By Dan Kentley, Practice Manager at Onebright
According to a UK Government survey, nearly 15% of the UK population is neurodivergent. To follow Neurodiversity Celebration Week, which took place on 13-19 March, there is an important opportunity to recognise those who experience neurodiversity and spread awareness and information about the best ways to adapt working and learning environments to best support them. By regularly updating the advice you provide employees, you can ensure your workforce mental health policies are as effective and efficient as possible.
Traditional views of neurodiverse conditions, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, can often encompass a linear scale when represented visually, where an individual is perceived as ‘more able’ or ‘less able’ depending on their skills, abilities, and how they interact with their surroundings.
However, this concept fails to recognise the many strengths that neurodiverse individuals possess. A lack of comprehensive knowledge or understanding can lead to non-inclusive environments and a negative perception of abilities that is not representative of true skill sets.
Where many ‘neurotypical’ individuals may perform generally average across the board (a ‘flat’ profile), neurodiverse individuals often excel in some areas, but find others more difficult. In order to leverage the unique skills of neurodiverse individuals, it can be helpful to understand their wealth of abilities in the form of a ‘spiky profile.’
What is a spiky profile?
Although everyone has some variation across their skills and abilities, a spiky profile is the concept that this variation can be more pronounced for neurodiverse individuals, who have strengths in many areas but struggle with others. This means that their skill profile looks ‘spiky’ with peaks and valleys, rather than showing a consistent middle ground.
The variety of skill performance will look different for different individuals in different situations, so it is important that working environments foster inclusivity and offer flexibility for a range of working styles.
Example of a spiky profile
The skills and abilities that constitute a spiky profile can vary in terms of which areas are identified and examined, but they often include:
- Analytical skills – how we solve problems by absorbing and analysing information
- Perceptual abilities – how we interpret and give meaning to what is happening around us
- Processing speed – how quickly we process and recall information from long term memory
- Mathematical skills – how we interpret and make sense of numbers and time
- Motor skills – how we coordinate our body movements to complete tasks
- Relationships – how we develop and maintain social relationships
- Sensory sensitivities – our awareness and processing of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch
- Situational skills – how we interact and interpret different situations
- Verbal comprehension – how we communicate and understand speech and its meaning
- Visual perception – how we interpret our visual environment and surroundings
- Working memory – our short-term memory that assists us with decision making and problem solving
Each profile is unique and specific to an individual. For example, one person with an autistic spectrum condition may excel in mathematics and working memory but struggle with sensory overload and appear ‘clumsy.’ Another autistic individual may have below average mathematical skills but exceptional motor skills and deal differently with stressful environments.
Why can this approach be helpful?
As well as identifying the areas in which certain individuals may excel or experience difficulty, a spiky profile approach can provide insight into preferred learning and work styles and help establish the type of environments that are most supportive. When these insights are shared with employers, they can be implemented to promote inclusive work and learning spaces that augment their strengths and remove barriers which may inhibit productivity, creativity, or wellbeing.
Some examples of workplace adaptations include:
- Assessing the accessibility of job application processes to ensure interviews or assessments are inclusive to all learning styles
- The use of assistive technology such as text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and mind mapping software to aid expression, comprehension, and organisation
- Additional line management or pastoral support to regularly review strategies for maintaining healthy employee wellbeing
- Mentoring and coaching that is individualised for a diverse range of working styles
- Environmental adaptations to promote focus, concentration, and memory, such as minimising noise and distractions
- Flexibility in expectations around working hours and location
- Giving individuals the opportunity to take a ‘spiky profiles test’ so peers and employers can better understand each person’s unique skill set with a visual representation
- Increased awareness and understanding of general skill profiles amongst colleagues, peers, and managers, allowing others to adapt their behaviours and communication styles
Understanding that there is no ‘one size fits all’ adaptation or support strategy is key to ensuring that individuals are supported with dignity and compassion. Regardless of whether any individual has a formal diagnosis or not, using their skill profile to inform the support they receive can ensure that strategies are personalised and effective.
How do I find out more?
There are a wealth of online resources including forums, blogs, and spiky profile ‘self-assessments’ which can provide helpful information. Sharing these insights with managers and senior leaders can also open the door to constructive conversations and a better understanding of individual needs.
Neurodiverse individuals can be incredible assets to organisations of all shapes and sizes. By fostering inclusive and supportive working and learning environments, we can all help reduce stigma around neurodiversity and embrace different perspectives and ways of thinking.