Helping neurodiverse members
Because people often build up coping strategies throughout their lives they may not be aware that they have a neurodiverse condition. However, they may face unexpected challenges in the workplace, for example, where there have been changes in structures or procedures, or where performance is assessed much more stringently because of changes in the system or the arrival of a new line manager.
We have tried to explain here some of the characteristics of neurodiversity, which we hope will help representatives if they are struggling to understand their colleagues’ behaviour.
If you suspect that a colleague may be neurodiverse and they have not disclosed this to you, it is likely that they don’t know themselves. These situations should be handled sensitively.
There are some straightforward screening tests available online (see our links and resources page) and while they are not intended to be used as diagnostic tools, they may indicate whether there could be a neurodiverse difference which will then require a full professional assessment.
However, many Prospect members with neurodiverse differences will be of high ability and have learned to compensate for many of their challenges. This can sometimes mean that the screening checklists do not identify someone who is, for instance, dyslexic when in fact they are.
So if some of the characteristics associated with a neurodiverse condition are clearly evident then it may be advisable to seek advice from a professional, preferably one specialising in adults in the workplace.
Some of the organisations listed on our links and resources page are willing to provide initial advice free of charge, for example, Independent Dyslexia Consultants.
Detailed advice on identification, disclosure (including risks and benefits), and obtaining diagnostic and workplace needs assessments can be found in the TUC guidance on Dyslexia in the Workplace – many of the principles will apply for other neurodiverse differences too.
Professional assessments can be expensive and so, where appropriate, reps should try to persuade the member to disclose their likelihood of neurodiversity in order to encourage the employer to pay for the diagnostic assessment. This may be a reasonable adjustment that the employer can provide.
You can explain to the member that if the assessment reveals there is a neurodiverse condition then they should be protected from discrimination and less favourable treatment under the Equality Act.
In addition, the employer is obliged to make reasonable adjustments to enable them to carry out their job effectively. See our page on What a good manager would do for examples of reasonable adjustments.
It is therefore likely to be in members’ interests to disclose their condition to the employer, explaining their strengths and difficulties, even if they already know they are neurodiverse and have not yet disclosed this to the employer.
Members may understandably feel nervous or stressed at the idea of having a professional assessment, but it may help to reassure them that the differences and difficulties that they have been experiencing for some time would be explained, and as such there would be a recognition that reasonable adjustments would need to be made for them.
They should also be reassured that their assessment report would be treated as confidential, with only a very few individuals within the organisation having access to it (a member of HR, the trade union rep, line manager and perhaps a senior manager).
Once a professional diagnostic assessment has taken place, this should be followed up with a workplace assessment which should look in detail at the member’s job and how they can be supported through reasonable adjustments.
Neurodiverse Prospect members are likely to have many skills and an approach that can benefit everyone is to make adjustments that allow them to utilise and develop their skills to maximise their contribution and not to concentrate unduly on their challenges.
Reasonable adjustments can include changing standard working practices or job responsibilities to facilitate this.
See also our sections on What a good manager would do and What we can do together
How to help neurodiverse members
Be proactive in creating inclusive work environments – for example, distributing accurate information about neurodiversity, negotiating for improvements in policy and practice and publicising support for neurodiverse employees.
Liaise with line managers and HR as necessary – for example, to secure diagnostic and workplace assessments, in consultation with the member.
Follow up on assessments – for example, to secure further action and timely implementation of adjustments.
Challenge misunderstandings and negative stereotypes.