to create more inclusive workplaces where everyone can reach their full potential.

Famous people with Dyslexia or Autism include Richard Branson, Duncan Bannatyne, Daryl Hannah and Keira Knightly. They’ve done a good deal to highlight the positive aspects of neurodiversity.

Training Tips for Neurodiverse Inclusivity

As a coach, leadership trainer and facilitator I am passionate about playing my part in creating a training environment and experience that meets the needs of all participants. In many cases the tips can be considered best practice that support everyone to learn more effectively.

Before Training:         

  • Venue selection, selecting a venue that removes much of the sensory overload may determine who attends the training at all. Choose: carpeted rooms that deaden sound, natural daylight rather than fluorescent lights, in-room temperature control, rooms away from noisy thoroughfares or kitchens etc.
  • Sending joining instructions with clear venue directions, facilities, start/end times, approx. number of participants and dress code can greatly alleviate anxiety from a change to usual routines.
  • Participants needs: as well as asking for dietary requirements, also ask whether the individual considers themselves to have any specific learning needs or if you can make any adjustments that will support them. Everyone is different and the individual will know best what support they need, ask them.
  • Online interaction such as pre-work leading to an online discussion helps to build social interaction and rapport in a less socially intense way.

Start of Day

  • Housekeeping – indicate likely times of breaks so that people can “pace” their social interactions and have space apart from the group. Be clear whether there is a fire alarm test planned (and don’t be surprised if people cover their ears! If you imagine that it’s 10 x louder for someone with sensory overload you get the idea!). Avoid last minute changes where at all possible (e.g. room change).
  • Agree ground rules for interaction and expectations of how people will be with each other e.g. respect, openness etc to make the social norms explicit and make it ‘safe’.
  • Allow people to sit where they want to where possible
  • Ask whether the environment is working or any adjustments are needed
  • Give advance notice where there might be a change of environment during the day… this morning we are in here, we also have syndicate rooms next to the coffee area for late morning, and this afternoon we’ll be going outside.

During Training

  • Mix it up, some group work, some solo activity – not everyone enjoys or learns best via interactive social learning.
  • Mix it up, VARK – visual, auditory, reading and kinaesthetic (active participation) methods of sharing information
  • Voluntary scribes and offering of feedback, not putting people on the spot
  • Enable people to contribute according to their strengths
  • Give structured positive feedback
  • Allow use of devices for capturing notes/mind-maps
  • Facilitate conversations so that people are not talking over one another, “too much information” at once for autistic people.
  • Clear and concise instructions before an activity (autistic people often take things literally, minimise use of metaphor)
  • Be available during breaks for support and pastoral care moments
  • Be flexible and empathic to needs emerging on the day

These are simple, no-cost steps that play just a small part in widening participation, will you play your part too?

For further information on how organisations are embracing neurodiversity at work this CIPD guide is a great resource. https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/neurodiversity-at-work_2018_tcm18-37852.pdf

I hope you found this blog useful, I’d be interested to know your thoughts on neurodiversity at work too, please comment beow

Angela

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