Before we had labels like ‘neurodiversity’, terms like ‘learning difficulties were often thrown around. While unhelpful and vague, it’s easier to use learning difficulties, than deal with the complex ways that people on the spectrum deal with the world.
We say we value diversity, but it doesn’t feel like it.
With diversity comes multiple perspectives. When team members bring a variety of backgrounds, cultures, and experiences, they are more likely to solve problems and be innovative. Yet, if we’re all honest with ourselves, there’s one type of diversity that we consider much less; diversity of thought.
“You can see the difference between box-ticking and people being really committed and seeing the value in diversity.”
A lot of autistic people see the world completely differently, which has great potential to hugely benefit creative teams, accessing a viewpoint that neurotypical people wouldn't be able to access. Integrating people on the spectrum into a diversity program is nothing short of difficult.
When we say spectrum, think less like a linear spectrum showing how much someone is autistic, and more like a radar chart. From person to person, the intensity of each autistic trait can vary. So, there’s no quick start guide to hiring people on the Autism spectrum into your creative team. What it takes is empathy, understanding, and open dialogue. But it also takes some learning.
How do we get where we want to be?
Sometimes, you may have an inkling about someone’s neurodiversity but not everyone feels comfortable with disclosing their diagnosis. In a supportive environment, disclosure can be a positive and rewarding experience. But if neurodiversity is not talked about in a workplace, it's not easy to know whether to expect a positive or negative response to your disclosure.
Neurodiversity inclusion should be explicit in your diversity policies so that candidates, employees, and colleagues feel comfortable getting the support they need. Inclusion should extend to ways of working and workspaces.
With people on the Autism spectrum specifically, it’s beneficial to have inclusive spaces to accommodate their needs. From company-wide understanding to foster a supportive and inclusive environment, opt-in socials, and events. To the physical working space — quiet working areas and a consistently allocated desk space.
In short, there’s no quick win. It takes some communication, some collaboration, and some trial and error.
The resources out there are sparse, particularly relating to the creative fields. You may be trawling through writing to educate yourself. The quickest option is to talk to your neurodiverse employees and integrate them into your diversity committees. The diverse and nuanced nature of neurodiversity means that you’ll have to adapt and flex to the needs of your teams.
The handbook highlights that while nearly all creative companies recognise the value of neurodiversity in the workplace only very few have ND-friendly policies and practices in place. It goes on to provide a range of practical solutions companies can adopt to make their workforces more accessible in areas including recruitment, mentorship, and career progression. Specific recommendations include neurodiversity awareness education for all employees, providing flexibility around the job application process, and also some less obvious suggestions such as a buddy system to help new recruits better understand unwritten social rules.
The National Autistic Society is the UK’s leading charity for people on the autism spectrum. They provide support, guidance, and advice, as well as campaigning for improved rights, services, and opportunities to help create a society that works for autistic people.
What is Autism anyway?
About 1–2% of the UK population are autistic. Autism impacts how a person perceives the world and interacts with others, making it difficult for them to pick up social cues and interpret them. Social interactions can be difficult as they can have difficulty ‘reading’ other people and expressing their own emotions. They can find change difficult and uncomfortable. People on the autistic spectrum are often very thorough in their work, punctual, and rule observant. Many autistic people develop special interests and can hold high levels of expertise in their given topic.” (Acas)