A day in a neurodiverse life

How a parent and line manager work with neurodiversity every day.

26 March 2024

Whether you’re neurodiverse, go by ‘neurospicy’ or neurotypical, RSA has a promise to understand and support the unique needs and caring responsibilities of all colleagues. It’s part of who we are and aligns with our Values. But most of all, it’s just the right thing to do.

To mark Neurodiversity Week, we wanted to hear from colleagues at RSA that live with neurodiversity every day.

Ian Clegg, RSA's Motor Technical Consultant, shares the bizarre and brilliant nature of parenting a neurodiverse child.

Paula Wade, RSA's Specialist Claims Team Leader, details her experience line managing a colleague with Autism and ADHD.

Photo of RSA staff member, Ian Clegg, and his family
Ian Clegg, pictured with his family

Over to you Ian:

What does neurodiversity mean to you and what’s it like living in your shoes?

I may have ADHD, I’ve never been formally diagnosed but, like everyone, I sit somewhere on the neurodiverse (ND) spectrum. I just don’t know where.

What I do know, is that Mrs C and I have a confirmed diagnosis for our 12-year-old son T. Like many ND children, T has a complicated diagnosis with a few other conditions also present. Autism, dyspraxia and dyslexia feature, and those are just the ones that we’ve been able to unbundle so far!

We expect there will be more that are simply masked. His ADHD worked to mask his ASD (autism spectrum disorder) for some time. As a rule, it’s ADHD that tends to be identified first in young boys.

Our aim is to make sure that we follow routines as much as possible and try to remove any barriers that fall in our or T’s way. He attends a mainstream school, although this is in the independent sector, as a class of 30 would simply be too intimidating for him.

Life isn’t easy at times. There are challenges, frustrations, outbursts, moments of sadness and repetitive instructions. It can be fun too and rewarding, as his little traits lead to humorous situations and also collective celebration. Something that would be considered a normal outcome for others can be a real family treat for us.

We can’t really leave him alone without checking in every 5 minutes or so, because so much can happen if it’s quiet for a few minutes. Replacement iPads, haircuts and broken toys are a regular occurrence, as is taking things from home to ‘show and tell’ without understanding the value of it either financially or sentimentally, because that’s what he wants to do.

We’ve found that rocks and stones are a valuable commodity to a wide range of ND children - it’s a regular discussion point at gatherings with support groups. It’s important to categorise his gravel as a unique and valuable collection of stones, which in many ways is true.

Irony and nuances of comedy are naturally rather lost on T. Humour has to be slapstick, in your face and not require a deeper understanding or reference to something that was said even 2 minutes previously. His world is literal and comes with a big inability to read the feelings and frustrations of others, and equal frustration at others not understanding his, even if he hasn’t vocalised or expressed them in any way.

How have RSA shown up in your journey as the parent of a neurodiverse person?

When it comes to support from work, I’ve exclusively positive feelings towards RSA and the company my wife works for as well. They’re very supportive and understanding that things, while normal for us, aren’t necessarily so when compared with others.

Our employers get that we need to be able to do the activities and energy releases that ensure T is happy. A snow day, for example, is a massive curve ball as you can’t just get the school laptop out and sit side by side - he’s more interested in my work than his own.

Lockdown with a child that needs to release energy is an experience I would not choose to repeat. Daily frustrations around noise at 7am, shouting random comments, and when holiday comes, the inability to accept I work from home. I did manage to work in my dad’s office without interruptions because he can tolerate me working there, but it means trips to my parents’ house.

Even more bizarre, T doesn’t like that I work at home between 9am to 4pm during school holidays, because I used to work every day in the Halifax office - but it’s okay at 5.30pm, which I still do to regularly, as it was ‘Dad normal’ to work at home at that time. The mysteries are endless.

What does your workday look like, how has flexible working supported you?

Both my wife and I are really fortunate that we have understanding employers in the finance industry. Both of us work full time but we’re able to juggle our work to meet the home supervision that’s required.

I am an early-morning starter and have an early break to do the school run before returning to my desk to work through to 3.15pm. Then, I complete the school run and become chauffeur or homework buddy.

We’ve found that hobbies and interests driven by T are his best outlet for energy, be it physical or nervous. We drive to hockey training twice a week, because of course his chosen sport requires regular commutes of 150 miles, and some games are upwards of 250-mile round trips (!).

We do it because it’s an activity led by him that he wants to do, and more importantly will do. So many ND children do not take up sports or exercise, but turn to solitude in bedrooms or gaming as a way to escape the scary big world.

We’re both lucky to be able to flex our working weeks to meet these requirements. We’re fortunate also that T loves the shower and personal hygiene is high on his agenda. It isn’t always the case but, for us, another of our tasks is to ensure we don’t use 250ml of shower gel each evening.

Photo of RSA staff member, Paula Wade
Paula Wade

Over to you Paula:

Paula shares her experience line managing colleague, Jake, who has an ND diagnosis.

As a leader to a ND colleague, what qualities are important?

I believe that all leader qualities are valuable when managing an employee who is neurodiverse. The best thing I find is to actually learn about the condition and what does it mean for that employee. Always remain open and honest, but mainly patient, learning what works for that individual is key. How can we help to make it a better working environment for them?

How have you created an environment to enable Jake to feel comfortable to share what particular support may be needed?

It took me a good few months to understand and work better with Jake. I took the time to research Jake’s Autism and ADHD, and wanted to learn how Jake worked on a day-to-day basis. We would have weekly catch-ups and try different ways of managing his work to see how that helped his routine. If it didn’t work, we would pick up and try again. The main thing I find is being available for Jake when he needs me, in the highs and the lows.

It’s the little things that really matter - praising a small task, not just the complicated ones. Jake knows it’s not always going to be good news, so when I do give feedback, we sit together and go through it, and explain it with him so he understands and can ask questions there and then.

I have also learned that face-to-face communication is much better than Teams chats, as this can sometimes be taken the wrong way. Calling to have a chat or taking Jake away from their desk for a face-to-face conversation is better than just sending loads of messages.

If Jake is feeling overwhelmed I will send work directly to him so he has a list to work from, and this helps him plan out his day. The relationship I have with Jake is fantastic. We can have a laugh and a joke, but we can also be open and honest when I can see that Jake needs help to get back on track, not just with work, but with personal life too.

I am so proud of how far Jake has come. He’s a bright and clever lad, and I look forward to his career within RSA.

What advice would you give to leaders who may have a neurodiverse individual on their team?

  • Try not to change what their day-to-day looks like without letting them know first

  • Be open and honest with them, show that you are understanding, and that you care

  • Learn what works for them - do they have any triggers?

  • Communication is key - keep them informed and in the know about what is happening next

  • Reassurance - tell them when they are doing a good job, no matter how small the task

  • Be available - listen, but also guide them in the right direction

    To summarise, Jon Cope, Personal Lines Managing Director and RSAbility advocate, shared his perspective on supporting ND within RSA:

Neurodiversity Week is so helpful in raising awareness of RSA’s ongoing efforts to foster an inclusive working environment. As a member of GAIN (the Group for Autism, Insurance, Investment and Neurodiversity), RSA has made a commitment to improving employment prospects and removing barriers to inclusivity for neurodiverse individuals. These stories show the importance of this goal both from the perspective of a leader and of a parent, and also show why RSA is so focused on providing flexible working arrangements and developing a supportive culture.
Jon Cope - Personal Lines Managing Director and RSAbility advocate