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Guest blog: Design and neurodiversity

Insight Published on 08 January 2024

By Andy Hodkin, Owner at Disability Awareness

In December last year, I had the privilege of being invited as one of the guest speakers at the PDMS Design Diverse mini-conference.  In my session, I spoke about the benefits of an inclusive design workforce that incorporates neurodiversity. 

What is neurodiversity? 

Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of conditions such as autism, Asperger's syndrome, ADHD and ADD (to name but a few). It is believed that between 10-15% of the world’s population are neurodiverse, a number that is likely to increase. Yet research shows that you are eight times more likely to not be in employment if you are neurodiverse.

There are many reasons why this unfortunate statistic exists. Societally there is still discrimination and, just as significantly, a lack of understanding when it comes to neurodiversity. Times are changing though and attitudes are progressing. More than ever before, the world of neurodiversity is being seen. And although there is still a long way to go, the conversation is at least now being had.

Neurodiversity in design 

In terms of design, software and technology, there is a real debt owed. Without neurodiversity, software and design in it's current form would probably not exist or would at least be decades behind where it is now. Many of their pioneers were neurodiverse including those who were transparent and open about their variance; those who ‘masked’; and those in history who weren’t diagnosed (but only because neurodiversity didn’t officially exist then). Examples include Alan Turing, Elon Musk, Steve Jobs and more. There are too many to name here but Google it and you’ll see…

And though these fields often lead the way in terms of employment opportunities, could even more be done?

Neurodiversity at work 

We are now living in a post-pandemic world in which the rules and norms of traditional employment are no longer required to be so stringent or linear. The previously held stigma of working from home has gone. The need for office-based practise is no longer the only option. And for many people who are neurodivergent, this should bring a new world of opportunity.

This is because the ‘traditional’ sense of employment (working 9-5, working in an office environment, getting the bus to work etc.) can be difficult, and often brings a wave of anxiety-inducing hurdles which can feel insurmountable. I have known over my career many, many neurodivergent people struggling to find work. And not because of the job itself, but the ‘clutter’ that surrounds it.

Workplace environment

This clutter includes the ‘noise’ and uncertainty that surrounds commuting, the necessity for ‘small-talk’ before the meeting or work task, the need to understand office politics and etiquette, and more. For many neurodivergent people, these can be all-consuming considerations which can overshadow and indeed curtail the job-seeking and retaining experience.

Complete the task in hand required for the role? No problem. Work effectively until the task has been completed? Not an issue. But navigate your way around the social complexities of Secret Santa, or master the art of 15 seconds of 'how are you?' chat from floor 0 to 6? No thanks. 

This may sound flippant...

And whilst I preface that this is certainly not the experience of all neurodivergent people (every neurodivergent person is as different to each other as every neurotypical person is), these seemingly small and innocuous social interactions can genuinely feel overwhelming.

Recruitment and onboarding 

And where do we start with the actual onboarding process in terms of job application? Traditionally conducted job interviews are stressful for almost all of us (if you don’t find a job interview stressful, you are in the minority!). But for neurodiverse people, they can be an infinite landscape of uncertainty, unexpectedness, and jeopardy. The whole process is anti-neurodiverse in its extremity.

Being asked questions without knowing what they might be? Having to sit still and look composed (and not be able to escape…) as only question 4 of 10 is being asked? Being told in every online article that ‘how to be successful at interviews’ is ‘be yourself’- when you may have spent your whole life masking who you really are. Again, no thank you…

In practical terms, our post-pandemic world really could and should have opened the employment door for neurodiverse people. Indeed, there are examples of this happening all over the world which is encouraging. Yet in many ways, we seem to have crept back into the ‘old ways’ in terms of the world of jobs and employment. ‘Stop working from home and get back into the office’ appears to be the mantra for many organisations large and small. I believe we need to focus on redressing this sway back towards our traditional ways…

Benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace

If you proactively incorporate neurodiversity into your organisation and workforce, you will be repaid exponentially. You will incorporate problem-solving in a way hitherto not utilised, you will incorporate passion and laser-sharp focus on the task in hand, and you will be rewarded with loyalty. Again, we are dealing with generalisations here, but a neurodiverse person who loves their job will garner retention rates that can only benefit your mission and purpose.

And creating a neurodiverse-friendly workforce and workplace will benefit everybody. I strongly believe that we are only in the infant stages of our understating in terms of neurodiverse and neurotypical. I hope that one day they will not be considered differences but variances. And having a workplace that promotes the wellbeing of a neurodiverse brain will benefit all brains. It will be a universal consideration.

How to support a neurodiverse workforce

So, my message to any business or employer out there wanting and willing to become a more inclusive and diverse organisation?

Here’s a few simple ideas for you to consider:

  • Offer alternative onboarding interview experiences - Invite CVs instead, and do away with the traditional ‘interview’ process.
  • Get rid of the ‘clutter’ - offer working from home options or safe spaces within your workplace.
  • Consider fewer-hour contracts - the 37/18.5 hour a week can simply be too much for some neurodiverse people. Maybe offer one or two days a week? Or even better, offer flexible hours when it best suits the person (many people who are neurodivergent will tell you that some days, or even some hours can be better than others). Having autonomy on when they’re done can be very liberating.
  • Single-task job roles - job descriptions nowadays can run to three or four pages. The breadth is just too much for some people. So, consider vastly-reduced job requirements. If you have a person that is brilliant at one or two things, fit the job role to the person. 

And if you're willing but not sure where to start?

Get in touch. Either with myself, or any of the other neurodiverse-positive charities or services available near you. I would be happy to help, or at least steer you in the right direction.

We are living in a society that is slowly beginning to understand and embrace the world of neurodiversity. But the world should not just change reactively. We can be proactive too. And if you decide to do this, I guarantee you will be a better organisation for it.

To learn more about the benefits of neurodiversity and how to recruit inclusively, signup to my course Neurodiversity, Autism and Learning Disability in the Workplace on 30th January 2024. Tickets are available via Eventbrite. 


  • Inclusivity
  • Design
  • Community