The amount of changes that people have had to cope with during lockdown would have been unimaginable prior to it happening. But happen it has, and the world has been forced to adapt. Those who are neurodiverse have not been immune from this, and indeed the speed at which the alterations have had to take place may have caused additional stress. The fact that pandemics neither discriminate nor adhere to schedules will have certainly caused problems for some – more on that later – but there is truth in Plato’s saying “necessity is the mother of invention.” Simply put, in being made to adjust our working and social practices, we may find a better way of undertaking a task.
People also understand that working from home can be difficult because there is little to separate people’s working and home lives, but are simultaneously aware that a work/life balance needs to exist. Consequently, because everyone is getting used to a new normal, it might be that the neurodiverse benefit from greater empathy from their colleagues. Additionally, because those working from home can’t be watched all the time, there is perhaps greater scope for taking things at an individual’s own pace and discovering better ways of working, simply because they are in a comfortable environment. Relatedly, in having to ask what employees need to work most effectively, there are opportunities for employers to educate themselves about neurodiversity.
Before writing this blog, for instance, I had no idea that you can tint a screen background to make the text easier to read. Nor did I appreciate that working from home could promote productivity as voice recognition could be used more easily and overlays can be used without fear of having to explain why. Furthermore, the prevalence of video calls may give people the chance to plan meetings more effectively because they are more likely to be pre-arranged, potentially increasing productivity all round.
All of the above assumes that all employees have adequate space to set up home offices and sympathetic employers. While some do, this isn’t universally the case, nor can we forget those who have had to adapt in different ways, whether that be as a result of their job or being furloughed. For example, while teachers are having adapt lessons to account for remote learning, furloughed people are having to learn new skills to boost their employability and/or conquer boredom, so everyone is learning something in the midst of the pandemic, even if it simply coping with their new ‘normal.’
How easy this is will vary from person to person, but there are particular challenges for those who are neurodiverse. People may find it difficult to fill their days if they aren’t working, particularly as organisation is sometimes tricky for neurodiverse individuals. It may prove harder still because the options that would have previously been available to them are no longer there. Some of the options that are may also prove challenging. For example, many people with dyslexia struggle to read for pleasure and trying to do so could compound feelings of frustration. The importance of technology is again emphasised when you consider that apps such as Audible and screen readers might help some people with this, but such things can only go so far as no distraction is permanent. In other words, technology is not full-proof, and can often add to our frustrations rather than ease them.
On balance though, I’d rather the technology was there to get angry at than it didn’t exist at all, because even if it has the potential to make someone’s life easier that should be encouraged. Not only that, but the knock-on effects of this are also important; greater productivity, potentially more leisure time and possibly improved mental health, which would not only lead to a better quality of life for many, but also strengthen the tenacity for which the neurodiverse are known. When neurodiversity is known to lead to innovative solutions to challenges and new ways of thinking – both things that have been essential during the pandemic – championing the benefits of technology for the neurodiverse has never been more necessary.
Gemma Bryant, Blog Volunteer