Neurodiversity in Planning Engagement: A Chairman’s View

Published by Chris Plenderleith on June 29th 2021, 2:02pm

Writing for The Leaders Council, Chris Plenderleith, Executive Chairman of town planning and global real estate consultancy, the Leith Group, discusses his perspective on neurodiversity, the challenges faced by the neurodivergent, and how employers can help break down societal barriers to their success.

Even before the term ‘neurodiversity’ was coined by the seminal work of Judy Singer in 1999, I was aware as a planning professional of the challenges faced by some members of my practice, my family and society at large who did not sit comfortably within the neurotypical way of the world. As the ‘Neurodiversity in Planning Toolkit’ recently launched by BCEG points out, neurodiversity is the concept that all humans vary in terms of neurocognition.

The term ‘neurodiversity’ recognises the unique strengths and challenges that may derive from thinking, learning and communicating differently. Neurodivergent conditions can include ADHD, Autism, Dyscalculia, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Tourette Syndrome. Being neurodivergent can be a condition from birth or a condition acquired due to other factors during life. It can bring exceptional skills and talents, such as innovation, creative thinking and problem solving which have been demonstrated to key skills and attributes sought after in the workplace by organisations such as GCHQ and NASA who are now specifically recruiting people who are neurodivergent.

However, I am also acutely aware as a planning professional of the challenges faced by neurodivergent members of society when it comes to their exclusion from the planning process. With more than 15 per cent of the UK population being neurodivergent, we need to ensure inclusion rather than exclusion from the planning process.

It is for this reason that I was fully supportive of the time our Group Planning Director and our neurodiversity champion Paul Kallee-Grover MBE has spent among a group of planning professionals to create a tool kit to promote best practice when consulting with neurodivergent people about the built environment.

As a planning professional with over 30 years of personal experience, I have first-hand experience of the challenges faced by those with developmental conditions living in a neurotypical world. Over the years I have been specifically involved in developing facilities for people with autism including helping the Red Rose School find new premises. A school that two of my own children subsequently attended.

In the late 1990’s and early 2000’s my introduction to the ‘societal barriers’ was through two of my five children who experienced difficulties at school, difficulties which were subsequently diagnosed as having dyslexia, dyspraxia and dyscalculia. I am pleased to say that with the right intervention at the right stage both children have become very successful, one looking after children with additional support needs and the other building a successful electrical contracting business.

The key here was early recognition and diagnosis, early informed intervention and developing the skills to manage the respective conditions as well as appropriate and targeted engagement. As an employer I have over the years employed and worked with several neurodivergent people including Paul who joined us in 2020. I truly believe that diversity in thinking makes for a successful business environment and would urge others to look at how they respond to the needs of neurodivergent employees and society as a whole.

It is for these reasons that I wholly endorse the work of those involved in creating the ‘Neurodiversity in Planning Toolkit’ as a means of improving means of communication and engagement. I would invite you to spend five minutes to research the toolkit, for I have no doubt that it will help readers professionally and/or in their personal lives, in circumstances where 15 per cent of employees, colleagues, clients, customers, suppliers and family members are likely to be neurodivergent.

At the Leith Group we are committed to initiatives such as the ‘Neurodiversity in Planning Toolkit’ where those with neurodiversity can support our staff and the wider community as we move as a country from Respond to Recover, to Strive and Thrive in 2021-2022.

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Authored By

Chris Plenderleith
Chairman at Leith Planning
June 29th 2021, 2:02pm

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