Olivia Mohr-Barker, Special Educational Needs and Disabilities Information Advice and Support Services (SENDIASS) practitioner at a disabled childrens’ charity, works in a quiet corner in the office, away from stairs and other unexpected noise disturbances. The strip lights directly above her desk have been removed and, from where she’s positioned, she can see the whole office without having to move.
Olivia is autistic and everything about her desk position, from location to sensory stimuli, has been carefully thought out. It has to be. Olivia is highly sensitive to light and sound: bright light or sudden changes can lead to sensory overload. This is when the brain receives more input from the five senses than it can process, causing it to enter a fight, flight or freeze panic response.
Our neurodiverse workforce
Olivia was officially diagnosed with autism in 2014 when she was just starting university, so every job she’s applied for since has created a dilemma whether to disclose her diagnosis.
It’s not surprising Olivia has been hesitant. Research suggests that half of managers admit to feeling uncomfortable hiring a neurodivergent individual, with individuals with Tourette’s Syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) experiencing the most bias.
Neurodiversity refers to differences in the human brain relating to cognitive functioning, such as learning, mood, attention and development, and includes many conditions beyond autism, such as dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD.
A considerable percentage of the working population are neurodiverse – more than 1% of us are on the autistic spectrum, while 10% of us are dyslexic and it’s thought that 3–4% have ADHD. But neurodiverse individuals can struggle to find employment: around 80% of autistic adults are unemployed and 28% of the long-term unemployed are dyslexic.
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