Neurodiversity and What It Means For Your Training
Your learners are all different. They learn in different ways, they prefer different sorts of training, and they react differently to the modules you assign them. But did you know they all think differently as well?
It’s true. It’s called neurodiversity, and it means that some of your learners’ brains are wired differently from more typical learners. It affects how those team members work, socialize, and of course, learn.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity, also called neurodivergence, is the concept that not all people think, process information, or react to their environment, in the same way, and that those differences are normal.
To be more specific, Psychology Today defines neurodivergence as ”the idea that neurological differences, such as those seen in autism or ADHD, reflect normal variations in brain development. Neurodiversity is often contrasted with the ‘medical model,’ which views conditions like autism or ADHD as disorders to prevent, treat, or cure.”
The concept of neurodivergence began in 1999, when sociologist Judy Singer coined the term as a way of describing the variations in the way the human brain works. Although the idea of neurodivergence (and its inverse, neurotypical) was first embraced by the autistic community, it soon came to represent a wide range of people who take in information in different ways and have different sensory reactions to their environment.
Types of neurodiversity (and how to accommodate them in training)
The below list is definitely not a full list of the groups who fall under the neurodiverse umbrella. As Singer points out in her work, there are an infinite combination of ways people’s brains can process information. But below are some of the most common types of neurodiversity:
Autism, or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), is a developmental condition that affects how a person perceives the world around them. While every autistic person is different, autism typically affects communication, sensory issues, and socialization. Autistic people can also experience and display a range of other symptoms, such as repetitive or rigid patterns of behavior.
An autistic team member might, for example, be very literal and not understand some of the unwritten rules of the workplace, and they might not pick up on subtle social cues right away. . They might also have a difficult time making eye contact. They are, however, excellent at following explicit rules and thrive on structure, which helps them direct their incredible focus, creativity, and attention to detail to the work they’re doing.
Accommodating autism in training: Autistic people don’t always pick up on subtleties in conversation, or things that are implied. Because of this, it’s important not to use language that can be misinterpreted in training materials. Be explicit when it comes to directions, avoid sarcasm, and make sure everyone can follow the information being presented.
Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
ADHD, also sometimes called ADD, is a condition that affects a person’s executive function; the set of skills that allow them to be organized and in cognitive control. This includes working memory, self-control, time management, organization, and the ability to start a task. A team member with ADHD may have trouble staying on task, or controlling impulsive behavior. Their attention may wander easily and they may also be fidgety. They are, however, capable of very intense focus if they like the work they’re doing. Don’t be surprised if an ADHD team member misses lunch when they’re working on something they enjoy.
Accommodating ADHD in training: People with ADHD are likely to struggle with long training sessions. Sitting still for long periods is difficult for them. Break up learning modules into shorter training sessions to prevent learners’ attention from wandering. You may also want to incorporate a checklist, so ADHD learners can see what they’ve done and what learning they still need to take.
Dyslexia is a learning disability that affects language skills. People with dyslexia often have trouble reading and writing, but may have trouble with things like pronouncing words as well. While dyslexia means that a worker might have trouble spelling, or might take more time to read something, they learn well in different ways. They’re also creative problem solvers.
Accommodating dyslexia in training: Because reading and writing are such an integral part of dyslexia, your dyslexic learners may be good candidates for other sorts of learning, such as on the job training or coaching. If that’s not possible, be flexible about the time you give learners for training; dyslexic workers often need more time to read materials.
Dyspraxia is a disorder affecting motor skills. Those with dyspraxia may have issues with balance, movement, or with coordination. A team member with dyspraxia may not, for example, be able to drive a car, or they may have a hard time typing.
Accommodating dyspraxia in training: Remote learning is a good option for people with dyspraxia. While no one should ever be excluded from an event, like a conference or in-person training, because of disabilities, dyspraxic workers may appreciate the ability to learn from their desks when it’s appropriate.
Sensory Processing Disorder
Sensory Processing Disorder isn’t a diagnosis on its own, and it can present along with other conditions, like ASD. People with sensory issues have trouble receiving and responding to information that comes in through the senses. For example, they might find some sounds irritating or overwhelming, lights may seem too bright or painful, certain smells might seem stronger to them, and things like clothing might even hurt their skin.
Accommodating Sensory Processing Disorder in training: People with sensory issues may also appreciate remote learning, which enables them to control their environment while they take modules. Rather than going to a conference room and smelling other people’s perfume, being subjected to the temperature and lighting they cannot control, remote learning allows these learners to be in a comfortable space and truly focus on the learning.
Training your neurodiverse learners
There is no one “right” way of thinking and there’s not a “right” way to learn, either. All of your learners are probably a little different from one another, and many of them may fall somewhere under the neurodiverse umbrella.
It may seem daunting to serve all their needs, but by creating inclusive training you can make learning accessible for everyone, and that will help all your learners, your team, and your company as a whole.