NEWS Update: Westminster AchieveAbility Commission (WAC) on recruitment and neurodivergence

For World Dyslexia Day (5 October) and Dyslexia Awareness Week (2 – 8 October), Westminster AchieveAbility Commission (WAC) have produced a media release which has important information for dyslexic and other neurodiverse adults in the workplace.

The Media Release outlines the key findings of the two WAC surveys and the four evidence sessions and flags up the fuller report to be launched in January 2018.  The full report will outline a series of recommendations in line with the key findings.

WAC Media Release 2017

For further information regarding the work of WAC please see

Virtual working | let’s rethink office working

Julie Reynolds reflection in her laptop

It’s a cool wet day, I am sat at my dining room table with the BBC London playing on the ipad, and flipping between chatting to family via text and Facebook on my phone, and typing this blog on a little laptop. A cup of decaff tea is constantly refreshed. The phone lays next to the laptop. Pieces of paper, with scribbles of notes of conversations, client work are spread out all over the table. This is a day in my new working life. Now, don’t get me wrong, home working is nothing new to me, and I know it’s not to many of us, whatever sector you work in. What is different, is this is now my modus operandi, and the hours and times I can spend sat here at my dining room table (well let’s say my desk), are limited.

Why? Well this blog isn’t one to share the medical conditions I have, so I won’t bore you with details. However, for context, I will say, I now have physical limitations. These affect me on a daily basis and are exacerbated at times and so occasionally make me totally housebound. These limitations, have meant that over the last year and a half I have adapted my daily life and wake up each morning to determine what I can do (it’s not what I can’t do). Even though these limitations, are frustrating and have changed my life around, I haven’t wanted to give up on contributing to society.  So I have developed ways of virtual working, to work part-time when I can, on volunteer and short-term contract work.

This blog is an attempt to share what I have learnt and the benefits.  It may be of use to people who may be thinking of changing the way they work due to circumstance, or to a business/organisation trying to understand how to incorporate virtual working into everyday practice and ultimately attract a diverse workforce. My overall message is this, the good news is virtual working is working. This isn’t headline news, but it is something I am finding to be a great way to work, especially in light of the work I am undertaking. Let me explain. I am developing a UK network in the museum sector, which focuses on understanding the training provision landscape. This has involved engaging stakeholders throughout the UK and consulting with networks and organisations. The phone, Skype, email, Googledocs, and Facebook, have enabled me to have fruitful conversations and develop a UK project: to map UK training provision.

Through virtual working I have: ·

  • Built relationships and created a Steering Group and a Critical Friends group·
  • Built trust with a variety of stakeholders: museum development, national, regional, university museums, Strategic Service Organisations and membership organisations·
  • Collaborated with Steering Group members and with a designated Working Group.

A knowledge management contract for Sparknow and volunteering at Islington Heritage has taught me lessons which are useful tips for people looking at becoming a virtual worker.  If you are reading this from an organisational perspective, I hope the following gives an insight in to what to think about when setting up virtual working opportunities.

Here are a few things to consider when you change to virtual working: ·

  • Flexibility
    Ensure that flexibility is from both sides. Advocate the benefits of virtual working, and how you can both work together to be more efficient. Being flexible in planning meetings that could be virtual, or less of them, can help projects be more focused.  This can reduce the strain placed on our transport infrastructure and our energy/carbon consumption and benefit the environment too.·
  • Know your limits
    Be transparent about your limits. I know this is difficult, but you don’t need to go into details. Explaining what you can do and not focusing on what you can’t, helps the other side see what can and is achieved. This helps to forward plan and build in the means to cope with those days when you might not be able to work. It enables realistic deadlines to be set and to be met!·
  • Be clear about expectations
    Be clear about your expectations.  What do you want to get out of the working relationship? What are the expectations of the organisation? It’s best to have these conversations, which may be difficult and can leave you feeling vulnerable, in the first instance. In my case this has certainly helped build mutual trust. My expectations are to contribute to a working world, to be a respected part of a project and my limitations acknowledged, but not seen as a detriment.·
  • Conversations
    Stay in contact with key colleagues (touch base once a week), especially with those that you may report to. A phone or Skype call, email or Instant Messaging conversation helps work  stay focused and on track. It is a useful way to iron out any concerns from both sides (don’t forget, it takes a while to build up trust, and there may be suspicion on the other side as to whether you are really doing any work because they can’t see you).
    Conversations with stakeholders and other parties are very important, make sure you keep them going. In addition to a call, you may send a report, newsletter or some other knowledge asset to show what’s happening in a project but to also engage them too.·
  • Caveats
    Virtual working does not mean that all physical meetings cease.  There will still be the need for occasional meetings.  However, it is important that you ensure caveats are in place, in case you cannot attend. This helps to not raise expectations on both sides and for you both to plan and work around you not being in physical attendance. Can you Skype in? Can you have a chat about the outcomes of the meeting afterwards and the impact this has on your work?
  • Technology
    Use as much technology as possible, if you can. Keep an eye out for new ways to engage with colleagues. Are there platforms that you can use to share documents, project plans and to have real time conversations? For example, (and to name but a few) Yammer, Skype, Trello, Googledocs, Basecamp, BAND.·
  • Know your strengths
    This is a really important one. Along the way, I have struggled with the adjustments and questioned my abilities. A mentor, Nick Merriman, Director of Manchester Museum, helped me get back on track. He asked me to think of what I could do now, and what strengths did I have and be clear and transparent about my situation. With this advice I was able to sit back, and see my strengths and communicate these to potential commissioners of projects, and collaborators.·
  • Support network
    Develop a support network of peers you respect and trust. This has been invaluable to me. The support group around me, are a sounding board, confidants, and are there for advice and direction. In addition to my mentor (Nick Merriman, Manchester Museum), Katie Childs, Imperial War Museum, John Jackson, Natural History Museum, Ray Barnett, Bristol Culture, Iain Watson, Tyne and Wear Archives and Museums, Hellen Pethers, Natural History Museum, Cheryl Smith, Islington Heritage and Victoria Ward, Sparknow are part of my support group and I owe many thanks to them for their support this last year and a half.

I have alluded to the benefits of virtual working. Here are a few: ·

  • Efficiency·
  • Saving costs for the organisation and for you too·
  • Quiet environment·
  • No interruptions·
  • Focus·
  • Taking things slow and steady and not rushing into things·
  • Additional mentor input

My office colleagues are now my cats, resident foxes, birds in the garden, radio and carer and partner (who now works from home too). It is so much better, not being around stressed people, air pollution, and experiencing the frustrations of delayed and busy trains. In fact, I now totally enjoy this way of working. So, my advice is, if you are thinking about either developing virtual working models for your organisation, or thinking about it for yourself, it is a good model of working. Face to face meetings with colleagues still happen and are often more productive and focused as they use the time available to the best and if a face to face meeting cannot happen a Skype Video or phone call works just as well.

Let’s start to rid the job descriptions of a 35 hour office based job, let’s think of flexitime, virtual working and less hours and open up the workforce to people for whom virtual working works best.

Here is a short exercise for an organisation wanting to embrace virtual working to diversify the workforce:

Reflection. Observe your teams and your staff in your organisation.  Look around you and ask how many hours are actually worked in the office and how many of these are productive hours in a 35 hour+ week, do your staff really need to be in the office for so many hours? ·

  • Will the answer be a surprise?·
  • Could a virtual worker, who is focused, and efficient be in your workforce and add value?·
  • Could a virtual worker, add to your team, whether that be public facing team or not (are there roles that can support public facing work that don’t need to be office based)? ·
  • Do your job adverts clearly show how flexible you are as an employer to virtual working and flexibility?·
  • Is it time for your organisation to change?

What are you thoughts on virtual working and how it can enable an organisation to diversify its workforce?

Author: Julie Reynolds, Consultant (Culture and Knowledge Management)
August 2017

Talking about Stammering

Employers Stammering Network

We wrote about the Employers Stammering Network (ESN) a year ago.

We know that stammering is still too often a hidden disability at work. The result? It can be difficult

  • for people to use their strengths and talents to the full
  • for employers and colleagues to understand what changes can make a big difference.

We’re here to change that. So we’ve been working to make it easier for everyone to talk about stammering. We’d like to:

  • Share some facts and figures
  • Tell you what we’ve been doing
  • Work with you.

Some facts

  • Stammering affects about 380,000 adults of working age in the UK
  • That’s 1 in 100 people
  • About 4 times more men stammer than women
  • Research shows people who stammer have slightly different brain anatomy/function
  • But stammering only affects speech fluency, not intelligence or ability
  • Stammering usually begins at 2-3 years, affecting up to 5% of young children
  • When it continues over a period of years it is likely to persist in adulthood
  • Most children who stammer have another family member who also stammers
  • Some adults develop a stammer as a result of e.g. strokes or drug treatments

Did You Know?

  • You probably know someone who stammers without realising they do
  • That’s because a stammer can be overt or covert
  • Sometimes people have an obvious stammer that others can hear
  • But many people go to great lengths to hide their stammer
  • They can be very successful at this at great cost to themselves
  • It means working hard to avoid specific sounds, words and situations
  • This can affect participation at work eg saying their own name in meetings
  • In both types of stammer, people often feel embarrassment or anxiety in speaking situations

Talking about stammering can be a big step to take. And it can be very awkward, so people may avoid
talking about it.

Recruiting or working with someone who stammers

Knowing more makes it easier to start conversations about stammering.
That’s why we’ve developed a quick guide and resources:

Recruiting or working with someone who stammers: 10 things to know (link to

More information: stammering and work (link to

Speaking out

We’re working with people in different workplaces who are becoming more open about their stammer. We’re hearing some remarkable stories.

They are supporting and inspiring others to show it is “OK to stammer.” And demonstrating their hugely valuable strengths to employers.

The iceberg that no one sees (link to a personal and revealing article from May Breisacher, senior consultant at EY Financial Services

People often say what they think without thinking about the consequences and impact words can have. Words are powerful. They make and they break. Having a stammer has wired my brain so that I have to think about what I say and how I say it. Because I could block. So it makes me consider the impact of my words. Even when I have to give bad or difficult news, I think about what I say and how I say it. To give the right message without damaging the relationship.

Having a stammer makes me choose my words carefully, to be more considerate and compassionate in how I communicate.”

My performance is never judged on my stammer (link to

This is the most looked at Facebook post from Derbyshire Community Health Services NHS Trust ever. It links Emma’s experience as an employee who stammers to giving a clear message about applying for jobs at her employer.

Do you have a email address at work or know someone who does?

We are working with a group of civil servants from across the UK who have set up the Civil Service Stammering Network (CSSN). Some stammer, some don’t. They welcome allies who have experience of stammering or simply want to find out more.

Anyone with a email address, wherever they work, can sign up to their closed Facebook group (

If you don’t have a email address, there’s some great resources/blogs on their website (link to

Get in touch with us!

We love hearing from you.

  • Have a question or an issue at work?
  • Want to know more about the Employers Stammering Network?

Contact Helen Carpenter, ESN Manager: or

Sign up to the ESN e-newsletter (link to

What is the Dyslexia Adult Network?

Dyslexia Adult Network (DAN) Logo

Introducing ourselves

The Dyslexia Adult Network (DAN) is a coalition of organisations and specialists working at a national level with adults with dyslexia. We also cover Dyspraxia, Attention Deficit (Hyperactivity) Disorder and Dyscalculia – sometimes known as neurodivergent (ND). The issues that cause the most difficulty to this population relate to employment in its many aspects: recruitment, support, progression and career development, disclosure and workplace awareness.

Advantages of having dyslexic employees

The benefits to employers of employees with dyslexia (in particular) comprise a skillset which includes creativity, innovative and ‘blue sky’ thinking, the ability to grasp an overview, see links and connections and highly-developed visual-spatial skills.

Professor Roderick Nicholson highlights that high-profile corporations including the BBC, Virgin and Google are successful because they encourage dyslexic people in senior roles – see his  TED talk. Research from the Cass Business school flags up high numbers of successful entrepreneurs with dyslexia: an area that has become ever more important in the BREXIT landscape. Very recent research by Margaret Malpas, founder of DAN, showed that many adults ascribe their talents to dyslexia. Her book, Self Fulfilment with Dyslexia: a blueprint for success, published this week, is a “how to” book on acquiring the ten characteristics that many successful dyslexic adults share. It also contains inspiring stories from successful adults who battled against the odds that their education had dealt them.

HABIA (The Hair and Beauty Industry Authority) is a beacon of good practice, redesigning all its training materials to be dyslexia-friendly. This sector consists of hairdressing, beauty therapy, nail services, spa therapy and barbering.

Identifying recruitment as a key area, we are engaged with the Westminster AchieveAbility Commission on Recruitment on Dyslexia/ND running from Oct 2016-Oct 2017 Our final report (Oct 2017) will highlight barriers to successful employment and flag up good practice.


Accessibility matters

Accessibility is an important issue for people with disabilities, whether this is the physical aspect of  workplace for wheelchair users or documents in braille for people who use this communication method. When considering dyslexia/ND a number of things can be done to enable better access to employment :

  • Documentation well spaced, in font at least size 12, on off-white paper.
  • On-line communications that enable the use of assistive technology such as text reading software
  • Job application processes that clearly state the skills required
  • An alternative to psychometric testing because this will usually probe areas of difficulty but not assess areas of strength associated with dyslexia/ND.

But most of all we need awareness of these widespread conditions that affect around 10% of the population representing a huge well of (often) untapped potential. Access to Work should provide workplace assessment, aids and support but all too often the service is inadequate, leading to frequent complaints to DAN.

Dyslexia and Apprenticeships

Data from 2010-11 showed that 18,940 learners participating on an apprenticeship programme self-declared dyslexia; this has been a feature of the winners of Apprentice of the Year.

Employers can expect people who come to them via this ‘on-the-job training’ route to have a higher than usual incidence of dyslexia – and should be prepared to support them. The National Apprenticeship Service is working on an action plan aimed at improving support provisions and exam accessibility using assistive technology.

College student, Rheanna Stiles has spoken out on this issue


Government commitment to halving the Disability Employment Gap

This BBC initiative is timely now that the government Green Paper on Disability and Employment ‘Improving Lives’ is under consideration. We welcome the idea of work coaches, as long as they are well trained, and the aim of changing employer attitudes. We hope that Disability Confident can become more robust in order to encourage a sea change in employer take-up of people with disabilities.

However the emphasis on health and a medical model is inappropriate to a number of common disabilities, including dyslexia/ND.

The disability-friendly workplace

In order to welcome diversity, the workplace should take the following steps:

  • listen to (potential) employees with disabilities explain their strengths and their reasonable adjustments needs– which may be very low cost
  • allow more flexibility so that employees can reach agreed goals in their own ways
  • encourage disability networks for mutual support.


The Unions have an important role to play in diverse workplace

  • to disseminate awareness and good practice
  • to mediate if difficulties arise
  • to provide support

SEE Prospect Union website for an example of helpful information



From Dyslexia Adult Network  Email
Twitter @museumDCN



Access to Work: What You Can Do

News icon

If you have a disability (dyslexia and other neurodiverse conditions are included), you can apply for funding for equipment and coaching.  This is called Access to Work and it is funded by Central Government.

Have a look at this animation to find out more about Access to Work, how to apply and what you can do.

This animation developed by The Dyslexia Foundation Liverpool in conjunction with The Neurodiverse Agency.

The Dyslexia Adult Network are interested in hearing from people who are willing to comment on their experiences of Access to Work.  Please contact them via

For further information regarding Access to Work:


Dyspraxia Dynamo: Working with Dyspraxia: A Hidden Asset

As part of the project Key 4 Learning and the Dyspraxia Foundation have developed an Employers Guide providing information to enable employers to better recognise and support people with dyspraxia in the workplace. This document was written by professionals with extensive experience of supporting adults with neurodiverse conditions in the workplace and incorporates feedback from workshop participants and those who attended the Dyspraxia Dynamo Stakeholder event in March 2012

For the Employers Guide ‘Working with Dyspraxia: A Hidden Asset’ and accompanying video please see here:

An Employer’s Guide to Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, ADHD ~ Dr Sylvia Moody, Practitioner Psychologist

Please note:  The term specific performance difficulties is the general term used in a workplace context to denote dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD. 


Dyslexia is often regarded simply as a difficulty with reading and writing, but in fact these literacy difficulties are ‘surface symptoms’ of weaknesses in more fundamental cognitive abilities, i.e. short-term memory, visual processing, phonology. The literacy (and numeracy) difficulties associated with these weaknesses may be severe and obvious; or they may be more subtle, manifesting themselves in general slowness rather than inaccuracy in performing workplace tasks.

Among the difficulties most often reported are:

  • reading quickly with good comprehension
  • writing memos, emails, letters and reports
  • being accurate with numbers
  • following and remembering written and spoken instructions
  • remembering telephone numbers and messages
  • formulating thoughts rapidly enough to take part in discussions
  • note-taking
  • filing and looking up entries in directories or dictionaries
  • meeting deadlines.


 The term ‘dyspraxia’ denotes difficulties with co-ordinating movement and judging distance, space and time. General organisational skills and social skills are often also affected.

Workplace difficulties include:

  • presenting written work in a neat manner
  • analysing complex tables of figures or diagrams
  • using office equipment, e.g., calculator, photocopier
  • getting lost even in familiar surroundings
  • timekeeping
  • organising work schedules
  • keeping papers in order.

Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)

ADHD is characterised by poor concentration, distractibility and procrastination. Impulsivity and physical/cognitive restlessness are often also evident.

People with ADHD will find it hard to work in a noisy or busy environment, e.g., an open-plan office and they may have difficulty following set procedures. They will have difficulty in sitting still and concentrating for long periods and so will find meetings difficult. Their social skills may be poor: they may talk in an unfocused way and be inclined to interrupt people, sometimes blurting out irrelevant or inappropriate remarks. They may also be prone to sudden mood swings and may suffer anxiety or depression.

Difficult emotions

By the time people with the above problems reach adulthood they may have been struggling for many years with difficulties which have never been recognised or understood. In such cases the original difficulties are likely to be bound up with a constellation of unpleasant, and perhaps debilitating, emotions: anger, confusion, embarrassment, anxiety, depression. Confidence and self-esteem will also be low.

Social interactions

People whose problems have not been recognised are a mystery not only to themselves, but also to those for whom, and with whom, they work. They may be withdrawn and seem unwilling to pull their weight, or they may be oversensitive and aggressive. In general such employees are often difficult to ‘place’: they seem ambitious to progress in their career but are constantly hindered by inefficiency and a baffling inertia.

Positive aspects of specific performance difficulties

People with these difficulties are often motivated to succeed in their work despite their difficulties. They know the meaning of hard work, long hours and determination. They may excel in lateral thinking, and be creative and innovative. They often have good powers of visualisation, excellent practical skills, and an untaught intuitive understanding of how systems work.

Diagnostic assessment

A diagnostic assessment should be arranged through one of the main advice organisations or with a private practitioner who has relevant qualifications.  A referral to a hospital psychology department is not recommended.

Equality Act

If a dyslexic person’s difficulties are severe enough to impede his/her efficiency in everyday activities, then s/he may be covered by the Equality Act. The employer would then be obliged to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to reduce or remove any substantial disadvantage caused to that person by any of the employment arrangements in force.

For example, care would need to be taken that the employee was not unfairly disadvantaged in such things as: making a job application, interviews, proficiency tests, terms of employment, promotion, benefits, transfer or training opportunities, and dismissal or redundancy procedures. It is also usually appropriate to commission a workplace needs assessment to identify the type and level of support (in the form of skills training, IT support and reasonable adjustments ) that would be useful to the employee in his/her particular job.

Workplace needs assessment

This can be arranged either through the government’s Access to Work scheme or with a private practitioner or organisation specialising in workplace dyslexia consultancy. Please note that Access to Work assessors may not be experts in dyslexia, dyspraxia or ADHD and may not provide comprehensive recommendations or offer a consultancy service to the employer on reasonable adjustments.

Sources of information

For general advice, help and information about dyslexia:

British Dyslexia Association    0845 251 9002

Books which explain how dyslexia and associated difficulties affect working life:


            Dyslexia: How to Survive and Succeed at Work by Sylvia Moody. Random House.

Dyslexia in the Workplace: An Introductory Guide by Sylvia Moody and Diana Bartlett. Wiley-Blackwell.


For general advice, help and information about dyspraxia:

Dyspraxia Foundation   01462 459 986

Dyspraxia UK      01795 531 998


The following books may be useful:

            Living with Dyspraxia by M. Colley. Jessica Kingsley.

            That’s the Way I Think – dyslexia, dyspraxia and ADHD explained. David Grant.

David Fulton Books.


For general advice, help and information about ADHD:

Simply Well Being   020 8099 7671 



The following books may be useful:

How to Succeed in Employment with Specific Learning Difficulties.

Amanda Kirby. Souvenir Press.

Smart but Stuck: Emotions in Teens and Adults with ADHD. Thomas E Browne.

Jossey Bass / Wiley.



Dr Sylvia Moody
Practitioner Psychologist

© Sylvia Moody. This article may be reproduced with due attribution of authorship.


Definition of Dyspraxia

Developmental Coordination Disorder (DCD), also known as dyspraxia, is a common disorder affecting fine and/or gross motor coordination in children and adults. DCD is formally recognised by international organisations including the World Health Organisation. DCD is distinct from other motor disorders such as cerebral palsy and stroke, and occurs across the range of intellectual abilities. Individuals may vary in how their difficulties present: these may change over time depending on environmental demands and life experiences, and will persist into adulthood.

SEN Work Placements at the RAF Museum: Ambitious About Autism ~ Alison Shean

Royal Air Force Museum



The Royal Air Force Museum has recently embarked on an exciting new partnership with Ambitious About Autism. In June 2014 we were the first museum to receive the Autistic Society’s Autism Access Award, and were keen to build on our efforts to become more accessible.  We began working with Ambitious College when we were approached by their Employment specialist, Katie Wake, about the possibility of providing work placements for some of their students.

Ambitious College is a specialist further education provision for adults with autism. Located on the Grahame Park campus of Barnet and Southgate College, the college provides specialist support to enable young people with autism to access further education and supported employment in their local community. The needs of their students are complex and many find communication and social understanding very challenging.

Getting started

Part of my role as Education Officer at the museum is to develop and run our work experience programme for young people. The museum is committed to accessibility and I offer a number of work experience placements within our Access and Learning team for students with special educational needs. However, this was the first time we would be working with students with severe and complex autism, which was a little daunting.

Ambitious College were brilliant. They really make the effort to get to know the workplace so that they can find the best fit for the employer and student. After an initial meeting where Katie and I discussed timings and tasks students might do at the museum, Katie spent a day with the Access and Learning team getting to know our working environment.

The museum’s formal learning activities are quite resource heavy. Visiting school groups can make replica gas mask boxes, evacuee labels, mini helicopter rotors, rockets or parachutes. All of these workshop resources need to be prepared in advance, and in large numbers. With up to 240 children visiting per day we get through them very quickly! Katie and I had identified resource preparation as a task that would suit her students and be very helpful to the museum.

During her time with our team Katie shadowed staff, took photographs of the resources students would be working with, and of the office environment itself. We provided her with the museum’s health and safety and risk assessment information as well as our guide for visitors with autism.  This enabled her to put together an information pack which ensures that Ambitious College staff and students can be fully briefed before they come into the museum.

The museum agreed that we would take on one student for one afternoon per week on a rolling basis.

During the placement

Before each placement Katie sends me a profile of the student detailing their specific needs, likes and dislikes, and how they communicate. During their placement students are accompanied by at least two specialist college support staff who know the student well and coach and support them at all times. Students have their own desk in our open plan office. I provide a series of tasks for them to complete, and the support staff work directly with the student to encourage and assist them with their work. At the end of their placement students get a certificate of achievement together with a record of the tasks they have completed.

We took on our first Ambitious College student, Mary, between February and April 2015, and our second, Conor, from May to July. So far the partnership seems to be working really well. Both Mary and Conor coped brilliantly with the Museum environment. They took to the work we gave them very quickly and did a fantastic job.

Feedback from the College has been very positive. The students benefit from gaining experience of a new environment and meeting new people. As well as building confidence, they are also developing new skills and an understanding of the workplace.

The museum benefits by expanding its range of partnerships, improving accessibility and by having the chance to learn from highly trained and experienced SEN professionals. In addition, the work these students do preparing resources for our learning activities makes a real contribution to our schools programme.

Lessons learned

We are all adapting and learning as we go along. Early on I discovered that a good approach was to provide students with a variety of different tasks to complete so that they could be encouraged to choose what they did, and in which order.

As an employer, being a little bit flexible can be helpful. There are occasions when students are not able to attend their allotted placement time and have to cancel on short notice, for example. Above all, I think maintaining good communication between partners has been vital to the success of this project.

Working with Ambitious College has been personally very inspiring. Observing how the support staff work with their students, motivating and encouraging them, has been a real education. Their skill and professionalism gives me complete confidence that we can offer work placements for students with complex needs. I also feel that I am learning a great deal from their staff that I can apply in my wider role as an Education Officer. This can really help us improve the museum’s provision for SEND audiences.

I very much hope we can continue to develop and expand this relationship. In November this year Ambitious College and the RAF museum will be delivering a joint presentation at the Museums Association Conference about our experiences of providing work placements for students with autism.

I look forward to taking on more students when the new term starts in September. Working with Ambitious College has been beneficial in so many ways. We are all learning from this partnership and that is extremely positive and exciting.


Alison Shean
Education Officer
RAF Museum London

Neurodiversity in Employment by Sean Gilroy and Leena Haque

So, what is Neurodiversity and why are we interested in it?  Well, Neurodiversity refers to conditions which cause a person to process information differently; Autism Spectrum Condition, Asperger’s, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and other neurological conditions are becoming increasingly known by the term Neurodiversity and they affect at least one in 25 people.

We started working together around 3 years ago, after I (Leena, Hello) joined the BBC through the Extend Scheme – an employment scheme aimed at people with disabilities.  This is when I met Sean, who was to be my line manager (Hello.)  Now, while we each had relevant experience of each other’s respective fields, we noticed that there was a lack of information regarding Neurodiversity from the perspective of the new employee and for the employer.

Specifically, we felt there was a lack of information regarding awareness of hidden conditions and the effective management of neurodiverse individuals. Likewise we felt that there was similar lack of resources for people with hidden conditions to access when facing the prospect of applying for roles or starting employment.   Basically, where was the consolidated best practice for employers to draw on which provided support for both managers and staff.

So, we set up an anonymous, online survey to explore both the employment experiences for people with hidden disabilities and the knowledge and awareness of line managers. We promoted the survey via social media – an excellent forum often frequented by Neurodiverse individuals and anonymous so as to encourage people to tell us how they really feel.

We managed to get an excellent response to this, 470 people completed the survey broadly split 70/30 between staff and managers.  There were positive stories out there from people that replied, citing the individual creativity of line managers and where people felt they were being actively supported.  But there was also the message that Stigma is still a concern for people and that managers didn’t always know where to go for support and information.

Until recently the disadvantages and negatives of hidden disabilities (if not all disability) have been focused on, while the special talents that often come with these conditions are overlooked. From our perspective on this project, the need to increase awareness is mainly about dispelling the myths, perceptions and even prejudices people may have about these conditions, especially in employment.

This situation is possibly easier to understand if we consider that the conversation around diversity in the work place usually concentrates on visible differences; race, religion and physical disabilities. Increasingly though, more companies are now recognising the need to embrace, nurture and facilitate those with hidden disabilities, especially in those areas where Neurodiversity tends to excel – Creativity and Technology.

While organisations are increasingly aware of the broadest spectrum of what Diversity means, there are still those barriers to employment which Neurodiverse individuals have to overcome in order to get the chance of employment.

Take for example the application and interview process, once you have managed to find a job you’re interested in.  The first barrier is having to complete an application form, which is often full of employment jargon, non-specific descriptions of responsibilities and hidden expectations.  The type-face and font may not be easy to read and decipher and it can be unclear as to who and how you might ask for assistance.  There is also only the one way to apply – in writing, which is not necessarily someone’s preferred method.

Then, if you manage to be selected after deciphering the application, the second barrier is having to suffer a face-to-face interview.  How best to cope with the protocol of maintaining eye contact, answering open-ended questions based on hypothetical scenarios or being invited to give a brief history of your experience to date.

To be fair, as well as anyone with ASC for example, this process is something many of us will probably relate a certain sense of anxiety to.  Which brings us on to a rather interesting side-effect of our research…

When we highlight some of those aspects we’ve identified as being problematic for Neurodiverse conditions, we often receive a positive response from Neurotypical people.  Whether it be the anxieties of applications, the patterns on the wall or floor being distracting, social cues at work being misunderstood, buildings being difficult to navigate or emails difficult to read; it appears that we all share certain things that we would like to change, that perhaps we are all on the spectrum?

So, if we can make changes to help people with Neurodiverse conditions the payback could be larger, in that these changes are likely to help a wider population.  If we can review our recruitment practices, we may begin to identify new streams of talent.  And if we look at making the working environment accessible for all, considering both physical and hidden disabilities, that retention rates and working efficiency could improve for everyone.

We believe it is important to keep in mind that an individual is a unique learner; that no two people are exactly the same and no two people learn and work in exactly the same manner. If we can open up to new ideas and allow individuals to demonstrate skills and talents in a way they feel best able, might we not be able to find more appropriate ways to identify and retain key talent in the workplace.