DfE Digital and Technology podcast

Neurodiversity is a superpower

February 11, 2022

Here is our seventh episode of the ‘Think digital, act human’ podcast. It’s the last one in our pilot series.

We asked the question can neurodiversity be a super power on a product delivery team? Content Designer Laura Croft and Lead User Researcher Simon Hurst, give us some fascinating insight about how the wiring in their brains helps them to flourish in their digital and technology roles.
But it’s not always plain sailing – listen to them tell it like it is.

They explain what ADHD, autism and dyslexia feel like in the workplace, and how their openness is making a big difference to others.

 

Transcription

[music plays] 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Hello. Welcome to think digital act human, a podcast from the Department for Education, where we tell the everyday stories of digital specialists working on extraordinary projects. And today we have two guests joining us in the pod. We’re going to be talking to senior content designer Laura Croft and lead user researcher Simon Hurst. Hello, welcome to you both.

 

Simon Hurst

Hi, how's it going?

 

Laura Croft

Hi, nice to be here.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

I'm so excited about this topic because people for a long time now have, like employers, companies have been hearing about the importance of having different voices on their teams, like hiring in a diverse way. So having people of different genders, different races, different ages. If you need an example of what I’m talking about just Google racist soap dispensers and you will understand there's a whole struggle for black people, the struggle is real people. But today we're going to be talking about neurodiversity and how that can actually be a bit of a superpower. And the reason why I'm so kind of excited to talk about the subject is because, you know, cards on the table, I myself am neurodiverse. But we're going to go over to you, let's start with you first Simon. What is neurodiversity?

 

Simon Hurst

So neurodiversity a concept that rather than seeing sort of things like autism or ADHD as a disability, it's more that just our brains are slightly different than what would be classed as, you know, everyone else's brain. So the term for that would be neurotypical. So I think it's just this concept that we're wired slightly differently. It does feel a bit odd to refer to yourself as disabled and I would be covered by the equality act, I would be recognised as disabled. But it's just a different way of viewing it, I think, than saying, Oh, you're disabled.  

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

So for people who are not neurodiverse and maybe they don't, really, it's kind of outside their experience. What are some of the conditions that would fall under that label? Because you mentioned, I think you mentioned autism. Laura, do you know some of the kind of conditions that if an employer like heard them, they’d go, Oh, OK, now I know what we're talking about.

 

Laura Croft

Yeah. Simon mentioned autism and ADHD, but it's things like dyslexia. There can be other physical conditions that people can develop within their brains that can then mean that they become neurodiverse. I did a podcast with a colleague who had a particular sort of trigger in his brain that meant that he thought differently. It was a physical condition rather than one of these sort of terms that we see around ADHD and Asperger's, and those types of conditions that would perhaps be more common. With this was actually a sort of physical condition that meant that he fell under the neurodiverse category of sort of being disabled or needing some extra support.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

So you see, I'm neurodiverse. I didn't even know that that last category was even a thing. So this is why these kinds of conversations are so important. For me, I am dyslexic or I have dyslexia, and I've recently discovered and when I say recently, I mean, this year, people, I'm in my 30s. I discovered that I have autism too. So the reason this conversation is so important. Some people might kind of hear this off the top and think, Oh, neurodiversity, I don't have anybody on my team who’s neurodiverse. But here's the thing, the people on your team who are neurodiverse might not even know that their neurodiverse. So that's why it's kind of super important to kind  hear some of the things that are being talked about today and think, Okay, if my work place kind of like empowers people who have neurodiversity, that works for everybody, that kind of like raises the standards for everybody in a way. But let's get back to this idea of neurodiversity as a superpower, because I can just imagine some people hearing this and saying, Well, oh, dyslexia, is that a superpower? Like, you know, how is that a superpower?

 

Laura Croft

I'm like you, I was diagnosed as being dyslexic when when I came towards the end of primary school and was sitting exams to go into secondary school. That's when it got picked up for me that I was not neurotypical and it was only later in life in my 30s when I was having quite significant sort of mental health problems and trying to do CBT ( Cognitive behavioural therapy) that I discovered that autistic spectrum disorder is the thing that's on my paperwork. So with me, t he way that sort of plays into a superpower and it did take a while for me to really be able to harness it. It is around words. I'm a content designer and I can very easily digest a lot of words and I can spot quite easily when things aren't correct within words. I can't do it with numbers. I very, very much can't do with numbers. But when it comes to words, and being able to do, particularly what we do in the department, putting things into plain English, making things concise and clear I can digest a lot of information and relay that very simply back because the way my brain works. I have to go into the minutia of the detail of something to really understand it. And having that sort of drive in that need to get into the detail really makes me a very good content designer and able to write about subject matters and bring people together to write on certain topics. So I've (over a sort of 10 year career) really managed to harness it.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Simon, is there anything you want to add to that?

 

Simon Hurst

Yeah, I think I was diagnosed with ADHD at 39, having had, you know, depression anxiety throughout my life and everything fitted into place when I was diagnosed. And I've had a screening recently for autism, through work, and that flagged me, as, you know, very possibly autistic, which was a surprise. But it's so hard to get past all the stuff that you've struggled with throughout your life that you maybe didn't you, you just thought you certainly people with ADHD have been told all you're lazy pull you, you know, you just need to focus that sort of thing. So it's quite hard to shift into this mindset of a superpower, and I've struggled with it for a long time, and I would still consider myself to, you know have many, many weaknesses. I think if you look back on why ADHD is even a thing, for example, you know, the theory is that, you know, back when we were cave cave people, ADHD people were great in an emergency. So we were constantly sort of switched on and, you know, focus on our surroundings. So any sign of danger is when ADHD people really kicked in. So to the tribe, we were super powerful. So if you think about the meerkat that sits on top of rock and keeps watch all day, that's like an ADHD meerkat. 

Apart from coming into play in emergencies, which is why you see, you know, firefighters a lot of firefighters have ADHD, people who work in like emergency services. But, the sort of more day-to-day stuff - I'm very good at sort of just spotting either patterns or problems and problem solving. I'm a very intuitive person, so I just can very easily see what I think is an obvious solution to a problem. It's weird. It's almost. And I found this, you know, with partners, ex-partners, things like that. Sometimes looking at people who are neurotypical is like the brains work in slow motion and I can come to a conclusion and it can take people quite a long time to get there. I'm thinking that that was obvious. I think that's a big strength of mine, and people with ADHD do tend to be very honest and sometimes a bit uninhibited. So you have to be careful to manage. So I think now broadly, people value my honesty at times. But I think, you know, sometimes what I think is being sort of just, you know, jokingly honest, maybe I'm not always aware of how it lands. So it is a difficult balancing act. But I think problem-solving and  a willingness to, you know, just do stuff and get stuck in at times is one of my strengths.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Yeah. And Laura, what would you say? Like, how do you find that your brain works differently in the day to day when you're at work? Like how is your brain sort of like doing different things than, say, someone who's neurotypical?

 

Laura Croft

I definitely, I'm sort of echoing some of what Simon said in terms of the feedback that I get is you’re rushing too forward, you need to take the team with you, and I've got better at that because I've had some really great coaching. So being able to slow down. But I certainly particularly early on in my career, like Simon said, I'd see a very obvious solution and would be quite blunt at delivering that we just need to do this. And you know, you can't tell people what to do. You have to be able to sort of show them and lead them and show that skills have kind of developed. For me, some of the challenges I face are around verbal communication. That's where I kind of struggle a little bit. So I will get involved when we're doing community things or when we've got show and tells, or we're doing those feedback sessions, I'll be typing. It's actually easier for me to type out my thoughts than it is for me to speak them and so for example, when I've recently got promoted and I'd had a couple of interviews where I’d struggled a little bit with the interview and my manager and I sat down and we came up with some adjustments. The adjustment that we managed to make that we agreed that I could sort of put forward and ask for was to get the questions just a little bit before time in the interview. So I could have them in the font and size wanted on the screen. I could read through and digest it. Where there were two or three part questions I could separate those out. And then I was able to sort of get through that kind of interview process because I'd really struggled. Even if they put them in the team's chat it's quite small, it's difficult to read, you know? So just having those kind of adjustments of being able to have those kind of adjustments here has made a massive difference.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

That is so interesting. I guess I hadn't really thought about it like that. It's like if you have dyslexia and you're a student in exams, you know you're entitled to 25 percent extra time just because your brain's kind of like picking apart the question differently. OK, so if you're in an interview, like one good suggestion you've kind of mentioned is like, can they give you questions a little bit ahead of time? How much ahead of time are we talking about, like in the hour before you go in or what?

 

Laura Croft 

I think I got that, I think I got them about half an hour before I went into the interview, so not in time to be going and stressing at there, but enough time to receive the email opened it up, put it where I want it an be able to read it. And the other thing is they did the same for all the other candidates. So it wasn't that I was advantaged more than the others. They did the same for everybody. Everybody got the same format half an hour before and obviously I've had more experience things, but three interviews over six month period and in the third one the adjustment got it right! 

  

Adaobi Ifeachor

So you know? I'm loving that. That's the difference, isn't it? And that also helps get like buy in from other like members of staff who might be going through an interview and might think, Oh, is it kind of unfair if someone else has an adjustment? If you're making sure that everybody is working from a level playing field? Everybody gets the adjustment, then that kind of makes a difference. Simon, do you agree?

 

Simon Hurst

I'm not sure. I'm not sure whether because, I'm really curious about that, I didn't anticipate that that's how it would work. I don't know if that is standard or if that was done in that particular case. But the adjustment is because we have I mean, the definition of disability is you know, the environment or the social model of disabilities, it's the environment that disables us or it’s society that disables us. So society is designed around neurotypical people, it's not designed for us sorts of people on the fringe. So it's almost like you've made an adjustment to level the playing field, but then you've expanded it to everyone else as well. So I'm not 100% sure how I feel about that.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Ooh, bit of a debate going on here.

 

Simon Hurst

Yeah, I'm just curious more than anything else.

 

Laura Croft

Well, I think, the thing is it needs to be down to individual circumstances. And so for me, the adjustment I needed was that I needed the questions in writing in a format I could easily read them at the point I was doing the interview. It wasn't to give me early sign of the questions, particularly and so therefore, if they were giving me early sight of the questions, that could potentially be perceived as disadvantaging because it's not that I needed it. It was analysed that I needed them early so I could prepare them so I could read them. So I think that's possibly where that balance came. And to be fair, I was I was quite happy with that adjustment and it was something that was discussed. And then it was discussed with me on an individual basis, and I felt part of the process in making the decisions. And I think it's the process that you need to go through. And I think I've been asked so many times before, what adjustments do you need? And it's like, I don't know. If I knew I'd be able to tell you. And so for me, it was being able to have those conversations to have that support, to then be able to identify, well, what? What can we do? And that for me, that arrangement that we agreed worked.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

So what I'm hearing is if you realise that, yes, you you want to create like a recruitment process that is, you know, there's equity for people who are neurodiverse because you want to increase the amount of neurodiverse people in your teams Then when it comes to interviews, it's not this is what we think is going to be best for neurodiverse candidates, but it's a let's have a conversation. And actually internally, we're what we're kind of arriving at with this discussion is, have a discussion internally too about at what point do you kind of roll out those sort of changes to other candidates beyond like, you need to have a discussion so that everybody kind of agrees that, yeah, we're comfortable with this for these reasons and and we've spoken to these these particular candidates who might need adjustments. That's interesting to me. I want to kind of just say like, I want to bring it back to this idea of a superpower, though, because for me, I had known for many, many years that I had dyslexia. And for me, that kind of meant that I had a really, really - when I say I've got a poor short term memory I've already forgotten the question - Do you know what I mean? It's already gone out of my head so that that's like a real thing, and that doesn't necessarily, maybe it's because I need to make a complete, reframe everything and make a mental sweat here. But for me, that doesn't feel like a superpower. What I can say is that I get bored very easily. I really enjoy structure. Maybe that's the autism side of my brain. But when it comes to meetings, I am a very, very good facilitator. So I come to the point quickly. We move, you know, meetings aren't just for meetings sake, but we moved on on a piece of work. Everybody has their actions. We know when they’re due and that kind of thing. And if I'm in a meeting where it doesn't feel like that, it feels more kind of amorphous and you kind of wonder, well, what was the point in that then? Yeah that doesn't really work for me. So maybe that's kind of like a little bit of a superpower? But U guess my question to both of you is, why is it important to think of neurodiverse staff as having a superpower, why not just say we welcome all diversity, you know, because it brings in lots of different perspectives?  Why do I need to think of dyslexia as being one of my superpowers somehow?

 

Simon Hurst

I think there's. Somebody talked to me about a concept recently called Clifton Strengths, and I think this is quite a good example of it. And so Clifton strengths it sort of views that whenever anyone does any training or self-development, you're always you're always trying to develop the thing that you're rubbish at. So for me with ADHD, somebody would keep sending me on a planning and time management course because are ‘oh you're not very good at that you need to get better at it.’ And what Clifton, I think the psychologist was called Don Clifton in like the 50s, he said ‘Why do we always develop the stuff that we're no good at? What makes us great is our strengths. So why wouldn't you just apply those more?’ So, you know, if your strengths are, you know, leading and you know, in the bigger picture, why does  somebody then force you to try and do the things that you know, you’re no good at. You don't force Usain Bolt to be very, very good at weightlifting or something. He's great at running. So you focus on that. And I think it's almost an extension of LA that you know that there's some things I'm no good. I can't estimate time to save my life. I'll think something will take me an hour and it could take me two weeks. And you know, at the age of 42, people will still think that I can estimate my own time because it's so obvious that, you know, everyone could estimate time and I just can't, and I'm useless at it. But there's people who are brilliant, but are terrible at my strengths so why not make best use of those strengths? 

And I think coming back to the question, neurodiversity it’s so hard to put a finger on, you know, all these conditions are just ways that we've categorised behaviours that you can't really do a blood sample or a brain scan for any of these. I mean, brain scans is a bit of a red herring, brain scans will look different to someone with ADHD than somebody who's neurotypical. But you can't test it. We've decided that if people exhibit that, that and that behaviour, they are autistic or ADHD, and it's really difficult to then decide. So I think it's maybe a way of sort of brushing over that fact and recognising that actually, you know, people are different and neurotypical people and neurodiverse people do have different strengths. I mean, people who are neurotypical, I see so dependable and ploddy and reliable, but they sometimes feel a little bit like a workhorse at times, like my ex-partner, it was really, really, you know, dependable, but it felt so slow moving talking to her and sometimes the way her brain worked, that my brain was firing off in all different directions that it was just I couldn't imagine being in her shoes. I can't imagine how her brain would work. And I think probably the flip of that is true. And it is. It's quite an uncomfortable feeling, my brain. It is sometimes hard to keep track, so it  does make life a lot harder in many ways. And it takes extra effort, I think, to get through a work day where you're using your strengths because, you know, ADHD has this concept of hyper focus and where you can, you know, shut out everything and just focus on what you need to get done. But that is an incredibly draining mode to switch myself into.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Before I knew that I had autism in my London days, I was living in a shared house with like a shared entrance. So I was the flat downstairs and there was like a Brazilian couple who were just lovely couple who lived upstairs. And one day we got a knock on the door. I open the door and it's the guy from the couple and he's like, Hi, I wanted to let you know that we're having a party today. And I was like, Oh, that's so nice of you, but I've like, I just got back from work like I'm kind of tired, I’ve taken my shoes off and stuff and he just like stared at me blank faced and like my housemate started laughing. And it was only that I realised he wasn't inviting me, he was just saying, I'm having the party, so I just want to warn you there's going to be a lot of foot traffic and stuff like that. That one story is like the story of my life. There are so many points in my life where there's like another level of meaning happening in a conversation, and I haven't quite got it. But I can tell that I'm missing something but like, there's either subtext or I've taken something too directly or something like that. So there's that side of life where things are, you know, I just tell people on my team, listen, just be direct with me. I don't need the subtext. I just need the text. Whereas like, there's other parts of me, that are super creative in a way that I think are quite unique. So let's let's bring it back to the digital world now. Laura, how can, how can our neurodiverse kind of pluses and even even the things where you know you're taking things a little bit too directly? How can those be a benefit, particularly in a digital career?

 

Laura Croft

I think for us, we work in a very user centred design way, we are very about users and like you just kind of pointed out there, one to one kind of face to face I miss stuff too, stuff just kind of goes over my head. But on the flip side, what I can do and what I seem to be, I'm a very empathetic person it's why I get upset about stuff quite easily. I can find that I can put myself in users shoes very, very easily. I can put myself in people's positions very easily and understand other people's perspectives in the wider world. I struggle in a meeting understanding like I can see somebody objecting to something I don't understand why, I might not even understand that they're objecting to something. But I can look at something and look at where we’ve perhaps got a policy that is affecting children and families. I can see where the barriers are. I can imagine what that family is practically going through, where they're having to physically go, what it’s going to be like on the devices they're using, are they using a library's Wi-Fi system to try and do something that's really important that means that they're going to get the funding. And I can convey that when we're doing research, particularly when I was working on user experience teams. Being able to really be the voice of our users and making things as best as they can be for the end users and ensuring that that is seen as being important across everywhere where we're working, whether it's sort of delivery or whether it's in the policy side or whether it's comms side, you know, at the end of the day what does this feel like when it gets on the ground for that person that we're looking to make a difference for?

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Yeah, I think that that makes you, I can see how that would make you an incredibly strong content designer if you understand, if you can kind of look at something and see where the kind of pitfalls might be for different types of users. And like as a product manager, I'm starting to just see in this conversation, realise that there were times when I need to have conversations with stakeholders in the business and my, you know, ability to get to the heart of something or speak truth to power or, you know, speak kind of, frankly, has actually really helped avoid a lot of delays and helped win respect in places where, you know, sometimes people might be more political operations, like maybe I should be a political operator maybe I'd be like, you know, kind of Director-General of the BBC or something as if I operated a bit more smoothly. But I'm kind of where I want to be and I can see how some of my quirks have helped me. Simon, you are not just a lead researcher, but you’re also accessibility lead for digital. How does that play into your day to day life in your work?

 

Simon Hurst

My life has been a happy accident, just, you know, stumbling through, a typical ADHD person, no real direction, no real effort at school. I was bright. I was classic, you know, super bright if he only applied himself, kind of thing. So I stumbled through a career in the civil service for, you know, a decade and a half and then found, sort of fell into use of research. Was very, very lucky. And it just was a natural fit for how I think and how my brain works. And I think in digital we do heavily specialise broadly. And I think that then plays to my strengths, you know, problem-solving, hyper empathetic. And I think it's that compassion for users. So you can't help you. There's not many user researchers who are completely, you know, not bothered by what they see. And, you know, I'd worked on a disability benefit,as a user researcher and you know that that was and it was well before in the early days of GDS and it was on an exemplar and it was before, you know, we had a lot of the sort of care and looking after each other stuff in place. It was just, you know, you go out and do the research and it was very, very traumatic for me. And you know, we’d go out for team meals afterwards, and I just suddenly burst into tears because it was so intense. But that really made me realise the difference that making accessibility work for people can have and how easy it is for people say, Oh, it doesn't matter, we'll move that person to another role or, you know, they can get the friend to fill it in for them, which is nonsense because it's, I know what it's like to have to have someone else do stuff for me because I can't do it. And it's really, you know, as a relatively capable adult it's really quite demeaning. And I think it gives me I think ADHD has given me quite a strong sense of injustice as well. So I am quite principled and I do see things very strongly, as there’s a right and wrong, which is why agile and user centred ways of working is such a good fit for me because I genuinely believe that that is the best way of doing things right by people. So I think it's that seeing that it's unfair that, you know, it's almost like it's not like a hero complex of fighting injustice, but it's just, you know, this isn't right. And you know, the way we go, we'll fix it later is not right and not acceptable and is nonsense for us to even try and ever argue that. So I will. I enjoy the sort of honesty and the principled-ness of it as well. And also, it's a thing I can do. So it's playing to my strengths and my interests, so I feel like I'm useful, which I quite often haven't done over the past couple of years with COVID and, you know, being less hands on. As a lead, I am far less hands on than I used to be. So I think, being able to see, I'm making a difference, getting something done has been something that's really driven me as well.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

We've talked about how you, you mentioned briefly, that you were tested recently at work and discovered that you had another kind of neuro diverse condition and I spoke at the top of the post about how in my 30s I was diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder. And FYI people listening, Autism presents differently in men and women. So when you read the conditions that are very typical, you know, online, if you do a google search, those are usually based on men and and so that's why some people won't realise that they have autism until, you know, there were women until a bit later in life. But say you're an employer and you're really kind of like, you're really woke, you really care about these things and you've listened to what we've had to say and you're thinking, this is you know, it's shaky, shaky ground here, but you're thinking, well, you know, I do have a staff member who's, you know, sometimes doesn't really have much of a filter, and maybe sometimes are not quite aware of some of the kind of social cues and that sort of thing. Is it their place to kind of suggest that you, you know, might need to be tested through work, like I can imagine that being a complete minefield?

 

Simon Hurst

I think this is why I talk about my mental health and my ADHD so much. I started doing it a good few years ago, I was getting older. I'd been, you know, experienced depression. I was working certainly in digital a lot of younger people coming into the teams and just seeing someone who has been around. And, you know, I've made a good, a good career out of this. I'm a relatively senior in the organisation, to see people who are openly talking about this and sharing experiences is so, so important for other people to either recognise it, Oh, it's fine for me to speak out because I struggle. Or actually a lot of what Simon or Laura or anyone else who feels comfortable talking about it mentions and might want to just either look into it themselves or come and ask me or anyone else, or just start to look into it a little bit. Because that's what happened with me, somebody mentioned it to me, a therapist, and said, did you ever thought you might have ADHD? And as I read it, it was like, it explains my whole life and why it has led to where I am. And so I think somebody's not imposing that on someone, but I think if there's obvious, I look at some people who don't seem to be diagnosed and I spot traits of myself in them and things like that, but I wouldn't think to presume to approach them about it. But I think if they are experiencing difficulties at work, all this, I think, it’s part of a discussion of either in an ABLE meeting of like performance or, you know, areas where they might be struggling. I think it would depend on the individual and the relationship I had. I'm not sure. I wouldn't want to just say, well, you're clearly terrible at planning and time keeping. I've sent you on training and you're still really bad at this, so you're getting demoted or you're on a warning or anything like that. I think it's complicated.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

I'm feeling like, I'm feeling like this may not be the place for like just your regular one to one discussions with someone who's terrible at planning - do you  think you might have dyslexia? But if there is like a sort of performance issue, it's worth being aware that there may be like an underlying condition that the employee isn't even aware of. And I will say this from personal experience, from listening to you, Simon, from even listening to Laura, sometimes the first clue might be that your employee just has depression. Like sometimes you can have depression, and maybe it's been on and off in your life and you never really kind of nail down why this is happening. And low and behold, you know, if you were tested, you find out that you have autism and you didn't know that but all the kind of effects that you've been living with and having to kind of control subconsciously have just been really driving down your kind of like your mood or your mental health. So so many of these things are linked. But I would always say that if you're an employer, if you're like line managing someone like to have a bit of compassion and also just as soon as you kind of hear that someone might be experiencing depression to kind of let that trigger your antenna to kind of think, Okay, well, there may be things below this that are even beyond what my my employer is thinking about. So that might be a start of a process. But I loved what you said also, Simon, about this idea of it's a safer space when it's like your peers who have that condition and they're talking about those things. So how do you? So what exactly happens at DfE around like neurodiversity community?

 

Laura Croft

Yes, there is a neurodivergent, I think it's called, network within the DfE and they do quite a few things really, one they sort of get on the agendas of the different kind of directorate senior meetings in terms of making sure that it's something that people are aware of with recruitment and stuff like that. But it's a really good kind of support network as well. And so as you've heard from both of us, there is quite a link between mental health problems and neurodiversity. And I think my personal opinion is because the workplace is kind of set up for neurotypical people. And so we need those adjustments so that we can be just as happy at work as as the colleagues where things are more kind of set up for them. Certainly looking at those support groups rather than just, you know, somebody struggling, it's not just perhaps a sort of sickness issue it might not be a sort of skills level issue, it could be all things and signposting to the wellbeing support research that we've got. Both Simon and I went down the diagnosis route from a support therapy, mental health route and a wellbeing type route. And so I'd just be encouraging that, you know, if you can see that somebody is struggling signposting down a route where they can go and investigate and find out more will be really, really helpful. And yeah, I just advise it, we've got so many resources available to us, we've got great links as civil servants and things that are free to watch as part of the civil service, support lines and things like that that we can make use of counselling and therapy services we can make use of. So it’s encouraging people that like that is the right thing to do, don't sit and struggle, we've got all of these things and if you follow these routes what you might find is that you've got a member of staff who really feels part of the team. 

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Yeah, I definitely had, and I know what I'm going to be bringing it to a close in the moment because I know where, like, we've really talked about this, I could talk about this for another couple of hours. But when I look back on some of the struggles I've kind of had in my work life, it's all been around organisation. So like I, you know, time management and and just kind of like poor short term memories. I've had to kind of really rely on technology like I use like a voice assistant to kind of remind me of things I need to do. Like, I have a notebook so I find handwriting really helps force things into my brain. And I've come up with all these kind of like bullet journal hacks and things like that. But if I had known years ago that these were just the result of, you know, being neurodiverse, I could have (I got a real research brain on me) so I kind of researched about it. I would have thought a lot more comfortable with myself, and I could have started talking about it with my colleagues a lot more so they understand what's going on with me. And so, yeah, I loved what we talked about today. Is there anything else that you wanted to say before we sign off?

 

Simon Hurst

I think I wanted to build on Laura’s signposting to the various, I think as well, certainly, and, you know, going going on and on about digital ways of working, but I genuinely do believe that it has helped me and we do take I mean, things like retors and things have really helped me talk about what I find difficult. And the more I've done, the more other people come forward. And, you know, I've responded to the manual of me thing that came out on Emma’s weeknote. And I wrote back to everyone and just said, you know, we should all do this. This is really useful, and I expose a lot of some of the struggles I have through that and what works for me. And you know, I got quite a lot of emails of people I didn't know or slack messages saying, I've read yours and you know, it's so nice to say that I'm not the only person who thinks like this or who has this and it’s things like that that I think we do quite well in digital and technology. And, you know, we've got Slack Channel, which is, neurodiverse people and it's locked so that, you know, if you're not comfortable telling people that you’re neurodiverse but it's just a place that you can chat about stuff and it's trying to do a different job, the neurodiverse network is very much about, you know, making the DfE be better. Whereas this was very much a, I just want to be able to express how I feel and the same with the mental health channel, there are other networks that are more formalised. These are more about just like minded people, so I think it is, keep talking about it and finding other people like yourself and, you know, making them feel that if they want to talk about it, they’re comfortable too, or if they can see all the people who are talking about it, that they don't feel like they're the only one, or that the only one struggling as well, I think, is why I’m so almost overly out about how my mental health affects me, because it's empowering to all this.

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Thank you so much, Simon and Laura. I want to plug that manual of me that you mentioned because it's excellent, particularly if you're, if you've got a new staff member joining your team or you, you're on a project even if people already know each other to say hello to, manual of me helps everybody say, look, these are the things about me you need to be aware of, and here's how I best work with other people. So it's a really good way of refreshing relationships and working relationships. So, oh, thank you so much to Simon Hurst and Laura Croft. Both work here at DfE Digital and Technology. I hope this has been interesting to your listeners because I appreciate this is a bit of a different one, and not everybody who's listening will be neurodiverse themselves. But I hope that it’s given you some ideas of how you can help make, bring out the best in your team members and realise that you're not just making adjustments for disabilities, but you're acknowledging that team members who have neurodiverse conditions also are experts at particular things. And you can harness that and really bring that out to kind of create the best digital and tech products that you can.So if you want to hear more from our guests, you can find them on the social webs, Laura is Laura Croft on LinkedIn and Simon I think this is your Twitter handle, Simon Hurst UX, right?

 

Simon Hurst

That's me. Mm-Hmm

 

Adaobi Ifeachor

Yeah. Great. So if you dear listener have something you'd like us to cover in a future pod please do let us know, our Twitter is DfE underscore digital tech and our blog is DfE Digital and Technology Blog, which you can just Google and you'll find us. This pod was brought to you by the Department for Education. The producers are Rosie Roff, Nettie Williams and Louise Mullan. I am of course your host, Adaobi Ifeachor thanks for listening. Goodbye.

 

 

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