Supporting Neurodiverse Volunteers
Neurodiverse people’s points of view can bring valuable new insights and learnings to your organisation, and they can make fantastic, loyal volunteers. Volunteer managers can support neurodiverse volunteers to thrive in their role through simple accommodations.
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity refers to the different ways the brain can work and interpret information and encompasses conditions like Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Dyscalculia. An estimated 1 in 6 people are neurodiverse, all of whom will have unique ways of existing in the world. Neurodiverse people’s points of view can bring valuable new insights and learnings to your organisation, and they can make fantastic, loyal volunteers.
Neurodiverse individuals can struggle with executive functioning (the mental processes used to plan, focus and self-regulate) and working memory (the ability to temporarily store and manage information). Volunteer managers can minimise the impact of these factors with a flexible approach and some minor accommodations.
How to help your neurodiverse volunteer thrive
- Providing concise, clear instructions that are broken down into steps if needed
- Checking for understanding
- Avoiding euphemisms or sarcasm
- Creating checklists, visual aids or written instructions to refer to
- Allowing time for a transition between tasks
- Ensuring the working environment does not overload their senses (e.g. lots of loud noise)
- Enabling them to communicate in the way that suits them
- Being patient
Everyone has valuable skills that they can offer through volunteering, and by making your volunteer role open to neurodiverse people you are widening your pool of potential volunteers and enabling more people to get involved in their communities.
Hear from Mandy (SWAN)
Mandy, Volunteer Coordinator at the Scottish Women's Autism Network (SWAN), shared her experience of how she supports neurodivergent volunteers at a charity run by and for autistic women and girls.
I'm autistic and my volunteers are autistic, but not one method of learning fits all. The most important thing for me was creating a feedback loop at every step of the volunteering journey, this meant I let my volunteers shape how they wanted to train for their roles. For example, what time of day did they feel they were able to learn new information - did they want training sessions broken down into 4 x 30 mins or one 2-hour session? Giving my volunteers the control to shape their learning made them more engaged and invested in their roles. This isn’t just about learning; it’s about building a sense of ownership and community. As autistics, having that control can be empowering.
Find out more about how they recruit and support volunteers on this YouTube video.
Find out more
- Embrace neurodiversity in volunteer management (Susan Fitzell)
- How to get the best out of your autistic employee (Neurodiversityhub.org)
- Simple adjustment for autistic employees (LaTrobe University)
- 5 benefits of hiring neurodiverse staff (Neurodiversity Hub)
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