Neurodiversity through the lens of intersectionality: lost opportunities and goldfish

A considerable number of people are still arriving in adulthood without any diagnosis or understanding of their neurodivergent traits (ASC, DCD, dyslexia, dysgraphia or other neurodivergent conditions).

There is often an assumption that people know what they need and know how to access it. The reality is not everyone has access to the support and insight that is needed to help them identify their neurodivergent traits.

Read the full article here.

Broom and dustpan in Cupboard

Project neurodiversity sorting out the broom cupboard

John Chambers, former CEO of Cisco Systems says “25% of CEOs are dyslexic, but many don’t want to talk about it”. There is an argument that if leaders self-identify as neurodivergent the rest of the workforce will feel more comfortable coming forward and having a conversation about neurodiversity.

Organisations can thrive instead of survive if they embrace neurodiversity. The current situation looks like there is a lot of noise, good ideas and goodwill in helping individuals become more effective in the workplace. The reality is that many of these initiatives are disjointed, not bespoke, and fragmented, so organisations are running many different special projects at the same time. This creates a substantial operational overhead that can detrimentally impact the organisation’s effectiveness.

This is a big problem that is not going to go away unless we start to think more holistically and in a project-orientated way across our organisations to help support neurodiversity. We have to think about the constraints we have to operate in. What is the scope of what we are trying to do? How long is it going to take? Do we have the resources to deliver it? And most importantly, how will we know what success looks like?

The project management approach is just as relevant to individuals. In my experience, many individuals have had a very fragmented and disjointed approach to support. To help them manage more effectively I would argue we need to treat neurodivergent support far more like a project.

Project Mindset

It is often easy to get baffled and confused by the potential solutions and lose sight of the problem we are trying to solve. Are we taking a project mindset to neurodiversity in the workplace? Are we focusing on what the problem is?

As an example, John needed support with task management. His company provided him with a robust task management app. The app allowed him to connect tasks across applications and distribute them throughout the organisation. John required a simple solution to help him understand what he needed to do and the priority that should be assigned to each task. As a result of the solution, John became obsessed with making sure he was fully utilising the app rather than focusing on solving the problem. He became stressed, anxious, and guilty about not using the app completely, which distracted him from the problem at hand, which was effectively prioritising his workload.

John’s situation is true for many individuals, as often incorrect solutions are provided that often create additional problems instead of solving the original issue.

Adjustments and support fall into two models which are, The Medical Model, which is about fixing the individual and The Social Model which looks at the social/organisational factors that disable the individual from working effectively.

Often the easy answer is to try and fix the individual by providing an off-the-shelf solution, but there needs to be experimentation, open dialogue and possible coaching.  Then a solid process can be written down and used going forward.  This needs to be led by the individual with support from the organisation. When we look at this in a project way, it means taking a step back and thinking about the impacts of what’s going on within the organisation.

The broom cupboard

Another example: I worked with Toni, who had recently been diagnosed with ADHD and was dealing with work overload and unhelpful organisational behaviours. Toni enjoyed teaching and was successful in the classroom, but her administrative abilities let her down. Furthermore, there was bureaucracy within the organisation, which meant that basic administrative tasks were assigned to senior staff.

We began with small wins to gain momentum, such as examining how Toni could better complete her administration. We set up a distraction-free environment in a broom cupboard for her to complete her administrative tasks. Toni’s mood improved dramatically as a result of a simple change that was inexpensive and quick to implement. Then we altered the way classes were assigned, allowing Toni to have breaks and time for administration between teaching. This was a more difficult organisational issue that required leadership support. The changes were made one at a time and were evaluated based on their impact and usefulness to the individual and the organisation.

In this particular case, it was helpful to get quick wins before working on more challenging adjustments. This allowed Toni to build trust and gain confidence in what was being implemented to make sure the solutions met her needs.

Action is key on Project Neurodiversity

“Often movement is the most important thing.”

Claire Pedrick

We are often afraid to begin, but to determine what is useful, it is critical to ask the individual and the teams involved what the problem is and how we can begin to solve it together.

Toni was overwhelmed in the previous example because she couldn’t see a way to begin solving the problem. What worked was solving one problem, reviewing the solution to ensure that it resolved the issue in the short and long term, and then moving on to the next. Action will frequently involve challenging the status quo, but I would argue that well-thought-out systematic changes will often benefit not only the individual but also the larger organisation.

Creating workplace adjustments should be viewed as a project that should be implemented, but be prepared to roll it back if it doesn’t work. The process should be structured, and documented and any changes made need to be communicated, recorded and approved by all stakeholders who use the process.

I hope the information above has helped you think about neurodiversity and how to use the concept of a project to make changes more effectively. I’d love to hear more about your experiences in making your work environment become more neuroinclusive.

Bucket full to capacity

What is capacity, and why is it important?

Capacity can be a scary word and one that employers, supervisors and managers can find concerning. It can be helpful to think about this area through the frame of “assume individuals are together enough to deal with their own stuff until they’re not” (Credit Claire Pendrick).

That means dealing with the individual where they are right now and asking them what you need to do to make the space safe enough for them to do their work. Experience shows that asking that question helps most individuals feel safe enough to move forward. The fact that the question has been asked is all that’s needed to make it safe enough. If there is no response or the individual completely avoids the question, this can sometimes indicate that they are not in a position to have the conversation.

Capacity can be complicated, especially when we start talking about the medical definitions of someone having the capacity to make a decision. In a coaching conversation, two people are having a conversation about one person where that person is getting insights into their stuff so they can make leaps forward or understand things better.

Sometimes the coach plays a role in capacity. What I mean by this is, have they created a safe enough space for this person to do the work they need to do? If they haven’t, they may have reduced the thinker’s capacity, and as a result, the thinker can’t do the work. This reflects on the space the coach has created, which may mean they’re just not the right coach for the thinker; often, there is no way to know this. 

So an excellent way to keep the space safe is to have a single coaching session so the thinker and the coach can work this out. Then the thinker can decide if the coaching is working for them.

If you’re trying to work out what to do and are concerned about capacity, it’s well worth considering a coaching single-session to find out what would be worth doing next. 

What to know more? Please get in touch.

broken arrows

Broken arrows in the workplace

When the USA has an accident with a nuclear weapon, they call it a broken arrow. Broken arrows often mean something dire has happened, and there have been numerous examples of crashed B-52 bombers, missiles being damaged in their silos and other disasters that would make your hair stand on end.

In the workplace, we have something very similar to a broken arrow, which is when we lose trust in our team, customers, or leaders. Dealing with a broken arrow in the workplace can be a massive issue as we work and interact.

Rebuilding broken arrows can be very daunting. We may choose to opt-out by leaving the organisation, the team, or the chain of command. There is a way back to rebuilding trust. Rebuilding trust takes time, and both parties must be prepared to work out how to move forward.

A valuable way to look at this can be the trust equation, which put quite simply, looks like this:

Trust = credibility + reliability + intimacy / divided by self-orientation.

If trust is broken down, one of these factors is inevitably at play. Is it that someone has lost their credibility by lying or deceiving? A leader has lost their reliability by not turning up and doing what they said they would, or maybe the intimacy of a working relationship has gone. Someone has chosen to break away and not share what they’re doing. The most significant factor is self-orientation as if we are only looking at ourselves, i.e. when someone is just interested in their own needs, that can often mean they overlook the needs of others.

If people think we are more interested in our own goals than in their goals, they are less likely to trust us and, as a result, expect us to seek personal gain at their expense.

Broken arrows can be fixed, but they take time and effort, along with an evaluation of what’s happening. 

This starts with a conversation. Do you need to have one?

reasonable adjustments

Six reasonable adjustment examples

Have you ever wondered what a reasonable adjustment is?

Here are six recent examples from The Neurodivergent Coach’s work. To protect identities, names have been changed.

1. Dealing with overwhelm – reasonable adjustment

Alex was utterly overwhelmed. His main complaint was that he was overwhelmed daily, with too much to do and no idea where to start.

Working with Alex revealed that he required regular breaks in his routine to reset, as he learned to manage his energy levels and begin to approach tasks confidently. This developed into how he managed his calendar, scheduling extra time at the end of meetings to recharge and making this time non-negotiable. This allowed him to fully reset and be his best, most present self, especially when feeling overwhelmed.

2. Fogettory – reasonable adjustment

The most common trait I hear when assessing neurodivergent individuals is their struggle with short-term memory.

I recently worked with Paula, who had an influential job at a UK university. Her role involved interacting with different people and producing detailed reports on academic papers. Paula explained that she often forgot what was on one screen when she flicked to another. Paula had been working on her laptop for extended periods and found it frustrating and exhausting to remember what was on the previous screen. For Paula, the solution was to increase the number of available screens. She started with one extra screen and then rapidly grew to two, meaning she could lay out all the information she was working on simultaneously without printing it. She could highlight and reword areas without fear of losing where she was.

Screen real estate matters!

3. Meetings, meetings, meetings

John described how he spent most of his time in meetings and often came away stressed, frustrated and unable to see how he had contributed well to the meeting.

Working with John, it became clear that it was not John’s issue. The problem was in the structure of the meetings in which he was being asked to participate.

Often these meetings were ad hoc without a clear agenda, and from John’s perspective, he didn’t understand why he was there. Working with John and his line manager, we created a new process where the organisation implemented structured meetings that included an agenda and a clear indication of what was expected of everyone who attended.

This helped John feel confident about why he was there and what he would be expected to do. Interestingly, fewer meetings took place as an additional benefit, and fewer people were involved because the meeting organisers were forced to take a long hard look at who needed to be there and why.

This example highlights why neuroinclusive workplaces are better for everyone.

4. No place like home

Alice hated doing detailed work in the office as too many distractions took her away from the task she had to do. This ultimately meant she was not present when she needed to do her work. This was compounded by the expectation that she should be sociable in the office.

Working with Alice quickly revealed that she required a dedicated space to complete her work when she needed to concentrate. She also needed to know what was expected of her when she went into the office so that she could prepare to interact with colleagues and participate more actively. This looked like agreeing to three days working at home and two days in the office with the flexibility to change based on business requirements.

We discussed this with her manager to find out what the expectations were when she was in the office, as there were a lot of unwritten rules about the company culture. It was agreed that Alice would arrange to catch up with two colleagues when she came into the office. These meetings could be set up in advance with a clear outline of what they would discuss. In Alice’s case, it gave her a natural springboard to be her best at work.

Rules of engagement are essential!

5. Open plan is sometimes like having no walls on your toilet

Adrian worked in an open plan office as part of a large county council. His work was quite often sensitive, and Adrian often used dictation as part of his work. He also experienced distractions from people moving around and from conversations in the office. Adrian described being in an open-plan office as, “going to the toilet and there being no walls”. He felt unable to be his most effective work.

The adjustments for Adrian included working part of his week at home, and when he was in the office, there would be a space available where he could work quietly — enabling Adrian to do his best work.

Open-plan offices have their place, but if you’re easily distracted or need to undertake sensitive work and use tools like Dragon Dictate, they can be an incredibly noisy and unpleasant place to work for neurodivergent individuals.

6. Changing the communication channel – reasonable adjustment

Sarah worked in a busy publishing house where she was in charge of a large team. Because of the high turnover of staff and the complexity and types of projects she had to interact with her large team regularly, helping them understand what to do next.

Often a request would come in over Messenger, which would end up as a lengthy conversation where the other party still didn’t understand what to do. Sarah recognised that many of these conversations would be better over video or face-to-face. However, the organisation’s culture didn’t seem to make this accessible. Sarah’s adjustment was to clarify what questions needed a video or face-to-face conversation.  Then to give herself and her team permission to communicate clearly that they needed to have a physical meeting instead of chatting over Messenger. They could switch back to another channel if a conversation wasn’t necessary.

Changing channels with permission was crucial to ensuring they understood their tasks and improved communication.

These are some of the recent reasonable adjustments I’ve seen through my work. I’ve not mentioned specific conditions because cooccurrence is the rule rather than the exception, meaning that someone with ADHD has a high probability of having autistic or dyslexic traits. It doesn’t matter what your diagnosis is, because each individual is different, and everyone will need a different adjustment depending on their strengths and difficulties. This can only be achieved through conversation, trust and willingness to learn and grow from the individual and the organisation.

If you want to know more about how to support your people in your workplace, drop me a line.

If you are wondering were to start, a good place can be a Workplace Needs Assessment.

Find out more here.

Set of red lips

Processes matter

I worked with a teacher recently, and they described how they made their class accountable for setting homework. They did this by taking advantage of the school merit system, awarding five points to the young person who reminded them to set the homework. What a great processes!

Was this bribery or a great process created in partnership?

Much of my work around neurodiversity is about helping individuals build processes that enable them to amplify their strengths and manage the things they find difficult. It’s rather like taking your car for a service. Yes, your car runs fine, but could it run better…probably?

Well, that’s very much like human beings and the processes we use to do everyday life.

It could be how:

  • You manage your workload
  • Relationships with colleagues
  • Relationships with customers
  • Project delivery
  • Or just how you manage to get to work.

All these things are processes, and as we learn how to do them well, we must write them down or record them to reflect on what’s working and what’s not.

Could you write the process down?

Once we’ve written it down, it allows us to evaluate what’s working when our metaphorical wheels come off the rails.

Once we have a process recorded, we can evaluate how well it works and manage how we can improve it.

Sounds a bit like a project?

I’d argue that this is a project that helps us and our team’s function more effectively. But we can only do this successfully if we understand where we’re starting, and to understand where we’re starting, we need to record our starting point.

As with all good projects, scope creep* can make them undeliverable. For individuals, that’s about adding too many tasks and creating too much complexity in their processes. The same is true for teams who create overly complex ways of interacting and communicating with each other.

Add change control to processes

Consider a change control process to help manage this situation to stop you and your team from becoming overwhelmed. This is as simple as not introducing new tasks until you have tested the existing ones, ensuring they have a benefit. Testing is particularly relevant to technology and applications.

We live in a world where many things can potentially solve our problems. Still, in doing so, they often add additional complexity that can negatively impact us in ways that far outweigh the original problem. It’s vital that we consider this before implementing new working methods into our processes.

K.I.S.S.

In my first CDT (Craft Design and Technology) lesson at school, a rather large man with a beard stood up and said K.I.S.S., to which we all looked utterly perplexed.

He then explained that K.I.S.S. means Keep It Simple Stupid (not sure he could get away with this saying in a school these days), but ‘it’s particularly relevant when relooking at our processes. We must keep things simple and replicable so they will ultimately be helpful for us, including taking processes away that are no longer useful in the drive for simplicity.

P.P.P. = P.P.P. – the secret source to making processes work

Piss Poor Planning equals Piss Poor Performance. We need to plan what ‘we’re doing and build usable, simple and robust processes.

If ‘you’d like to know more about building processes for yourself or your team, ‘I’d love to work with you.

Contact me here.

*Scope creep in project management refers to changes, continuous or uncontrolled growth in a project’s scope at any point after the project begins.

Scales weighing up the reasonable adjustments with one side lower than the other.

Reasonable adjustments, so what is reasonable ?

Reasonable adjustments are subjective and the term is often overused; well, I think it is!

Let me give you an example. I recently worked with someone who thought it reasonable that her employer makes sure she feels in a good mood when she goes home. Now on the surface, that might sound reasonable, but let’s think about it. What is entailed in making sure someone is in a good mood has many variables. This could include interactions within the workplace, conversations and even things that that individual has brought into the workplace. Suddenly that doesn’t sound like a reasonable adjustment; it sounds like a dream!

The equality act gives us some guidance on what reasonable is, but even this isn’t enough as we try and work out what is helpful in the workplace. So here are some of my thoughts on how we can get to reasonable:

It needs to be effective in removing a barrier!

So will the reasonable adjustments remove the barrier, and will it do it for the long-term? In being effective, there is another question, will it work with the rest of the organisation? This is a wise argument as it might be effective for the individual but not for the employer.

Real-world example, I worked with a teacher struggling to keep their equipment together. She worked across ten different classrooms, and because of her short-term memory, her equipment was never in the right place. Several reasonable adjustments were considered, including an electronic calendar and some creative processes to ensure her equipment was moved to the right place at the right time. Along with several other exciting and innovative options on the surface which all seemed great, but they were on the complicated side. Would you agree?

Ultimately, the changes involved giving that teacher a fixed classroom so that her equipment didn’t need to move.

It turned out to be a brilliant adjustment because it was simple and solved the problem. This problem could have been solved in far more complicated way that would have ultimately broken down and put more significant strain on everyone.

Don’t let the solution become part of the problem with reasonable adjustments!

It’s got to be practical!

Being practical matters. If it’s not, we all end up in a big mess.

Being practical means it needs to be practical to implement and practical to use both for the individual and the organisation. Perspective is critical because what is practical for the individual may not be practical for the organisation. In the same way, what is practical for the organisation may not be practical for the individual.

I hope your head is not spinning with the word practical now!

So to work out what this means, we must have conversations and not throw lists of stuff over fences metaphorically because reasonable adjustments are about including people, not putting additional barriers up.

Real-world example:

I worked with an individual with anxiety issues around understanding what they needed to do and when. The organisation conducted an assessment that suggested several interventions, including using whiteboards, apps and other to-do list-style reminders. Giving credit to the individual and the organisation, they’d worked through several different solutions and finally came to the one they felt best: the to-do list app. The app itself worked fine. Things got tricky when multiple managers used the same account to set tasks, and the individual was confused about who she was accountable to and for what.

This is an excellent example of something that started off incredibly practical, but became impractical because the process around it got confusing. In this situation, there was a simple remedy of using initials for each manager. This illustrates that we have to keep reviewing what’s going on; otherwise, we will likely make adjustments to the problem.

Though I say, the remedy was simple, getting the individual managers involved to buy into it and implement it is still an ongoing process.

Never forget the people element of change.

How much are these reasonable adjustments going to cost?

Cost is significant, especially in our current economic climate. Many adjustments are not expensive, particularly for neurodivergent individuals. Often they are about process changes that positively impact individuals across the organisation. There are also grants and schemes available to support equipment purchases, potential coaching, and other ongoing support.

I think it’s helpful to approach adjustments like a project, considering their merits and impact on the individual and the business.

We often don’t know how an adjustment will work until it’s tested.

When it’s tested, it’s essential to understand what needs to be modified and the fitness of the adjustment to perform the task. There can sometimes be a train of thought from the individual that suggests this is being paid for me, so I have to use it regardless of if it adds benefit. This isn’t helpful and can sometimes result in individuals creating additional obstacles for themselves to use something unsuitable.

Real-world example:

I worked with someone recently who was given dictation software as part of a reasonable adjustment. On spending time with them, it became apparent that they were a touch typists who was very comfortable with writing at speed and accuracy, but they felt obliged to the organisation to use the software that ultimately slowed them down and didn’t allow them to operate at their best.

We need to talk to people, not just provide vanilla solutions, because we think we understand them.

In the long term, it’s essential to keep adjustments as simple as possible and actively remove the ones that no longer serve a purpose.

All adjustments need to have a review-by date built in.

Do they still work, or does something need to be done differently? Otherwise, we risk assuming that we did something once and that it will last for a lifetime.

I was thinking about my car. Would I seriously take my vehicle for one service in its lifetime and have one MOT and never have another?

Once we’ve looked at this, there is an implication that if we conclude something is reasonable, there is a legal obligation to do it. Don’t forget to make sure solving the problem is a reasonable adjustment.

Note: The Equality Acts linchpin is that once an adjustment has been deemed reasonable, it is unlawful not to implement it. That’s why it’s essential to consider what is reasonable as part of the implementation, then build reviews and document conversations that will allow you to respond to the individual’s needs and business requirements.

It’s about trust and an ongoing conversation about what works and what doesn’t.

No one needs adjustments that don’t work for them or the business, so ensure you keep this alive and real.

If you need help navigating this, don’t hesitate to contact me at The Neurodivergent Coach.

The loaded 'thank you'

The loaded ‘thank you’

As I went for my run this lunchtime, I put on my gear, got ready to go, and went out the door. The initial part was hard my legs were stiff and really hurt. As I ran along my normal route I approached a couple walking in the other direction, I nodded, and then I heard it, the loaded “thank you”! It shook me a little because I thought had done enough to acknowledge that they had moved out the way, but clearly I hadn’t. This sat with me for the rest of the run –  the loaded ‘thank you’ or rather the thank you that says F U.

So why is The loaded ‘thank you’ important? 

When we communicate we make huge amounts of assumptions about what other people are doing and where they are in space and time. Working with individuals who have neurodivergent traits often means that their view of the world is slightly different. That doesn’t mean that you feel any less, or that you care any less, but it does sometimes mean that you communicate differently. This situation often means that there are misunderstandings that can lead to a huge amount of anxiety and stress.

The problem with this is?

If it isn’t addressed and we are not educated in how to create space to understand other people, we can make poor choices about how we communicate with them. This can lead to teams that don’t work functionally, office places that become toxic and hostile and ultimately individuals that could add huge value to organisations not staying.

The implication of this is?

Quite simply organisations will not be as effective or as inclusive as we would like them to be and as a result, we will spend money, time and effort trying to recruit people that ultimately will not stay. This has implications for how well organisations run as well as what other people think of them and how well they engage with them in what is becoming an increasingly challenging marketplace to obtain and retain talent.

The need is quite simple, we must think about how we communicate and the assumptions we make about the people we are communicating with. 

The people I ran past had no idea what was going on in my head. For all they know I could have lost someone dear to me or I could be experiencing extreme trauma. They made me feel that my nod wasn’t good enough and in a small way that matters!

So what do you think about the loaded ‘thank you’?

When have you felt like giving a loaded ‘thank you’ to someone?

Clock ticking - what is effective coaching

What is effective coaching?

“All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given us” J.R.R. Tolkien, The Fellowship of the Ring

Jump or stands still, commit or walk away, move forwards, or move backwards. These are the choices that we face everyday. They could be about work, our personal life or just how we do life.

How often do we not take time to decide what we want to do? And instead, let life happen to us.

The problem is if we do not make choices about what we want to do and where we want to spend our time, we are not likely to end up in the place we want to be. Effective coaching offers a valuable opportunity to reflect on where we are and the choices we have in front of us.

Taking time

If we do not take this time, the implication is that we miss opportunities and don’t get to be our best selves. This can often mean being overlooked for the jobs we would love to do or just not getting the most out of the things that we enjoy.

Effective coaching

Offers a place where you can think and work out what you would like to do next. It is a place that offers high support and high challenge where one person is thinking and the other is noticing what is going on in order to help you understand and gain insight into your own stuff. Coaching has changed my life, giving me insight into the things that really matter and helping me make choices about where I spend my time and what I do.

Some Questions for you on effective coaching.

Do you need to have a conversation to work out what to do with the time that has been given to you?

If it’s useful for you, I’d be more than happy to have a conversation. Contact me here.

Explosion

Exploded coaching, or coaching exploded?

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we could take the same powerful insights that we get from individual coaching and implement them in a team environment?

Now imagine that environment also supporting each individual member to become a better coach themselves.

The group deals with real problems by working together with the intention of moving forward and getting things done.

This is not just another talking shop, it is a place where real problems get focused on, learning happens and new ways of solving problems are implemented.

There will be an opportunity to think outside the box, expand on ideas and solve problems in ways that you’ve never expected.

Thinking and assumptions will be challenged with the goal of moving things forward. Each team member will have the opportunity to bring their question and come away with a plan to move ahead.

Exploded coaching is built on the belief that reflecting on our experience and experimenting with what we can do differently will bring insight and action. In many ways, it’s about having a different kind of conversation in order to change everything!

Is this totally new?

Not entirely, it’s based on the concept of Action Learning Sets, but what’s different is the way it’s implemented in your organisation by bringing the opportunity to use existing meeting spaces in new and more productive ways…

I’m currently looking for two organisations to pilot this coaching approach. If you have a team that is stuck or needs to create space to think collaboratively together, then please get in contact as I believe this could offer you an opportunity to move forward. Get in touch here.