Supporting Neurodiversity in Trucking
January 18, 2023
We were exhibiting at a large truck show several months back, and a driver stopped by our booth. That happens regularly at these shows, but in this case it was a very different experience. This driver, who works for one of our customers, stopped by the booth with his wife to talk about the various challenges he had completing our courses. The driver struggled with some of the language and often had to replay the audio multiple times to clearly understand the content. His wife helped him with this process, but it was slow and understandably frustrating each time.
Through the conversation it became clear that he had an undiagnosed learning disability and that he needed accommodations from his carrier. It wasn't that he was uninterested in the content, or wasn't able to understand how to do the job properly, he just processed information differently and needed some extra assistance to get it absorbed and assimilated.
As luck would have it, his carrier was also exhibiting at that show, so we were able to talk to them and make the appropriate accommodations to help the driver have a better experience with online training in the future.
While this particular driver is now better positioned for success, there lots of neurodivergent drivers in the industry, so it's important to understand a litte bit about neurodiversity and how to make the most of it within the fleet.
In this column, we'll look deeper into the issue and see what fleets can do to best support drivers who learn, communicate, and interact differently than their peers. In particular, we'll focus on:
- Autism spectrum
- Learning disabilities
But first, some definitions.
Neurodiversity refers to the ways in which people's brains can differ from one another. It includes all the variations from “neurotypical” people through the wide spectrum of different conditions and preferences.
Neurodivergent refers to behavior and development that is atypical or different from the norm. Some examples of neurodivergent conditions including autism, ADHD, and dyslexia.
People who are neurodivergent may learn, react, and interact differently from what is commonly expected, leading to struggles in certain areas. However, they may also have special skills and talents, so they can be highly valuable as well.
For fleets looking to make the most of their driving force, understanding and supporting neurodiversity can be a big step towards creating a more effective and efficient workplace.
Here are some types of neurodiversity commonly found in the trucking industry, and how they manifest.
Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder, or ADHD, is a neurological condition that can cause people to be impulsive, have trouble paying attention, or both. Like other neurodiversities, ADHD can look different in different people depending on their age, gender, and other factors.
People with ADHD often have trouble focusing on more than one thing at a time or keeping their focus on one object or task. They may also prefer learning formats that are more practical and hands-on. For example, they might be waiting for a large shipment to arrive in the evening and forget about the smaller tasks that are not as high of a priority.
People with ADHD might have trouble processing information in the same way as people without ADHD. Drivers with ADHD often do well in situations that require being resourceful, solving problems, thinking of different perspectives, or thinking quickly.
People with ADHD often find ways to cope, but if they don't have support from others, they might try to hide their symptoms. This can lead to them feeling overwhelmed and stressed. You can support drivers with accommodations that are unique to their ADHD, such as giving them more time to complete a task or providing noise cancelling headphones.
Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder is a lifelong developmental condition that is most often diagnosed in childhood. It affects how an individual interacts with their surroundings. While there is no set age for when someone can receive a diagnosis, Autism in adults can go entirely undiagnosed, or remain hidden until significant stressors trigger responses that are unique to the spectrum. Autistic individuals also tend to have other neurodiversities such as ADHD or a combination of learning disabilities.
Autistic people are often very good at creating routines and following rules accurately. They often have many strengths and abilities that can be helpful in many different fields. Someone with autism will be comfortable in the trucking profession because they don't have to talk much to people and have straightforward tasks to accomplish. In classrooms and training sessions, people on the spectrum can come up with some specific questions and go into their depths of reasons.
Autistic people might have challenges like repeating movements, being interested in only some things, being very sensitive to light, noise, or smells, and having a hard time understanding jokes or figurative language. You can help Autistic drivers by providing clearly defined processes and task lists, providing ample notice in advance of changes to those processes, and recognizing the challenges inherent in social interactions for them. Every Autistic person is different, just like every person is different, so it's important to understand what sets them apart from other people.
A learning disability is when someone has trouble with certain mental skills. This can make it hard to do well in school or behave the way other people expect. People with language processing disorders may have trouble understanding what was said if it was not clear. This can make it hard for them to respond to social cues. Some examples of learning disabilities are
- Dyslexia - trouble reading or understanding words
- Dysarthria - trouble saying words correctly
- Dysgraphia - trouble writing
Accommodations that can help employees with learning disabilities are low-tech solutions like outlining workplace tasks, instructions, and social expectations. Supervisors will need to work with each individual driver to create a working plan that is tailored to their specific needs.
Managing employees who have neurodivergent conditions can be challenging, but if you understand how their brains work, you can set yourself and your team up for success. Be patient with training and provide clear instructions. Modify deadlines as needed and try to create a calm working environment. And when in doubt, ask the employee how they work best - they are probably the expert on their own brain after all.
Neurodivergent employees can be highly effective team members, provided they receive the right support. Accommodations make a difference between a fleet gaining a new long-term driver or losing them due to a lack of understanding.
If you're looking for training program ideas to support those efforts, checking out our story on taking driver training to the next level.