Tag Archive for: Senses

Picture of a forest – No masks are needed in the forest

No masks are needed in the forest – except when using a chainsaw!!

In a world where neurodivergent people are all too often told that they are too much or not enough, no masks are needed in the forest.

As an eight-year-old succinctly said, “In a forest, I can be myself. Trees don’t care.”

Sensory regulation, so vital to us, somehow seems more effortless in the forest. Nobody minds if you want to run, jump, spin, or hang. The path underfoot is rarely harsh or regular, instead providing our feet with a gentle cushion that is constantly changing and providing our bodies with proprioceptive input as we walk. We are away from the glare of artificial light, the hum of air conditioning and the drone of traffic. Instead, our eyes can relax in the dappled light under the trees, and our skin can soak in the vitamin D found in the natural sunlight of a forest clearing. The harsh, mechanical white noise of urban spaces is replaced by the forest’s gentle but constantly changing backdrop as we hear the leaves rustle in the breeze or enjoy the sound of birdsong high above us. And somehow, despite the quiet calm, it’s also ok to shout, sing or hum. We’re not being a problem to anyone if we want to make a noise.

You can find space to be alone in even the most popular of forests on a sunny bank holiday weekend. Take a short walk away from the entrance or visitor attraction, and there is always a space that isn’t peopley, where you can breathe out and explore the forest in the way that suits you. Want to lie flat out under a tree? Want to run your fingers over the rough bark? Nobody minds as long as you aren’t disturbing what is already there.

As a career, forestry might not be the first thought of many people, but it is a superb opportunity for people to build a job where they can be valued for what they can do. So many of the young people we support tell us that mainstream education was challenging for them. They struggled with showing their potential while sitting down on a hard chair in a room with 30 other people for five days a week. It is relatively rare to be with 30 other people in a forestry team and certainly not in a workplace with 1,000 other people, all bustling about in the same space. You’re generally in a small team or sometimes alone, working in remote areas. The desire to be active becomes an asset, not a liability, when you have hundreds of trees to plant across an area of land where a new forest is being created to tackle the effects of climate change. A brain that seeks constant variation can thrive when your workplace covers hundreds of square miles, and each day brings a new site with new challenges and things to discover. Verbal communication is not essential if you’re in a position where you work alone for significant portions of time. When you do need to communicate, it’s generally within your small team and in person, not with an endless flow of customers or members of the public.

If you don’t feel that you fit in the space you currently find yourself in or are looking for a space you can unmask, try visiting a local forest and see.

So, no masks are needed in the forest – except when using a chainsaw!!

Becky Wilkinson is part of a neurodivergent family, and Learning and Outreach Manager for the Royal Forestry Society. A former secondary school teacher, she now talks to people of all ages about forestry careers as well as supporting young people on taking their first steps into the sector.

Connect and find out more here.

neurodiverse

Neurodivergent traits – retaining and empowering them in your organisation

Based on statistics from the British Dyslexia Association (@BDAdyslexia), it is estimated that at least 15% of the working population have some neurodivergent traits. Neurodivergent traits are those associated with conditions like dyslexia, ADHD, ASC along with medically diagnosed and acquired conditions like PTSD and migraines. These traits are likely to appear in different combinations in each individual.

Read the full article here in FE News.

aesthetics

Why aesthetics matter to neurodivergent people

How does your workplace feel?

I remember walking into a large London charity for my first day at work after being interviewed in a beautiful glass-fronted office. My actual office was a complete mess of papers, out of date banners, marathon running kits, damaged chairs and what felt like total chaos. This destroyed how I felt about that place and as a result put me in a completely negative position about that workplace, breaking the mystique of what I had been expecting.

This was my first job out of corporate life where everything was pristine, and I had certain expectations about what the aesthetics of the workplace would be like. Reflecting on this I recognise that when I saw the office, I was going to be working in that I felt my personal value had been reduced and so had myself esteem.

When we talk about aesthetics in the workplace, we mean how our five senses: sight, sound, smell, taste, and touch (plus our gut feeling) are influenced by our environment.

Here are some things that I think are important to consider that can help make workplaces more aesthetically pleasing:

Organised spaces

Though the very nature of work dictates there can be some untidiness from time-to-time, it can be incredibly distracting and sometimes tormenting if workspaces are not kept tidy periodically. For example, some individuals with dyslexic traits find having things in a mess often causes them stress and anxiety and takes the focus away from what they want to be doing.

Lighting

Studies have shown the amount of natural light in an office has a direct impact on employee productivity attention and alertness. This is also true for many neurodivergent individuals as natural light helps the brain work better.

Variability in lighting

In addition to natural light, it is also important to be able to vary the amount of light in your working space. For example, task lighting is essential when working on detailed pieces of work. What is also useful is the ability to change the intensity of the lighting based on your mood and the type of activity you are undertaking. What can often be difficult to deal with is intense lighting that cannot be changed, think back to those classic 1970s offices with intense strip lighting – not great!

Seating

Materials are key in terms of things that don’t make you sweat or squeak when you move the seat. It is also important that seats work for the individual in terms of providing them support and avoidance of pain and long-term injuries. Changing seating position is also critical as studies have shown being able to stand up for example when performing certain tasks really enhances the quality of thinking in addition to movement.

Add plants that grow

Plants add life to the office, though they may not be everybody’s first choice they do also have some important health benefits, including giving you a focus away from your immediate work tasks. This can often create a much healthier and calmer work environment.

Colour

For some individuals, colour is incredibly important in terms of the impact it has on their social and mental well-being. For example, some extremely bright vibrant colours can cause migraines and other neurological responses in the workplace. When this becomes particularly tricky is when brand colours are very strong and the organisations that we are working in use these brand colours in particular areas. An example is a cafeteria in a large bread manufacturer that has strong brand colours used in this space, and as a result, an area designed for relaxation and recovery is now for some a high-stress environment.

Allowing personalisation

It is important individuals are allowed to make their workplaces their own, this can be achieved by having things that help motivate them and stay on task during their workday. This will often include items like family photos if appropriate, or other reminders and tools like whiteboards that they can use to help plan and deliver their day. For some individuals, this can also involve the use of fiddle toys that allow them to do other activities that do not inhibit their processing to stay focused on what they are doing. For example, some individuals with ADHD traits find it incredibly helpful to be able to doodle or fiddle with a piece of blue tack during conference calls and conversations as it helps them to stay focused on what is happening and not get distracted.

To open plan or not to open plan – that is a very big question

Many of us are not currently back in the office, when we do return this question is not going to go away.

When it comes to aesthetics, there is a lot to be said for open plan working in the benefits that it can give in terms of collaboration, but unfortunately for some neurodivergent individuals, it can often be incredibly distracting and debilitating. I would argue that this far outweighs any benefit that is potentially gained by the organisation by having a continuous open collaborative space. What I believe is a far better approach is to have zones within the work environment where it is possible to have collaboration when needed, but then an individual can retire to a quieter more personal space, and they do not need to collaborate in such an open way.

With aesthetics, choice matters

With all the senses constantly in play, updating us on the environment and giving us feedback on what is going on, for some individuals with neurodivergent conditions, this feedback can be heightened to the point of being uncomfortable. For example a chair fabric may make your skin feel spiky or a particular colour scheme may give you a headache or disorientate you. The position of your desk may expose you to excessive noise and distractions or make you feel that everyone is looking over your shoulder. I believe with simple changes and common sense thinking many of these issues can be avoided.

There is a perception that when you need to change the aesthetics of an office environment that there would need to be a huge financial investment, and this can put organisations off . I would argue that the biggest investment is talking to your people to understand their needs and preferences. I’m not suggesting for a minute you will be able to meet everyone’s individual unique preferences but as with all these things, there is a compromise to be had, as with sensible planning and thinking we can all make office environments better for everyone.

Here is to a neuroinclusive workplace!

If you would like to know more about how to make your workplace more neuroinclusive and how to implement these aesthetics changes effectively please get in contact.