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Managers: Managing staff with ADHD, Autism, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and other forms of neurodivergence

When a manager becomes aware that a team member has a form of neurodivergence (such as autism or dyslexia), they may be unsure about what to do and how best to support them.

Below outlines some initial steps for managers to follow that can help provide their team member with the support and guidance they need to perform at their best and ensure they are treated fairly if any issues arise.

Everyday actions that will help neurodivergent team members

A manager should be supporting their team members so that they can perform at their best and carry out their roles as expected.

To achieve this, a manager should:

  • have an awareness of neurodiversity and the different forms of neurodivergence
  • communicate clearly at all times
  • be approachable, available and encourage staff to come to them if they have questions or are having difficulties
  • build good working relationships by getting to know each team member
  • treat each team member as an individual and identify what they each want and need from a manager
  • monitor staff workloads to ensure they are not overloaded or placed under excessive time-pressures
  • regularly hold one-to-ones to check on how work is going, identifying upcoming challenges and agree how best to support them
  • continually reflect on how they can better manage each team member and provide the support they need

While this will benefit all staff, it can be particularly important for neurodivergent team members as it provides the right conditions for issues to be identified early and misunderstandings to be resolved before they escalate.

It will also help a manager foster an environment of openness and tolerance where staff feel safe and empowered to disclose their neurodivergence.

For more information on the role of a manager, go to our guidance on Managing People .

Avoiding assumptions about whether someone is neurodivergent

A manager should never assume that a team member is neurodivergent or take it upon themselves to diagnose an employee with a form of neurodivergence. An employee does not have to tell them if they are, unless they want to.

If there are no performance or conduct issues then there is no need for a manager to do anything except:

  • discuss with the team member what they can do to support them
  • continue to build a good working relationship, where the team member feels safe and empowered to talk to them about any issues they may have.

If there are performance or conduct issues, a manager should give the team member the opportunity to explain reasons behind the issue (which might be due to a form of neurodivergence) before considering whether to take the matter further.

Supporting a team member disclosing their neurodivergence

It can be difficult and stressful for a neurodivergent employee to talk to their manager about their neurodivergence. There is still a general lack of awareness and so they may worry about being treated differently or unfairly.

While finding out may take a manager by surprise, it is important that they stay calm and reassure the employee.

To make it easier for the employee to talk more about it, a manager should:

  • move the conversation to a private space, where they will not be disturbed (if not already somewhere appropriate)
  • allow the employee as much time as they need
  • listen attentively and be open minded
  • ask the employee if they have thought about what support might help
  • make clear what they will do next
  • suggest a further meeting to discuss what support could be provided.

Remember, managers are not expected to be an expert on any form of neurodivergence. However, if they become aware of a team member's neurodivergence, they should try to learn more about it - which can help them provide more appropriate and beneficial support.

Identifying what actions and support they need?

Each form of neurodivergence (such as dyspraxia and ADHD) has a range of associated characteristics and these can vary from individual to individual. This means that the effects of dyspraxia on one person can be different to another person that also has dyspraxia.

Therefore, when considering what actions and support may help, the best place to start is with the team member and focussing on:

  • how their neurodivergence affects them
  • what difficulties they have experienced in the workplace
  • what previous support they have had and whether they think it would still be appropriate now
  • what other types of support and adjustments would help.

Managers should be confident talking to employees about their neurodivergence. Getting to know the team member and learning how the neurodivergence affects them in the workplace will make it easier to provide appropriate support. It can also make it easier to spot and sensitively resolve issues before they become serious.

However, managers should not pressure team members into talking about it if they do not want to.

Read our pdf icon Tips on how to sensitively talk to a neurodivergent team [95kb].

Seeking expert opinions

While talking to the team member may highlight some adjustments that could help them, a manager should also consider seeking further help and guidance. This might include contacting:

  • HR and/or senior management
  • the team member's GP (if the team member gives their permission and believes they can provide useful advice)
  • Occupational Health (if the organisation has a provider)
  • an external organisation that provides further guidance and/or an assessment on the particular form of neurodivergence.

Seeking further opinions can help to ensure that the right accommodations are made.

A manager could also suggest to a team member that they apply to Access to Work for a workplace needs assessment.

Making reasonable adjustments

A team member's neurodivergence will usually amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. This means the organisation must consider making 'reasonable adjustments' to help them carry out their job without being at a disadvantage.

However, whether it amounts to a disability or not, it makes sense for managers to try to make changes that will help a team member improve their performance and/or improve their health and well-being.

Often small, simple changes to working arrangements or responsibilities will be all that are required. For example, allocating them a work space away from the noisier areas of the office.

Each person will be different, but to provide an idea of the types of accommodations or additional support that may be appropriate download our pdf icon Common adjustments that might be appropriate for a neurodivergent team member [112kb].

Remember, any adjustment should only be made with the agreement of the team member.

Once in place, adjustments should be regularly reviewed to check they are still appropriate and/or working as intended.

Additionally, in situations where the team member has had performance issues, they should be given a sufficient amount of time to get used to any new adjustments before any further performance management is initiated.

Considering the rest of the team

Neurodivergent team members may find parts of their role trickier than other team members typically do. Equally they may find other parts easier and quicker to complete than other team members typically do.

It can therefore be helpful if the rest of the team know that a colleague is neurodivergent, and what they can do to support them.

A manager should discuss whether the team member is happy for the rest of the team to know, and if they are:

  • what they do and don't want their colleagues to know
  • who will be told, who will do the telling, where, when and how
  • whether they will be present.

Managers must not tell other staff about an employee's neurodivergence without their agreement.

Raise awareness within the team

A manager can help the rest of the team understand more about neurodiversity by:

  • arranging meetings and/or training sessions
  • providing information and/or fact sheets.

Raising awareness can stop staff causing offence or upset due to ill-considered 'jokes' or 'banter'. It can also reduce the risk of grievances and disciplinary action.

For more information, go to raise awareness.

Organising tasks within the team

To get the best out of a neurodivergent employee, some flexibility in the tasks carried out within their team can be beneficial. A manager should organise the work of their team to ensure that:

  • everyone does their share of work, even if the tasks they carry out are different
  • difficulties are minimised or additional support provided
  • strengths are identified and utilised
  • each team member has a variety of duties and feels motivated to perform at their best.

Handling issues or problems fairly

If a manager is aware a team member is neurodivergent, it should be easier to provide the support they need to perform as the organisation requires.

On some occasions, even with adjustments in place, a team member's performance or conduct (like any employee) may warrant further action.

Many issues are best resolved by having an informal conversation with the employee. Sorting things out at an early stage can stop problems from becoming serious, and remove the need to make a formal complaint.

When discussing concerns or problems with a neurodivergent team member, a manager should be sensitive and consider if they:

  • need guiding towards a particular resolution, or
  • would want to have an input into finding an appropriate solution themselves.

For example, autistic employees can find it difficult to identify solutions to behaviours or actions that are related to their neurodivergence and so often need their manager to tell them how to resolve an issue.

Where the matter cannot be resolved informally, a manager should consider:

  • seeking expert opinions
  • whether additional adjustments or further support may improve performance or conduct
  • whether other duties or a transfer to different role may be appropriate and available.

Starting formal disciplinary procedures should be a last resort. If further action is still potentially necessary and reasonable, a manager must follow the organisation's procedures for handling these matters and ensure a fair process (as set out in the Discipline and grievances at work: The Acas guide) is completed.

Where to go for additional support and information

For more information about specific forms of neurodivergence

For help in making diagnostic assessments, workplace needs assessments or implementing adjustments:

  • Access to Work can provide advice and an assessment of workplace needs for individuals, with disabilities or long-term health conditions, who are already in work or about to start.

Grants may be available to help cover the cost of workplace adaptations that enable an employee to carry out their job without being at a disadvantage. These might be used to pay the costs of adapting equipment or buying special equipment for the employee, the cost of getting to work if they cannot use public transport and/or disability awareness training for colleagues. For more information, go to www.gov.uk/access-to-work

  • Occupational Health providers can provide health assessments and identify adjustments that would help them in the workplace.

Usually employers will need to sign up to a provider and pay a fee. Occupational Health providers will usually also provide assessments for staff absent from work.

  • SpLd Assessment Standards Committee (SASC) regulate the standard of assessments conducted in Universities and have information on what you should expect from a diagnostician, go to www.sasc.org.uk
  • British Psychological Society (BPS) has details of chartered psychologists www.bps.org.uk

Additional help may be available from groups where the employer is a member. For example, if an employer is a member of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) or the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB), it could seek their help and guidance.

This guidance has been produced with contributions from Dr Nancy Doyle and the Neurodiversity and Employment Working Group, British Psychological Society; the British Dyslexia Association and the Dyspraxia Foundation.
 
We would like to thank all those who assisted in the development of the guidance.