The conversation around diversity in the work place usually concentrates on visible differences; race, religion and physical disabilities. More companies need to embrace, nurture and facilitate those with hidden disabilities.

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I’m Leena and I have Autistic Spectrum Condition.

I think society at large needs to be more inclusive and understanding of those who are differently wired, or “neurodiverse.” Unfortunately, according to research, the majority of people who are neurodiverse are afraid to disclose because of the stigma attached to such conditions.

I am currently working at the BBC, managing a project looking into Neurodiversity in the workplace which is about promoting the advantages of having a differently wired brain…focusing on the strengths, talents, aptitudes and abilities of individuals with neurological conditions such as Autism, ASC, AD(H)D, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia and Learning Disabilities.

Until recently the disadvantages and negatives of these conditions have been focused on, while the special talents that often come with these conditions are overlooked. It’s about dispelling the myths, perceptions and even prejudices people may have about these conditions, especially in employment.

Speaking of my own experience, it was a difficult transition leaving the nurturing environment of the education system to move into the wilderness of employment. You are suddenly expected to be cured of your condition and become a neuro-typical adult.

Take for example the job application and interview process – I’m a visual thinker and I would say that my methods of reasoning are mainly in images rather than verbal reasoning which is about understanding concepts in the structure of words. So when I found out that they don’t like you to apply using pictures – one recruiter who dealt with my visual application was surprised to say the least – they believed my application was a wind-up and unsurprisingly I didn’t get that job. However to me, a picture really does say a thousand words.

The first barrier is having to complete an application form, the second barrier is having to suffer a face-to-face interview. To my spectrum brain both of these generate for me a lot of anxiety and a great deal of frustration, which translates into having to face a zombie apocalypse

[It’s a visual metaphor to explain the sense of a relentless and impending doom]

Despite having autism, I have studied to post-graduate level. However, people often make the mistake of confusing intellect with social function. I’ve had people say to me that they could not believe I was on the autism spectrum because I was so articulate. Again it’s about dispelling myths about autism and educating people.

I think it is important to keep in mind that an individual is a unique learner. I developed an interest in finding out why no two people are exactly the same and no two people learn in exactly the same manner.

I’m a visual thinker so it’s natural for me to communicate in this way – it’s not a preference or a choice. It’s how my brain works. In an ideal world, I would love to communicate in other ways; writing, verbally etc. Thinking in pictures has made things difficult as we live in a world dominated by words. It’s difficult to communicate with people in general as they like to communicate via e-mail, on the phone or face-to-face (by the way, face-to-face communication is a whole separate issue).

I was fortunate enough to have the National Autistic Society recommend to me an employment scheme which catered specifically for people with disabilities, the BBC’s Extend scheme**.

Although the application process still, for me had some challenges as it was aimed specifically at people with disabilities, there was much more of a focus on reasonable adjustments so I didn’t have to worry about the zombies. I was given the tools to face them.

Now I have been given the opportunity to work on this amazing project at the BBC and ultimately, I want to make sure that no child regardless of ability should have to grow up with an uncertain future.

It should just be about tapping into true potential and nurturing talent.

Words by Leena Haque

** “Extend is a BBC-wide placement scheme which offers appropriately experienced and/or qualified disabled people a great opportunity to gain six months paid work experience within the BBC. There are many challenging and imaginative placements across the country in both programming and support areas. Over the last 18 years, Extend has recruited 628 disabled people. Further information about the scheme is available on the BBC Extend webpage”**

Leena Haque, BBC Neurodiversity Lead

Leena came to work for the BBC as part of the Extend scheme in 2012. Following her Extend placement, Leena recognised a need to raise awareness of Hidden Disabilities and submitted a business case to support a project to review Neurodiversity in Employment, a project aimed at investigating workplace issues for people with hidden neurological conditions. Before joining the BBC, Leena gained a BA degree from Durham University and an MSc degree from London School of Economics.

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