Brain neuronsLike many human characteristics, such as height, weight or shoe size, there is a natural variation in the anatomy of people’s brains. Many authorities now use the term neurodiversity to describe dyslexia, dyspraxia, autistic spectrum/Asperger syndrome and other differences due to this variation in the ‘wiring’ of the brain.

Neurodiverse people have a range of characteristics and many are highly able, leading successful careers and holding positions of authority ­– for example, scientist Albert Einstein, inventor Thomas Edison, ballet dancer Darcey Bussell, crime writer Agatha Christie, architect Richard Rogers, inventor James Dyson, Apple founder Steve Jobs and Microsoft founder Bill Gates.

Many managers, professionals and specialists represented by Prospect are neurodiverse and they too are often very successful. However, they also face many challenges, frequently because their organisations fail to fully understand their strengths and weaknesses and do not provide the working environment they need to succeed and flourish.

A complicating factor is that because neurodiverse people have often needed to be of high ability to get as far as they have in their careers, they have frequently learned to compensate for many of the difficulties they experienced when they were younger and in full-time education. For instance, many high-ability people with dyslexia have above-average reading and writing skills. However, they still have the underlying traits associated with the way their brains are ‘wired’, such as problems with memory and difficulties with processing words.

This can mean that a lot of the information people find when they look for guidance relating to workplace issues affecting neurodiverse, able, Prospect members can be confusing or unhelpful, particularly as it is written with young people in education in mind, or those more severely challenged.

It is likely that many of these able people have not been formally assessed as dyslexic, or on the autistic spectrum, and if they have been, they may not have disclosed it to their employers. However work colleagues, managers and union reps who know something about  neurodiversity could consider it when they recognise some of the presenting characteristics.

Although many neurodiverse people may not regard themselves as having a hidden disability, it can be to their considerable advantage that the Equalities Act 2010 (and previous legislation) recognises differences such as these as disabilities where they have a substantial and long-term effect.

There are many examples of neurodiverse people who have become successful and highly regarded in one job only to run into difficulties when their responsibilities change, before they have had time to develop new compensating strategies. Sometimes it can be seemingly simple things that lead to significant problems, such as remembering everyone’s name after moving to a new team.

To summarise:

Humans have a natural variation in the anatomy of their brains – they have a different neurological make up, or ‘brain wiring’.  While most people can be described as neurologically typical, or neurotypical, a minority who show differences such as dyslexia are now characterised as neurologically diverse, or neurodiverse.

Neurodiverse difference includes autism – which includes Asperger syndrome – dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

These webpages aim to:

  • inspire all with positive role models and examples;

  • enable reps to assist employers to manage neurodiverse members to the benefit of both the member and the organisation;

  • direct neurodiverse members to relevant support and sources of information;

  • direct members and reps who may recognise neurodiverse traits in their colleagues towards relevant support and sources of information;

  • assist neurodiverse members and colleagues – for example, following job or organisational changes.

Some of you may also wish to listen to these BBC Radio 4 programmes:

John Harris from the Guardian talks to autism specialist Professor Simon Baron-Cohen (17 February 2015)

John Harris from the Guardian talks to university researcher Penny Andrews, who, after a difficult childhood and adolescence, was finally diagnosed with autism in her early thirties (30 November 2015)

We hope you will find the information you need here to help to make organisational changes to benefit our members, including those with neurodiverse conditions.

Epilepsy in the Workplace:

Epilepsy is a medical condition which affects almost 1 in 100 people in the UK. People diagnosed with epilepsy have a tendency to have epileptic seizures. Unlike the neurodiverse differences described in these pages, epilepsy is not necessarily a lifelong diagnosis and doctors may consider that someone no longer has epilepsy if they go without seizures for a long enough time.

The TUC, in partnership with Epilepsy Action, has published Epilepsy in the workplace – a TUC guide, to aid trade union workplace representatives in supporting members with epilepsy. The guide was written for the TUC by Epilepsy Action and is based on the social model of disability, which means epilepsy is not seen as a barrier to work. However, there may be external barriers to accessing work in the form of ignorance, prejudice and failure by employers to make workplace adaptations.

The guide educates trade union members about epilepsy, and provides guidance on reasonable workplace adjustments and making workplaces epilepsy-friendly.