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Neurodiversity: Creating a workspace that works for everyone

30 May 2024

Harry Harris, Segment Marketing Manager, Workplace at flooring company Tarkett, explores the way in which workspace design can support neurodiverse individuals.

Roughly 15-20% of the UK population is neurodiverse – a conservative figure considering the time it takes to complete a thorough assessment. As our awareness of the term grows, it’s clear our society is outgrowing today’s public spaces – especially where workplaces are concerned. Considering that nearly a fifth of the population is expected to perform in spaces that don’t support their diverse learning needs, it’s clear that turning a blind eye to ‘inclusive design’ will only stagnate our collective growth. 

As our awareness of neurodiversity continues to grow, design teams have the pivotal role of facilitating workspaces that allow everyone to thrive, regardless of their individual learning needs. Tarkett’s ‘Human Conscious Design Principles’ guide is powering this transition, providing practical guidance for facilities managers, designers and business leaders by outlining adjustments to support neurodiverse individuals with conditions like ADHD or autism. 

Facilities managers play a crucial role in this journey by working collaboratively with architects and designers to shape more welcoming offices for all. Here at Tarkett, we’ve utilised our research into neurological conditions like ADHD and autism to produce a realistic set of design guidelines to help. 

What are the challenges?

Before considering the challenges, it’s important to remember that ‘neurodiversity’ isn’t a one-size-fits-all definition. Equally, even if two individuals have the same diagnosis, they won’t necessarily have the same sensory experience. 

Neurodiversity represents a broad spectrum of neurological conditions, ranging from dyslexia to Tourette syndrome. Although ADHD – characterised by reduced attention, emotional dysregulation, and impulsivity – and autism – a developmental condition affecting the way individuals communicate and interact with the world – are different, both present common characteristics that can significantly impact daily life. 

In most cases, neurodivergent individuals are either 'hypo' or 'hyper' sensitive to their environment;

Someone who is hyposensitive might have difficulty seeing, hearing, or feeling acute sensory details, and need more sensory stimuli to process information. They work best in clearly defined, highly stimulating and visually appealing areas.
Hypersensitive individuals prefer controlled environments that aren’t overstimulating – so they might find bright lights, unfamiliar smells, or busy crowds particularly triggering. They need clean, orderly spaces to stay focussed.

Design considerations

By taking both ends of the sensitivity spectrum into account, and everything in between, facilities managers and designers can work together to create inviting spaces that allow everyone to unlock their full potential. From thoughtful space planning to careful material choices, even the simplest adjustments can make a huge difference. 

Organising workspaces based on their function can help prevent overstimulation (for example, separating quiet workspaces from bustling social areas). This could be done through furniture arrangements, varied ceiling heights, conscious colour coding, and clear signage or visual aids. 

If stimuli can’t be controlled, access to ‘self-regulation zones’ is a must.  These should be  flexible  spaces with  adjustable lighting and  flexible seating options, with stimulating items such as stim toys and tools to encourage movement, tucked away in a cupboard.  

Office materials are equally important for creating sensory-friendly spaces. We know that opting for soft, sound-absorbent flooring materials instead of tiles or resin surfaces helps keep noise levels down, while matt or low-sheen surfaces prevent glare to aid sensory processing. 

Colours, patterns, and textures should also be used carefully, considering that muted tones and simple patterns can prevent sensory overload, while selective use of vibrant colours can boost creativity without overwhelming the senses. 

Ultimately, it’s our collective responsibility to support individuals with autism, ADHD, or any other neurodiversity, and our considerations are only the beginning. 

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