By Thomas Hoefken 20 Nov 2023
As the university marks Disability History Month, we are setting up a new staff network for colleagues who are autistic, with ADHD, dyslexic, dyspraxic or with any other neurodivergent condition, whether formally diagnosed or not.
The network will represent and support neurodivergent colleagues across the University, and advocate to make Brunel more neurodivergent-friendly.
It will be led by Thomas Hoefken, academic in the Division of Biosciences and he shares his thoughts below on initial priorities in the following three areas:
Find out more about our neurodiversity at an information session on Thursday 30 November from 2-3pm - you can join online on Teams or meet at 268 in the Lecture Centre.
1) Raising awareness
Most people are aware of neurodivergent conditions but quite often these conditions are poorly understood. Too much can be based on narrow and negative stereotypes, usually including hyperactive or non-verbal children. To many people, it can be less obvious what neurodivergent conditions look like in adults in the workplace. This lack of understanding/awareness often leads to hiring processes, management practices and workspaces being designed only with the neurotypical majority in mind which can disadvantage neurodivergent staff. Because of the stigma associated with many neurodivergent conditions, colleagues also may not disclose their condition and ask for reasonable adjustments they are entitled to. Lack of empathy or limited knowledge can unintentionally create a sense of exclusion for neurodivergent individuals, potentially impacting their mental well-being.
The Neurodivergent Staff Network aims to educate, dispel myths, and break the stigma associated with many neurodivergent conditions to make Brunel a more inclusive workplace.
2) Influencing policy and decision making
Employers in general and Brunel specifically need to make a conscious effort to include neurodivergent staff. The Neurodivergent Staff Network will play a crucial role here. We will influence and impact policy and advise Brunel on all issues concerning neurodivergent colleagues.
I would like to emphasise the importance of prioritising the hiring of new staff members. The current recruitment process, while designed to accommodate the neurotypical majority, may inadvertently exclude neurodivergent individuals. This is particularly evident in the employment statistics for autistic individuals, with only 22% currently employed. Implementing straightforward adjustments can significantly enhance the inclusivity of the hiring process. It is crucial that we ensure Brunel's recruitment practices are fully accessible and inclusive for neurodiverse candidates.
Another example is sensory sensitivity which affects many neurodivergent colleagues. Now there are still meetings and events that are just too bright, too noisy, and too crowded. Consequently, many neurodivergent colleagues are excluded from these activities. Again, some simple accommodations can make an enormous difference to the quality of a colleague’s working life.
Some neurodivergent colleagues find it difficult to progress in their careers. Specific support and mentoring opportunities tailored to the needs of neurodivergent staff would be hugely beneficial.
3) Mutual support
The network will be a friendly and safe space where neurodivergent colleagues can offload, and share feedback and ideas based on similar experiences. It will also be an opportunity to just meet other neurodivergent colleagues.
If you are interested and would like to join the Network or have any questions or feedback, just email the network co-ordinator Thomas Hoefken at firstname.lastname@example.org.