Neurodiversity: Helpful Definitions
In this blog post, we’re going to look at some of the most commonly used terms around neurodiversity, particularly those which you may come across in the workplace.
Estimates vary as to how much of the population experiences neurodiversity. Depending on what you’re measuring, sources can quote anything between 15-40% of children and adults.
We’ve included a number of definitions of terms that may be useful when thinking about neurodivergence more broadly, as well as neurodiversity in the workplace specifically. For most of this guide we’ve gone in alphabetic order to help you locate relevant information, but we will start with the most important definition.
Definition of Neurodivergent
Neurodivergent is a term to describe those whose brain processes, learns or behaves differently to how we culturally see as “typical”. The neurodivergent model suggests that there is nothing inherently “wrong” about having a brain that works differently, and that, in fact, this is pretty normal. It’s important to remember that neurodivergent should be used as an adjective, so you can describe someone as being a neurodivergent person or employee, or talk about the neurodivergent community. Find out more about the difference between neurodiverse and neurodivergent.
Anxiety & Depression
Anxiety and depression are not technically examples of neurodivergence. It is worth noting, though, that levels can be much higher in the neurodiverse community. Although it’s important for everyone in your organisation that you have mental health and wellbeing support, signposting this for your neurodivergent colleagues can be extra beneficial.
Comorbidity & Co-Occurrence
It’s important to remember that people may have different overlapping conditions. These are sometimes referred to as comorbidity and co-occurrences. For example, 90% of those with Tourette’s also have ADHD. Those with ADHD are also much more likely to suffer from depression. It’s important to take all these into account in order to support neurodiversity within your workplace.
Hyposensitivity & Hypersensitivity
It’s very common for neurodivergent individuals to be either hyposensitive (ie. less sensitive) or hypersensitive (ie. more sensitive) to stimuli such as noises, sights or smells. Those who are severely affected may describe themselves as having sensory integration disorder (SID) or sensory processing disorder (SPD). Being aware that this may affect those on your team will help you to make adjustments to your physical workplaces but also to the ways in which you work with your team.
You can’t talk about disadvantaged groups within your organisation without thinking about intersectionality in the workplace. Studies have shown that women with Autism and ADHD are less likely to be diagnosed or understood. This is just the tip of the iceberg. People of colour are often misunderstood when they display neurodiverse traits, which can be read as aggression or poor attitude. It’s really important that as HR professionals and leaders, we understand the impact of intersectionality and how it affects our workplaces.
Learning disabilities are often confused with learning difficulties or differences, such as dyslexia or ADHD. A learning difficulty doesn’t affect general intellect. A learning disability is a reduced intellectual ability and difficulty performing daily tasks such as socialising or managing money. It is possible for an individual to have both a learning disability and a learning difficulty, for example half of those with autism also have a learning disability. Find out more on the mencap website.
This is used to describe those who haven’t received a specific diagnosis. However, as many neurodivergent diagnoses are on a spectrum, you may find that some people who are technically “neurotypical” still have signs or symptoms of neurodivergence.
NB. Neurotypical should always be used in place of “normal”.
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