How ‘spiky profiles’ can help support the strengths of neurodiverse individuals

According to a UK Government survey, nearly 15% of the UK population is neurodivergent. With Neurodiversity Celebration Week coming up on 13-19 March, this is an important opportunity to recognise those who experience neurodiversity and spread awareness and information about the best ways to support them in home, working, and learning environments. Dan Kentley, Practice Manager at Onebright highlights how spiky profiles can help support the strengths of neurodiverse individuals.

Traditional views of neurodiverse conditions, such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, can often encompass a linear scale, where an individual is perceived as ‘more able’ or ‘less able’ depending on their skills, abilities, and how they interact with their surroundings.

However, this concept fails to recognise the many strengths that neurodiverse individuals possess, which in turn can lead to non-inclusive environments and a negative perception of their abilities. Where many neurotypical individuals may have average levels of skills across the board (a ‘flat’ profile), neurodiverse individuals often excel in some areas, but find others more difficult.

What is a spiky profile?

Although everyone has some variation across their skills and abilities, a spiky profile is the concept that this variation is more pronounced for many neurodiverse individuals, who have strengths in some areas but struggle with others. This will look different for different individuals in different situations.

The skills and abilities that constitute a spiky profile can vary in terms of which areas are identified and examined, but often include:

  • Analytical skills – how we solve problems by absorbing and analysing information
  • Perceptual abilities – how we interpret and give meaning to what is happening around us
  • Processing speed – how quickly we process and recall information from long term memory
  • Mathematical skills – how we interpret and make sense of numbers and time
  • Motor skills – how we coordinate our body movements to complete tasks
  • Relationships – how we develop and maintain relationships
  • Sensory sensitivities – our awareness of sight, sound, taste, smell, and touch
  • Situational skills – how we interact and interpret different situations
  • Verbal comprehension – how we communicate and understand speech and its meaning
  • Visual perception – how we interpret our visual environment
  • Working memory – our short-term memory that assists us with decision making and problem solving

Each profile is unique and specific to an individual. For example, someone with an autistic spectrum condition may excel in mathematics and working memory but struggle with sensory overload and appear ‘clumsy.’ Another autistic individual may have below average mathematical skills but exceptional motor skills, and deal differently with stressful environments.

Why can this approach be helpful?

As well as identifying the areas in which certain individuals may excel or find difficulty, spiky profiles can provide insights into preferred learning and work styles and help establish the kind of environments that are most supportive. If these insights are shared with employers and tutors, for example, clear strategies can be implemented to promote inclusive work and learning spaces that augment their strengths and remove barriers which may inhibit productivity, creativity, and wellbeing.

Some examples of workplace or educational adaptations include:

      Use of assistive technology such as text-to-speech, speech-to-text, and mind mapping software to aid expression, comprehension, and organisation

      Additional line management or pastoral support to regularly review strategies and wellbeing

      Mentoring and coaching

      Environmental adaptations to promote focus, concentration, and memory, and flexibility in expectations around location and working hours

      Increased awareness and understanding amongst colleagues, peers, and managers, allowing others to adapt their behaviours and communication styles

Understanding that there is no ‘one size fits all’ adaptation or support strategy is key to ensuring that individuals are supported with dignity and compassion. Regardless of whether an individual has a formal diagnosis or not, using their spiky profile to inform the support they receive can ensure that strategies are personalised and effective.

How do I find out more?

There are a wealth of online resources including forums, blogs, and spiky profile ‘self-assessments’ which can provide helpful information. Sharing these insights with managers, tutors, HR, and occupational health teams can also open the doors to constructive conversations and a better understanding of individual needs.

Neurodiverse individuals can be incredible assets to organisations of all shapes and sizes. By fostering inclusive and supportive working and learning environments, we can all help reduce stigma around neurodiversity and embrace different perspectives and ways of thinking.