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AECOMs Rebecca Bettison talks working with neurodivergence

AECOM's Rebecca Bettison talks working with neurodivergence

 September 13, 2022

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AECOM Transportation Consultant, Rebecca Bettison, was diagnosed with dyslexia at a young age and nurtured her strengths from early on.

Writing for Infrastructure Intelligence, Rebecca explains how her neurodivergence empowers her to innovate within AECOM's culture of flexibility, and shares her personal experiences of neurodivergent working. 

An alternative approach to learning

Rebecca explains that being neurodivergent means that she has an alternative approach to learning, as well as a different set of skills.

"My dyslexia means I view the world differently to neurotypicals," says Rebecca.

"Other conditions on the neurodiversity spectrum include, but are not limited to, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), autism, dyspraxia (a difficulty in communication and interaction), development co-ordination disorder, and dyscalculia (a difficulty in understanding numbers)," adds Rebecca.

"This broad spectrum of conditions means the neurodivergent share a common ‘spikey’ profile with an extremely strong set of skills, as well as obvious weaknesses. This means that no matter the particular condition, we will need more support than neurotypicals in optimising our strengths and excelling in the workplace," she comments.

Understanding her strengths early on

Growing up Rebecca preferred to be creative, sitting at the table making art, drawing and building things.

"I dreaded having to pick up a book. Thankfully, I was lucky enough to be assessed and diagnosed with dyslexia from a young age which meant I understood my strengths early on which include creativity, problem-solving, strong determination and out of the box thinking," she explains.

"Even with my diagnosis and finding my 'superpowers', I still found formal education a huge struggle. I had to retake GCSE English several times to gain a C grade, but this did not stop me from eventually achieving a First Class Civil and Transportation Engineering (BEng) Degree. As part of this, I secured a place at AECOM within its transportation team in my placement year, which gave me practical experience of the workplace and demonstrated that I could contribute positively in the workplace," says Rebecca .

Opportunities for creative and innovative thinking

Following her degree and placement, Rebecca re-joined AECOM as a full time Transport Planner and was sponsored by the company in her MSc in Transportation Planning and Engineering.

With AECOM, Rebecca has the opportunity to be creative, innovative and talk through her reasoning and justification without the barrier of pen and paper communication.

"This allowed me to think outside of the box and describe my ideas without worrying about grammar, punctuation and spelling. They recognised that without ideas and technical skills, it is a lot more difficult to create than it is to correct grammar and spelling with software and a supportive team around you," she comments.

"We all have our strengths and weaknesses. However, we need diversity of people to create new ideas, challenge the status quo and drive innovation. It is clear to me that if everyone thought in the same way, then it would be an extremely challenging and boring world," Rebecca adds.

One in seven are neurodivergent

Rebecca explains that in the real world all of this means that the neurodivergent will require additional support to help them succeed.

"For myself this has included an adapted environment, software support, extra time for tasks, independent external help, as well as a one-to-one support strategy," she says.

"The support and understanding I have received from my colleagues in the Birmingham office has enabled me to triumph over my differences and helped me to achieve my goals."

However, Rebecca believes that this may not necessarily be the case for everyone.

"I led the creation of an informal group at AECOM, Thinking Differently, to offer a safe-space where like-minded colleagues can talk and share concerns in a friendly and understanding environment," Rebecca comments.

"Furthermore, AECOM’s Freedom To Grow flexible culture has ensured we can work flexibly so that I can bring my best self to the workplace. For example, the ability to take a break is important for me, as being dyslexic can mean that some days are more difficult than others due to reduced concentration and energy levels," Rebecca adds.

Celebrating all abilities

According to Mental Health at Work, around 15 per cent of the population in the UK, or one in seven people, are neurodivergent and half of these individuals are unaware of their condition.

"This is a sizeable community and I imagine all businesses are working with neurodivergent colleagues whether they recognise it or not," comments Rebecca.

"Traditionally being neurodivergent was a deep-seated secret that should not be spoken about. Instead, we should be highlighting neurodivergence, recognising the amazing abilities of the community, including hyper-focus, innovation, challenging of old habits and absorption of information."

"We should be celebrating and taking full advantage of people's abilities, as we all think differently," she suggests.

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