Best practice for hiring neurodivergent candidates


Up to one in five of your employees could be neurodivergent. These people are just as likely as the rest of your team to be productive, hard-working, and have a lot to give your organisation. But there are many obstacles that prevent neurodivergent talent from feeling like they belong. They may struggle from the get-go and not get past the interview stage. Or they may slowly feel like they can’t cope once they’re in their role and end up quitting or being picked up on performance issues that could have been solved with the right support.

In this article, we talk about what neurodiversity is, why it’s important to have an inclusive workplace and how you can make your organisation neurodiversity friendly.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term used to describe how some people’s brains work differently to others in terms of social skills, learning, mood and attention. Neurodiverse people have different skills, abilities and needs to those who are neurotypical, or the majority.

Neurodivergence is usually something you’re born with, but some people can have acquired neurodivergence due to a brain injury or health condition. 

The conditions that fall under neurodivergence include:

  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD)
  • Autism spectrum condition (ASC)
  • Tourette syndrome
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Dysgraphia.

At least 20% of adults in the UK may consider themselves to be neurodivergent. This number is likely to be an underestimation as so many adults are undiagnosed because the conditions were not picked up during childhood due to many reasons, including stereotypes on how children with ADHD and ASC present.

Education on neurodiversity has led tens of thousands of people to seek a diagnosis. According to the National Autistic Society, over 150,000 people are currently sitting on the NHS autism assessment waiting list.

Some neurodivergent employees may struggle to stay in work due to a lack of support or being misunderstood. 

The National Autistic Society states that 45% of neurodivergent people have lost or left their job due to the challenges they face. And only 1 in 16 autistic adults is in full time employment.

Diverse group of employees including someone in a wheelchair and people of different ethnic backgrounds

Why is it important to have neurodiversity in the workplace?

Adjusting your recruitment process to cater for neurodivergent candidates could be make or break. Without these adjustments in place, neurodiverse people might find the process too difficult and too overwhelming and not be able to go through with the interview process. What could seem like a straightforward change to a neurotypical person could prevent a meltdown or a week of anxiety for a neurodivergent candidate.  

Good practice would be to ask all candidates if there are any reasonable adjustments that they may need during the recruitment process. However, it’s important to note that many neurodivergent candidates may be reluctant to disclose their disability in case it hinders their application.   

Did you know that being neurodivergent is often classed as a disability under the Equality Act 2010 even if the individual doesn’t consider themselves to be disabled?

There is value in asking candidates if they consider themselves to have a disability but be aware that many neurodivergent candidates may answer no to this question.  

Many neurodivergent candidates also don’t know themselves what reasonable adjustments could be made during the application process so giving some examples of what you can offer would be helpful. Many of the suggestions below could be offered to all candidates, without the need to identify them as accommodations. Making neurodiversity-friendly tweaks to your recruitment process will ensure that it’s friendly to everybody. 

A diverse workplace allows you access to a wider talent pool. By removing barriers, neurodivergent candidates can thrive in the workplace and be a key part of your business’ development and progression by bringing a new way of thinking and greater innovation and creativity within teams.

Neurodivergent people may need some support with some parts of their job, which would be classed as reasonable adjustments (more about those later…), but they can also bring a wealth of beneficial skills and attributes, such as:

  • Highly intelligent
  • The ability to hyperfocus on a project or task
  • Detailed and in-depth factual knowledge on their specialist subject
  • Strong technical abilities in their field
  • Creativity
  • Conscientiousness and persistence
  • More productive that neurotypical colleagues.

The first step in becoming a neurodiversity-friendly employer, is to make sure that your recruitment process is accessible to neurodivergent people.

Before we go into talking about accommodations during the interview process and in the workplace, please understand that as with neurotypical people, neurodivergent individuals, are just that – individual. Everyone has unique needs and what one person needs will differ from someone else. It’s important to foster an open environment where the candidate feels safe to explain what support they might need.

What accommodations might neurodivergent candidates need during the application process?

Be flexible 

Be as flexible as possible with the time and location of the interview. And consider whether it needs to be face-to-face or if a virtual interview would suffice. Ask the candidate for their preference.  

Give clear and concise written information 

Don’t just rely on a phone call, ensure all candidates have clear written information detailing the details for the interview and what to expect. It would be helpful to include information about where the interview will take place, how long it will take, who will be there and what will happen. This will help the candidate to prepare themselves and reduce anxiety about the unknown. If you can include a photograph of the interviewer that would be helpful to many. 

Check the environment of the interview room 

Many neurodivergent people have sensory sensitivities. This can mean they are more sensitive to temperature and light. Try to keep the room at a comfortable temperature, not too bright and with few distractions.  

Offer breaks 

Breaking the interview up into chunks with natural breaks can help reduce any potential feelings of overwhelm.  

Provide interview questions in advance 

If the candidate asks for the questions in advance, it’s because they are likely to be unable to put together what they feel would be a good response on the spot. By preparing answers they will have time to construct meaningful responses and be less anxious.  

If you do give questions in advance, don’t deviate from the running order because this could confuse the candidate. 

Word questions carefully 

Think about how you word questions. Try to avoid multi-layered questions, metaphors and anything abstract. Be direct – for example if you want an example of how someone has done something make sure you say this. Don’t ask what could be perceived as a closed question and assume that the candidate would know that you’re expecting them to give examples. Be mindful that the candidate may interpret language literally and have difficulty reading between the lines. 

For example:

Have you had experience of dealing with a difficult customer in the past? 


Can you give me an example of how you dealt with a difficult customer in the past? 

Be patient 

Allow the candidate time to process the question and think of a response. Don’t interrupt their thought process by rewording the question because you assume they haven’t understood. Expect that the candidate may need you to repeat parts of the question. And when you’re satisfied with their response, move on to the next question. A lot of neurodiverse people struggle with social cues – if you don’t speak, they might assume it’s still their turn and that you’re still expecting them to be speaking and won’t stop until they get an obvious cue from you.  

Provide clear guidance on next steps 

After each stage of the recruitment process, make sure candidates know what’s going happen next and the timescales involved to reduce potential anxiety.  

Don’t forget 

Some neurodivergent candidates may struggle with making eye contact, fidget or have physical tics. These attributes should not form part of your decision-making process.  

How to create a neurodivergent friendly workplace?

Colleagues laughing and working around a table with laptops open

Neurodivergent individuals can really struggle to stay in the workplace. Around 70% of neurodivergent employees experience mental health issues at work and eight times as many neurodivergent people are unemployed compared to neurotypical people.  

To combat this, employers can work to become neurodiversity friendly by supporting neurodivergent people and preventing them for feeling excluded. As mentioned above, many neurodivergent people are reticent about opening up about their disability, or haven’t yet had a formal diagnosis so may feel like they can’t disclose or ask for adjustments.

In research by the Birkbeck, University of London, neurodivergent employees were asked what prevented them from disclosing their conditions to employers:

65% of employees feared discrimination from management, 55% from colleagues, and 40% said that there aren’t knowledgeable staff to help.

On the other hand, employers surveyed reported barriers to making adjustments due to 69% saying that lack of disclosure is an issue, 65% that managers don’t know enough, and 30% had little faith that adjustments work.  

This leaves both employers and employees a bit stuck. Employers need to create a safe space where employees can feel safe to disclose their neurodivergence because without stating their needs, employers don’t know how to best support their staff.  

Showing open support for neurodiversity can encourage affected employees to disclose their neurodiversity and promote equality in the workplace. Make sure you include a diversity statement within your job adverts that mention neurodiversity (alongside other types of diversity) to help candidates feel more able to disclose should they want to. Open discussions around any support required will enable employers to better help employees to thrive in the workplace. 

Reasonable adjustments

Did you know that by law, employers are obliged to make reasonable adjustments to remove or reduce disadvantages related to someone’s disability?  

Each neurodiverse employee will have different needs so reasonable adjustments will need to be made based on their unique situation. Not all neurodivergent employees will want or need accommodations to be made for them. Some people may be worried about asking for accommodations as they fear discrimination or getting unwanted attention. It would be a shame if employees who need support are not getting it due to these reasons. This circles back to the need to create a neurodiversity-friendly workplace where talking about neurodiversity and the support available becomes the norm and the stigma will be reduced.  

Some examples of reasonable adjustments that might be useful for your neurodivergent employees are: 

  • Flexible working arrangements such as hybrid/working from home or arriving early or leaving late
  • The freedom to take regular, short breaks throughout the day
  • A quiet desk away from bright lights
  • A designated desk rather than hot desking
  • Clear instructions (written and verbal)
  • Noise cancelling headphones
  • Regular meetings with manager to keep employee on track
  • Focusing on ‘tasks completed’ rather than ‘hours spent’
  • Software to record and transcribe meetings.

Access to Work

There is a government scheme that’s available to help disabled people get into and stay in work. It’s in the form of a grant and can be used to pay for things that would not be considered as reasonable adjustments, such as expensive computer equipment or software, rise and fall desks, a job coach or support worker, etc.  

Access to Work is available in England, Scotland and Wales. You may have to pay some costs upfront and then recover them later through the employee’s claim. Signpost your employees to the website to apply online. 

Workplace education

Education can be key to understanding. Providing training to your line managers and leadership team so that they understand neurodiversity better could help them be more empathetic towards neurodivergent colleagues’ needs, communication styles, strengths and weaknesses. 

Increased awareness of neurodiversity will help to open conversations and help create a more neurodiversity-friendly culture. You could recognise official awareness days/weeks as part of your employee engagement strategy. Here’s some that we found:

  • 2nd April every year is World Autism Acceptance Day
  • 15th May to 15th June 2023 was Tourette’s Awareness Month, it’s likely to be a similar time of year from 2024 onwards
  • October is ADHD awareness month
  • 2nd to 8th October 2023 is Dyslexia Awareness Week
  • 9th to 15th October 2023 is Dyspraxia Week

In conclusion

Neurodiversity in the workplace is about inclusion and equality. Creating a neurodiversity-friendly workplace means breaking down barriers and creating a safe and inclusive space for every colleague to do their best work and thrive rather than survive.  

Useful resources