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What is neurodiversity?

6 November 2012

Conditions such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Aspergers Syndrome are all grouped under the title of neurodiversity (ND), with workers with these conditions often facing barriers in the workplace.


TSSA launched the ‘Lost for Words’ dyslexia project in early 2010 to raise awareness of dyslexia at work. This expanded into the TSSA neurodiversity project, supported by the Union Learning Fund, which aims to raise awareness of the main ND conditions and help develop more ND-friendly policies and practices in TSSA workplaces.

A relatively common example of a neurodiverse condition is Aspergers Syndrome. Aspergers Syndrome is a form of autism, which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people. Autism is often described as a ‘spectrum disorder’ because the condition affects people in many different ways and to varying degrees. Aspergers Syndrome is mostly a ‘hidden disability’, meaning you can’t tell that someone has the condition from their appearance. People with the condition have difficulties in three main areas: social communication, social interaction and social imagination. Awareness of the barriers that people with Aspergers Syndrome may encounter at work is rising. TSSA has been at the forefront of the work in this field by commissioning independent academic research so we can better understand and support members in TSSA workplaces with Aspergers Syndrome or related conditions.

Neurodiversity focus groups

Over the summer, independent focus group research exploring members and non-members attitudes to, and knowledge of, neurodiversity in TSSA workplaces was conducted. Researchers from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh held five focus groups, the results of which will inform an awareness campaign in the first half of 2013. The researchers will present their findings at a reception in Parliament on 3 December – if you have an interest in this area would like to join us, email Susannah Gill on

Neurodiversity training

As part of the neurodiversity project, and building on the success of the previous ‘Lost for Words’ campaign to raise awareness of dyslexia, we have organised a three day training course by our project partner Dyslexia Action in February 2013. The training will create a new union role in TSSA workplaces – that of Neurodiversity Support Adviser. ND Support Advisers will be trained to screen members for ND conditions, talk through neurodiversity issues in confidence with members and take issues up with employers. We also envisage that ND support advisers will play a strong role in raising awareness of neurodiversity issues more generally in their organisation, through campaigning and organising around these issues.

The training is open to all TSSA members. We are looking for course participants to sign a commitment that they will actively use this training to screen, organise, represent members and develop awareness of neurodiversity in their workplace. The training dates are 13, 14 February and then either 20 or 28 February. The first training course will be held in central London and we will hold future courses in the Midlands and the North. Please email the Neurodiversity Organisers on (South) or (Midlands/North) if you are interested in signing up.

New neurodiversity organiser for the Midlands and North

Sarah Hughes
Earlier this year, TSSA successfully bid for further Union Learning funding to expand the neurodiversity project work nationally. Sarah Hughes has recently taken on the part-time role as the TSSA Neurodiversity learning organiser covering the North and the Midlands. Sarah’s background is in health, and she is a registered learning disability nurse and a health visitor. Sarah will be playing a crucial role in supporting members, ND support advisers and learning representatives in raising awareness, identifying, planning and pursuing learning, dyslexia and other neurodiversity opportunities. Sarah will also be negotiating with employers around neurodiversity support, guidance and resources. Sarah works two days a week and is based in TSSA’s York office. She can be contacted on 07590 183 727 and by email on


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