u3a - Diversity and Inclusion - Neurodiversity

To be fully inclusive we need to be aware of the difficulties faced by people who are classified as neurodiverse.

Individuals who live with autism, or who are on the autism spectrum, or have other developmental differences are referred to as “neurodiverse”, whereas “neurotypical” is a term that's used to describe individuals of typical developmental, intellectual, and cognitive abilities.

Autism encompasses a very wide spectrum. At one extreme, there are individuals who have a limited ability to communicate and interact socially, whereas, at the other end of the spectrum, there are high functioning individuals. Certain senior figures in industry and in the media have self-identified as autistic.

Asperger’s syndrome is often used to describe certain individuals who are on the autism spectrum, and generally, we should as in other areas describe individuals according to their wishes.

  • Some neurodiverse individuals may come across as uncomfortably direct. This is because they process social signals differently to neurotypical individuals. A quote from a recent Chair of the Institute of Directors perhaps helps put this in perspective .”If anyone disagrees with me, I want to know why because they are obviously seeing something which I am not “
  • Many neurodiverse individuals consider themselves fortunate because they excel at some tasks requiring long periods of concentration (e.g. code testing in IT). Some regard neurotypical individuals as having the problems.
  • Neurodiverse individuals do not typically lack empathy. They sometimes fail to read the social signals correctly and may cause offence. This in turn causes the same distress as is felt by neurotypical individuals. Many high performing individuals will confess to “faking the social bits” whilst others will have other coping mechanisms. For example, smoking allows a break from challenging situations because of the need to go outside.

Focus on Inclusion

Watch your language! Avoid thoughts and phrases such as:

  • Not one of us
  • Not sure they would fit in
  • Not sure about their people skills
  • There’s something not quite right

Such thoughts can often lead to exclusion of capable individuals from roles and activities which they could do well and which they would find fulfilling.

Always keep in mind that neurodiverse individuals do not lack humour and often respond well to criticism. Constructive feedback might include:

“Telling your Regional Trustee that you think that they are IT incompetent will not necessarily get them on side”
“Pointing out to the presenter that they mumble will not improve their confidence”
“Good point, well made, but is it relevant?”

And – be prepared for a constructive response!

For access to support from other organisations please click here