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Five neurodiversity myths that must be challenged

Ahead of Neurodiversity Celebration Week, Naomi Huber, Head of Mental Wellbeing at Bupa, shares 5 common workplace neurodiversity myths every employer must tackle. Naomi also shares practical tips for supporting neurodiverse team members at work

Ahead of Neurodiversity Celebration Week (21 – 27 March), new research* revealed there is a greater need for neurodiversity awareness in the workplace after more of us turned to Google for support. An increase in Google searches for ‘dyslexia at work’ and ‘ADHD workplace’ highlights the need to challenge the biggest neurodiversity myths in the workplace.

Naomi Humber, Head of Mental Wellbeing at Bupa, has revealed why we must embrace every employee’s unique self to create a happy, productive and healthy workforce.

Both employees and employers have turned to Google over the last 12 months to understand more about working as a neurodivergent:

  • 120% increase in Google searches for ‘neurodiversity at work’
  • 91% increase in Google searches for ‘ADHD workplace’
  • 86% increase in Google searches for ‘autism workplace’
  • 53% increase in Google searches for ‘working with ADHD’
  • 22% increase in Google searches for ‘dyslexia at work’

Here’s why there has been a surge of searches on Google for neurodiversity – according to Naomi Humber, Head of Mental Wellbeing at Bupa:
Neurodiversity is a term that explains the different ways we think, process information, and relate to others. Neurodiverse employees can bring unique skills to their role, such as problem solving, spotting trends, creativity, and data analysis.

Where you sit on the cognitive spectrum is unique to you. Whilst most people think and act in a way that society perceives as the ‘norm’ (neurotypical), one in seven people are neurodivergent. This means they behave, think and process information in ways that are different to most other people.

Autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and Tourette’s syndrome are all examples of neurodiverse ways of thinking and behaving.

However, many workplaces and working practices are not inclusive of neurodiverse ways of thinking, which can create barriers for neurodiverse employees. It may lead to discrimination, pressure, and underperformance.

Whilst neurodiversity has increased in awareness, there are still common misconceptions when it comes to neurodiverse individuals. This is especially so in the workplace. To support neurodivergent employees and breakdown stigmas, it’s important to understand and debunk common workplace myths.

Naomi Humber, Head of Mental Wellbeing at Bupa, addresses five common neurodiversity misconceptions:

1. Neurodiversity only includes autism
Whilst autism is a neurological condition, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia and Tourette’s syndrome are also examples of neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity recognises the biological differences in the way people think and feel and doesn’t solely focus on autism. As an employer, recognising and understanding the different neurodivergent conditions can help best support neurodiverse employees.

2. Neurodiverse individuals are similar
This isn’t true – we all sit at different places on the cognitive spectrum, meaning the way we think, behave and process information is unique to us.

However, neurodiverse individuals often have thought processes which are more unique than most people. Therefore, the skills and barriers neurodiverse employee face in the workplace are unique to them. A neurodiverse diagnosis does not mean all neurodiverse individuals experience the same challenges or talents as each other.

3. Neurodiverse employees are unable to succeed in the workplace
A common misconception is that neurodiverse individuals are unable to succeed in the workplace. Whilst neurodiverse individuals may face challenges at work – for example, difficulty concentrating or adapting to change – many will think outside the box and be more creative and innovative. This can lead to higher productivity levels than neurotypical employees.

4. Neurodiversity is a mental health condition
Conditions such as autism, dyslexia and ADHD are not mental health conditions, they are neurological differences in the way individuals think and process information.

Neurodivergent people are still at risk of experiencing mental health conditions – this can be down to several factors, including workplace stress or bullying. It’s really important to provide appropriate support to help neurodiverse employees with mental health concerns.

5. Only men are affected by Neurodiversity
It is a common misconception that neurodiversity is rarer in women. However, thousands of women are diagnosed with neurodiversity in the UK each year.

Previously, old stereotypes between male and female gender norms and social behaviours often left many women undiagnosed with neurodiversity. However, gender should not be a factor in accepting a request for adjustments or diagnostic support.

Supporting neurodiverse employees in the workplace
As an employer you can support your employees’ health and wellbeing by supporting their unique talents and understanding their individual needs.

Get to know more about your team member’s neurodivergence. For some neurodiverse employees, supportive technology and equipment such as dictation tools or daily planners can be helpful. Consider your working environment, as many aspects of a typical working environments can cause challenges or barriers for neurodiverse employees. For example, bright lights and noisy open-plan offices can be difficult for people with sensory challenges.

Encourage awareness of neurodiversity in the workplace. This can help to educate all employees on the barriers neurodiverse employees face in the workplace, as well as celebrate the unique strengths they bring to a team.

*Bupa UK

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