How to support parents of neurodivergent children at work – your burning questions answered

Black working mother taking notes while daughter is sitting on her lap and using laptop at home. Small boy is in the background.

Neurodiversity is one of the hottest topics of 2024, with nearly 1000 people registering for our most recent webinar on this topic, which honed in specifically on what employers can do to support parents of neurodiverse children at work. 

Here, Emma Owen, Neurodiversity Consultant with Thriiver, who sponsored the webinar, elaborates on some of the far-ranging questions that were raised by the highly-engaged webinar audience. From what do you prioritise first to create a neuroinclusive culture, to how do you introduce an Individual Passport Plan.

You can access the recording of the webinar and hints and tips shared in the chat here

Please note that the webinar and this article both include reference to suicide and self-harm. If you are affected by this information, please contact an organisation that can give you advice and support such as Samaritans on 116 123 any day, any time.

Q: Has a link also been seen between ADHD and suicide or self-harm?

    Research studies have shown a link between ADHD and instances of self-harm and ideation in both children and adults. However, this is a developing area that is working to understand causality. This correlation highlights the importance of understanding the complexities, nuances, and social perspectives surrounding ADHD and its link to mental health and well-being across different age groups.

    Q: When children turn 18, do you still view staff as ‘parents of ND children’?

    The concept of childhood/ adulthood should be viewed through a lens that considers the fluidity of neurological differences and emotional maturity. Studies have demonstrated that the human brain continues to develop until the age of 25. When taking into account neurodiversity, this becomes even more complex. It is essential to acknowledge that individuals may require ongoing support beyond arbitrary chronological benchmarks, as societal expectations often dictate a cutoff point for when people are assumed to no longer need support due to a predefined definition of adulthood. It’s important to consider that staff may still require support and accommodations to effectively assist their young person or adult.

    Q: We are currently looking to introduce an Individual Passport Plan. It would be great to hear how you manage that in practice.

    The process involves the employee and their line manager working together to document the employee’s specific diagnoses, as well as considering broader aspects related to their neurodiversity. This may include discussions about the employee’s unique strengths, challenges, and any accommodations or adjustments that may be needed to support their success in the workplace. Once these considerations are thoroughly discussed and agreed upon, they are formalized, signed off, and implemented. In addition, it’s crucial to carefully identify and determine who within the organisation should have access to this information, taking into account privacy and confidentiality considerations. Regular reviews and updates are essential to ensure that the accommodations remain effective and relevant as the employee’s needs, role expectations, and team dynamics evolve over time.

    Q: What adaptations can be requested for an ND parent in the workplace?

    The organisation could provide flexible work arrangements, the option to work from home, mental health and wellbeing support programs, guidance on company processes, and dedicated leave options for parents and carers.

    Q: Should parents of ND children be considered under social mobility policies?

    Neurodivergent children are protected under the Equality Act and may encounter substantial obstacles in education, which can have a long-term impact on their life path. Therefore, it is crucial to take into account the needs of parents and families within social mobility policies to ensure that these children have the support and resources necessary to thrive.

    Q: Has anyone had any success working/collaborating with schools?

    In my previous position, our team worked on the development of a Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) program focusing on neurodiversity. This program attracted substantial funding from access and participation initiatives, enabling us to provide the training to teachers without any cost. I have a keen interest in delving deeper into this area and exploring potential outreach and collaborations.

    Q: What are the risks of using diagnostics tools?

    It’s crucial to understand that screening tools are not diagnostic assessments; they are designed to identify potential neurodivergent traits. It’s essential to emphasise that these tools should not and cannot be used as a replacement for a comprehensive assessment conducted by a qualified professional. Moreover, the results of screening tools can be influenced by various factors, including the individual’s understanding of the questions and their mood at the time of assessment. While screening tools can potentially provide helpful insights and give individuals self-knowledge and strategies, it’s important for users to understand their scope and limitations.

    Q: Are there any ‘one-stop shops’ where I can go for advice and support for him (an undiagnosed 16-year-old boy) and our family?

    About Autism provides a variety of support services for families, including counseling, educational resources, and community events.

    Q: Do you see this support as something that ERGs should be responsible for, or do you think this should be left to HR?

    I think it’s a combination of working with ERGs because these are the people with lived experience who understand what works, what can be improved, and involves a collaborative relationship for informed policy and practice in the organisation.

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    Q: What are the biggest topics/policies/areas that you prioritise first in creating a neuroinclusive culture?

    Exploring neurodiversity involves delving into its origins, concepts, strengths, and challenges, while also acknowledging the widespread evidence of disparities in health, education, and the workplace. It’s crucial to recognize that individuals experience neurodiversity uniquely and have varying needs. Embracing these differences and experiences can contribute to deeper understanding and the development of a more inclusive society.

    Q: How do you convince senior leaders to properly invest in neurodiversity and neuroinclusion instead of relying too heavily on ERGs?

    Understanding the value that individuals bring to the workplace is crucial for fostering increased productivity and innovation. However, it’s also important to recognise the potential risks of not being inclusive. Making reasonable adjustments is essential to ensure compliance with the Equality Act (2010), as failure to do so can lead to expensive tribunals, significant damage to the organisation’s reputation, and a decrease in staff morale.

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