The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

The Optimus blog

The blog that inspires leaders in the UK education sector

Sarah Hopp

Why we need neurodivergent staff

A neurodiverse workforce isn’t about being charitable, it’s about creating a workforce rich in a range of perspectives and creativity. Sarah Hopp explains more.

In educational policy and practice, focus is often placed on encouraging pupils and students to celebrate who they are as diverse, unique, and dignified human beings who have gifts and talents, making a positive contribution to the society in which they reside.

However, it is also important to consider the benefits of having neurodivergent teachers, lecturers and learning assistants within the institutional staff body.

Lead by example

Educational companies and institutions may claim that they embrace equality and diversity, but they may have policies and practice in place and receive training that amount to little more than lip service.    

To be truly inclusive, teaching teams and institutions need to embrace neurodiversity and embed these values in their operating policies and frameworks.  

A neurological and culturally diverse workforce assists institutions and individuals within those institutions to overcome prejudices and bias, both conscious and unconscious, through dialogue and collaboration. Moreover, when staff feel accepted for who they truly are, they may become more confident.    

Confident and happier staff mean that working relationships between students, teachers and colleagues are enhanced, in turn improving confidence, self-esteem and motivation of pupils and improving grades and outcomes.

A diverse workforce effectively meets needs

A diverse workforce means that the needs of students can be met more effectively. For example, if a class teacher is miscommunicating with a student with ADHD, a support teacher with ADHD who experiences similar difficulties to the student may be a good mediator between the student and the teacher.   

As they are in a unique position to provide explanation to both the teacher and the student, they can be a bridge between the two. In this collaborative way, educational professionals may develop an accurate understanding of the life experience of a neurodivergent person and embrace a wider definition of what it means to be human.

The power of collective thinking

In addition, with diverse perspectives, collective intelligence can become more effective. Matthew Syed (2020), in his book The Power of Diverse Thinking states that ‘collective intelligence emerges not from just the knowledge of individuals, but also from the differences between them.’   

The theory is that taking the average answer over many responses from people with different perspectives will lead to the correct or best solution. Moreover, Syed (2020) observes that when problems are discussed from many different perspectives, a more thorough comprehension of the problem may be understood, and more creative and dynamic solutions may be found.    

Syed (2020) argues that if many people who think in different ways come up with the same answer, then the preferable answer is more likely to be the best one. This is because, Syed suggests, ‘When you are surrounded by similar people, you are not just likely to share each other’s blind spots, but to reinforce them’.   

When people think alike, they are more likely to mirror each other. If people that think differently from each other still come up with the same or a similar answer, then it is likely to be a good answer.

Advantages to having a diverse workforce

A neurodiverse workforce then, is not about being generous or charitable, it’s about creating a workforce rich in a range of perspectives, dynamism, and creativity. Key benefits to having a neurodiverse workforce in the education sector include the following.

  • It creates a psychologically protected classroom: psychologically safe, encourages active listening and a learning environment where pupils and students can plan, think and process information and responses.
  • It combats negative attitudes and stereotypes from managers and colleagues which can impact access to a strength based working environment and skill development and promote a negative self-image.
  • It eliminates psychological, social, and emotional barriers and improves emotional awareness and literacy.
  • It enhances effectiveness of dialogical working relationships of trust based on empathy and compassion.
  • It creates an inclusive working environment that is conducive to learning, positive and empowering.
  • It creates an environment where options to communicate are varied and become the norm.  This creates an environment that is socially and emotionally more literate, aware and reflective.
  • It encourages teachers to actively reflect upon how their assessment and teaching may impact each student.
  • It recognises student and teacher strengths.

Exclusion by ‘inclusion’

Unfortunately, managers may not provide a fully inclusive working environment or opportunities when they feel they are doing so. By not understanding the diverse and unique nature of neurodiversity, having a narrow understanding of what it means to be human, and making assumptions, managers may inadvertently exclude neurodivergent employees by putting in place strategies that they believe are inclusive, but which may exclude them.    


An employee needs a sensory break at a training day so they are told that they don’t need to attend the afternoon training sessions to rest as a reasonable adjustment rather than providing the use of a sensory room where the employee can take a break.   

The neurodivergent employee then doesn’t receive the necessary training required and is later overlooked for promotion because they aren’t deemed to be qualified or experienced enough.  

Instead, managers should start by asking the employee what they would like rather than making assumptions on how to help them. 

Supporting neurodiverse employees

The following strategies may be used as a starting point for attracting and supporting neurodivergent employees in the workplace.

  • Research to widen understanding by joining online groups such as Neurodiversity Hub or Judy Singer’s blog page.
  • Rethink qualifications and job descriptions.
  • Review and reframe interviewing, onboarding, and training processes.
  • Train employees and managers on the initiative and how to support neurodivergent work colleagues.
  • Focus on building a positive working relationship of trust with the neurodivergent employee.
  • Customise career development plans if necessary.
  • Provide education on different types of neurodiversity to improve awareness and knowledge.
  • Provide opportunities for all staff including managers to self-reflect and develop their self-awareness including overcoming unconscious bias.
  • Track key metrics and revise programmes as needed.
  • Create a culture of inclusivity and belonging by asking neurodivergent staff what they would like to feel included.

A truly inclusive institution that embraces all types of diversity including neurodiversity is an institution that will thrive and have competitive advantages brought about by employees with good morale who feel valued. This type of institution will be proactive, dynamic, creative and rich in ideas and will constantly reflect and evolve and may thus become a leading institution in their field.

References and further reading


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