A strengths-based approach to neurodiversity

 How is your organisation supporting and enabling neurodivergent colleagues? It's a topic I've been learning more about in 2023, so I thought it would be helpful to explore this in more detail.

Understanding neurodiversity

"Neurodiversity" is a term used to refer to the fact that there are naturally occurring differences in human neurocognition i.e. the way that individual brains work.

Being "neurodivergent" means that your brain works differently from the average or "neurotypical" person - it has more prominent strengths and weaknesses.

According to research undertaken by Dr Nancy Doyle, the whole population prevalence of neurodivergence is considered to be somewhere between 15-20%.

This can cover a range of conditions like those listed below, each of them bringing their own unique strengths:

  • Dyslexia - visual thinking, creativity
  • Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) - hyper-focus, energy and passion
  • Tourette Syndrome - innovative thinking
  • Autism - concentration, memory
  • Dyspraxia - verbal skills

The world around us...

Modern society - and by extension education and the world of work - has organised itself around the ideal of "the jack of all trades" - literate, numerate, fine motor control, sitting still for long periods in noisy and busy environments.

Even our ancestors on the savannah would have organised themselves around 'complementary cognition' e.g. 5% of the tribe would have been "Why are we sitting still? Let's go over there now, let's go look, let's discover!" whilst another 5% would have been sitting quietly by themselves whittling wood and creating the next generation of the spear.

The difficulties experienced by people who are neurodivergent come from the conditions society/education/work has placed them in, rather than in some form of 'deficit'.

Being treated as deficient in your early years and pathologised by medical experts during diagnosis makes it hard to create a positive self-identity.

Research has shown that a child with ADHD will have received 20, 000 more negative criticisms than a neurotypical child by the time they're 7.

How does this show up in the workplace?

According to Dr Doyle's research on coaching neurodivergent colleagues at work, there are a range of common themes that coachees bring to coaching:

  • Organisation skills
  • Time management
  • Understanding neurodivergence and advocating for one's needs and interests
  • Concentration
  • Memory
  • Stress management, i.e. managing the stress of not being able to do things in the way that "neurotypical" colleagues can

The value of Positive Psychology

As a Positive Psychology practitioner, it's been music to my ears to hear that a strengths-based Appreciative Inquiry lens can be really beneficial when working with neurodivergent colleagues.

Whether you're a line manager looking to enable your neurodivergent colleague/s through 1:1 discussions, a leader looking to discuss neurodivergence in a group setting, or an internal or external coach who has been invited to coach neurodivergent colleagues, the following questions are a good start:What is right with X (i.e. your condition, or with being neurodivergent?)

  • What are the benefits of being X?
  • How do they connect to your skills and capabilities?
  • What do you do well at work?
  • How can we create the conditions that help you to do this well?
  • What alternative or additional resources or support would be helpful?

Try some of these questions out the next time you're in conversation with a colleague who mentions their neurodivergence.

And if you're interested in exploring how we use Appreciate Inquiry in workshops and 1:1 coaching to unlock positive change for neurodivergent colleagues, talk to us.

We'd be delighted to explore a tailored approach designed for you.