Supporting the learning and development of neurodiverse employees

Maryam Munir /
News

Professor Amanda Kirby, an expert in the field of neurodiversity, explains that L&D teams need to avoid changing processes solely for those who are neurodivergent

Neurodiversity is about us all. Some people talk about some specific conditions which may include dyslexia, ADHD, and autism – these can result in differences in the way the person thinks, attends, moves and communicates. About 18% of the population are considered to be neurodivergent. Some autistic people can be very logical thinkers who can focus and concentrate for long periods of time on specific tasks of high interest. Some people with ADHD might find themselves feeling restless and easily bored in a role or with work tasks that are not sufficiently stimulating.

When speaking to Amanda Kirby, co-author of Neurodiversity at Work and a Professor in the field of neurodiversity, we discovered the ways that L&D teams can support the learning and development of all neurodiverse employees.

First, Kirby says organisations and L&D teams “need to understand that neurodiversity is about us all.”

“It’s not about changing processes and learning for different groups of people. For example, if you’re tired you may want to learn by listening to music, whereas others won’t want to listen to music. All of us vary in the way that we learn depending on a number of different variables.”

Instead, when thinking about learning for neurodiverse employees, Kirby says: “you really need to be starting with the first principles of universal design – so how do you suit the learning preferences of everybody?

“It isn’t about doing this for autistic people or this for dyslexic people. It’s about how do you ensure that the way you deliver learning and development is inclusive and fits with strengths and minimises challenges. This has to include people who are visually or hearing impaired.”

By talking with all employees and gaining feedback from a diverse group of people and asking them what they want/don’t want in terms of their learning, your L&D team will then be able to create an inclusive learning strategy.

Kirby – who has worked in the field of neurodiversity and employment for the last 15-20 years – says: “Where you can, you should be person centred. So, in the same way as the best conversations are those when you understand the person you’re talking to, that’s exactly what neurodiversity is all about. Ask your neurodivergent employees what they want. 

“Don’t be afraid of asking and don’t pigeonhole people.”

Kirby warns: “As soon as you say this form of learning is for dyslexic people, and this is for autistic people, you’re going to make a mistake, because you’re thinking two people who are autistic or two people who are dyslexic are the same when they aren’t the same.”

“Dyslexia for example ‘just’ means reading, spelling, and writing difficulties. But somebody who’s dyslexic may not have reading, spelling, AND writing difficulties, they may only have reading difficulties or spelling. So, you want to avoid making assumptions about how you think they should be learning.”

As a result, L&D teams must make sure that all employees have an equal number of choices in terms of how they want to learn so that no one feels excluded or different from the norm. When discussing exactly how L&D teams can do this, Kirby says that it depends on what you want employees to learn.

“If you’re teaching somebody to bake a cake for instance, it’s useful to see them baking it. If you’re teaching somebody to read something on a screen, then you need to make sure they can understand it, hear it, read it, see it, and that you’re not using jargon. There’s a whole series of things you need to be thinking about,” says Kirby.

“If you’re teaching employees about how to be a mechanic or teaching them about health and safety processes they have to follow, or if you just want them to carry out an online form of learning, you need to give them choices to select the method of learning that is suited to them.

“With online learning, you should ensure that the closed captions are on. I might want it, I might not want it, but it might help me. If you’re providing training, you want to make sure there are visuals to support the information which aid my understanding.”

By making learning inclusive, your employees are likely to feel satisfied at work, which brings about a positive impact on your organisation.

“By supporting your neurodiverse employees, you can open yourselves up to more talent, optimise the performance of people that are in your organisation, and improve the wellbeing and productivity of your workforce,” says Kirby.


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