Research shows that approximately 15-20% of the U.S. population identifies as neurodivergent, highlighting the significance of companies embracing neurodiversity. How can companies effectively support neurodiverse employees in the workplace, and what advantages does such inclusion bring? To explore these inquiries, we speak with accomplished business leaders who offer firsthand experiences and invaluable insights on the theme of “Neurodiversity in the Workforce.” As part of our series, we were privileged to interview Andy Bell.

Andy Bell is the Founder & CEO of HelpFirst. HelpFirst deploys large language models in casework organizations to display ‘case notes at a glance’ – with an upsized benefit for neurodivergent caseworkers. Previously Andy was MD at Mint Digital, a startup studio that launched 64 startups, won 14 awards, completed 3 successful crowdfunding campaigns, and sold two businesses.

Thank you so much for joining us in this interview series! Before we dive in, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you ended up where you are?

I founded and ran a web development agency for 15 years. Towards the end of that time, I was frustrated with the way that tech was increasingly being used to profit from baser human instincts. I wanted to find ways to use technology as a force for good. I didn’t really know where to start. With a friend we started making apps and websites for nonprofits. I saw the challenges that care-giving organizations have around client experience and got excited about the potential for AI to make a difference.

You are a successful leader. Which three character traits do you think were most instrumental to your success? Can you please share a story or example for each?

Relationship building. Software is this great lever to make a change. Creating software is like team poetry! It takes the artistry of poets but the cooperation of team sports. That’s hard to achieve. It’s only possible when the relationships in the team are good. The greatest pleasure of work has been the teams I’ve been a part of, and the relationships that have been built. Beyond that, there’s no substitute for having a strong network – people who’ll happily give you advice and make introductions on your behalf. I think my ability to connect with people and get them interested in what I’m doing has helped me a lot.

Finding the fun. I was lucky enough to have an amazing mentor called David Frank. As well as being a canny businessman, I’ve never met anyone who derived as much pleasure from being in business. He particularly savored the disasters, the ridiculous things that people say in pressure situations and the general carnival of business life. I once heard that the most successful business people treat it as a game and that was definitely true of David. I’ve always tried to emulate that character trait of David’s, and I think it’s enabled me to be more resilient in the face of challenge.

Listening to feedback. I’ve had feedback that I’m good at listening to feedback, making changes and communicating accordingly. Maybe that comes hand in hand with the first character trait I mentioned, around relationship building. But it’s also not something that’s always come naturally – at times I’ve also had feedback that I could be better at receiving feedback! It is a challenge. As a founder you want that mix of steely determination to hit a goal and flexibility in how you’d achieve it. Something I’ll continue to work on is remembering to show that I’ve heard feedback even if I don’t fully agree with it.

Can you share a story about one of your greatest work-related struggles? Can you share what you did to overcome it?

That’s a hard one to answer, let me have a think for a moment…there was a time I took a job for 6 months after 15 years of being self-employed. It was at a private-equity backed mini-conglomerate that worked on the basis of ramping up prices and pushing down wages. I really disliked it. I’d never seen such miserable, soulless capitalism up close. (Apart from this job, I’ve always been lucky enough to be in companies that were making money by delivering something new. It’s rather grim to see the other side – wringing more cash from something that already exists).

I started getting weird symptoms like lethargy and aches. I went to see a couple of doctors and they inserted various uncomfortable investigations inside of me. They couldn’t find anything wrong.

Then I quit. And immediately I felt better.

I suppose it makes me realize that I’d rather have a tough challenge than be in a joyless situation…or rather for me, a joyless work situation is the toughest challenge. And also, quitting is sometimes the best option.

What are some of the most interesting or exciting projects you are working on now?

I am the founder of HelpFirst, developing AI that is transforming casework (for instance in social work, helplines and advice organizations). We are currently in beta with Citizens Advice, one of the biggest advice organizations in the UK. HelpFirst beat 19 other teams in a government procurement competition to answer their challenge on identifying vulnerable clients. Our team also has casework expertise: Harriet Owen, machine learning engineer, was a caseworker for 10 years. Dr Greg Scott, advisor, is a leader in transdiagnostic triaging approaches.

Large Language Models are revolutionizing computers’ ability to understand human language. Our ambition is to use LLMs to help the vulnerable. In the UK alone, tens of millions of people are living in poverty, local councils are having to cut back on services, and 91% of social workers are experiencing ‘moderate to high’ emotional exhaustion. Caseworkers and their managers live in fear of missing a vital detail, and someone vulnerable, like a young child, slipping through the cracks, with fatal consequences.

HelpFirst provides AI-assisted CRM insights and prioritization. The old world looked like caseworkers drowning in endless case notes. Our CRM plugin provides automatic triaging, case summaries with visual prompts, and a case mix dashboard. This frees up caseworkers to focus on the human aspects of the job, resulting in better safeguarding, service user satisfaction, operational efficiency, and staff wellbeing and retention.

Fantastic. Let’s now shift to our discussion about neurodiversity in the workforce. Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to include neurodiverse employees? Can you share a story with us?

Caseworkers deal with reams and reams of case notes: reading notes on a client before talking to them, typing up notes after a meeting, writing emails to follow up and so on. This can feel like drowning in case notes and the never-ending flow of incoming clients’ needs. One caseworker used the phrase ‘name soup’ to describe looking at a list of cases on a computer system.

If you’re neurodivergent, these negative feelings can be amplified: a recent pilot study in the UK called “Neurodiversity and Social Work” listed lack of confidence, anxiety, and feeling ‘resigned’ as common concerns.

Anecdotally, we’ve heard that neurodivergence is more prevalent amongst caseworkers than in the broader population. It’s hard to find stats on this. But it’s worth considering that neurodivergent folks have often worked extra hard throughout their life to understand social interactions and norms. Through this, they may have built particular skills around relational work, and seek to utilize those in their profession.

We’re using large language models to enable caseworkers to see their cases at a glance. This is useful for everyone, but we’ve had especially positive feedback from caseworkers who identify as neurodivergent. This is because it’s common for them to have what’s called a ‘spiky skills profile’ – notable strengths in certain areas but struggle with things that neurotypical people might consider to be simple, like reading and summarizing a few paragraphs of text.

Our machine learning engineer, Harriet, used to be a caseworker for over 10 years. My understanding from chatting to her about this stuff is that employers tried hard to make the role more accessible – but there was a limitation in how much they could do with the technology available. So she found herself hunting for really important information in case notes that sometimes spanned months – a task not really suited to people who struggle with concentrating over a long period!

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have an inclusive work culture?

People do their best work when they feel valued and safe. It’s very hard to stick your neck out to share unusual or early-stage ideas if you feel like you’re the odd one out in an exclusive club of people who don’t really ‘get’ you. So a company is only going to hear those ideas – which could be brilliant – if individuals feel supported to engage. In addition, you want your employees to bring different things to the table so they complement each other, rather than everyone having the same strengths and perspectives – that’s the point of having a team.

In any industry, it’s important that those designing and delivering a service are representative of the service users. We’ve all heard about Apple’s Health app forgetting to include period tracking because they didn’t include women in the design process. Tech workers build products for use by customers with diverse needs, and social workers deal with clients with diverse needs. Having a diverse workforce enables their services to be better informed and more empathetic.

Neurodivergent people are often very detail-oriented and thorough, able to access periods of hyperfocus, may be hyper-empathetic, and likely to be creative problem-solvers. These can all be huge assets both in social work (where clients have complex, deep-rooted issues and few resources) and in a tech company trying to create something new to tackle long-standing problems or change the way things are done.

Can you share a few examples of ideas that were implemented at your workplace to help include neurodiverse employees? Can you share with us how the work culture was affected as a result?

HelpFirst is a small team, but we’re having an outsized impact in terms of workplace inclusivity through implementation of our software at other, much larger organizations.

We’re building large language models that condense and summarize text – tasks at which LLMs excel. Summarizing doesn’t just have to be long to short. It can also be visual, for example HelpFirst Risk Alerts – these are rollover icons that automatically display risk factors otherwise buried in case notes. Or, it can be graphical, for example the HelpFirst score, which automatically triages cases from the long form notes (that would take a human much longer to read and assess).

This is useful for everyone, but we’ve had especially positive feedback from caseworkers who identify as neurodivergent. Once an organization implements HelpFirst’s CRM plugin, it’s available to everyone, without employees needing to ‘out’ themselves as being neurodivergent. But we’re finding that it’s opening up conversations between people about what they’ve struggled with when it comes to the admin side of the job, and where that might come from.

What are some of the challenges or obstacles to including neurodivergent employees? What needs to be done to address those obstacles?

Employers do have a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments, but only where they are aware of an employee’s disability or impairment. In the pilot study I mentioned earlier, more than half of the respondents said they had not received specialist support, mostly because of a fear of speaking out, and a lack of understanding of neurodiversity amongst their colleagues. As a result, many neurodivergent caseworkers in the study felt they couldn’t contribute as much as they wanted to, and weren’t able to reach their potential in their roles. This is against a backdrop of a staffing crisis in social work, with record levels of resignations, turnover and vacancies.

So it’s imperative that employers take steps to educate everyone – and particularly those in supervisor and HR positions – about neurodiversity: how different neurotypes might present, spotting signs of burnout early, how to proactively offer reasonable adjustments and so on. Psychological safety is also critical. It’s important that people communicate with each other kindly and respectfully. Training, guidelines around giving and receiving feedback, clear policies, and swift action against discrimination or harassment can all make a big difference.

How do you and your organization educate yourselves and your teams on the concept of neurodiversity and the needs of neurodivergent employees? Are there any resources, training, or workshops that you have found particularly helpful?

In terms of doing your own reading, I’d personally recommend the books Explaining Humans by Dr Camilla Pang and Untypical by Pete Wharmby – both are available as audiobooks too. But there are loads out there – I’ve also been meaning to read How Not To Fit In by Jess Joy and The Neurodiversity Edge by Maureen Dunne.

If you’re interested in neurodiversity in social work specifically, you might want to listen to an episode called “Different ways of thinking” from the British Association of Social Workers’ podcast Let’s Talk Social Work.

When it comes to making sure your workplace is compliant with employment law around protected characteristics, there’s a free website and helpline for UK employers and employees called Acas.

But I really believe that there is no substitute for fostering open conversations with your employees, clients and partners. There is no one-size-fits-all solution. Make it easy for people to talk about their experiences and needs, and make genuine efforts to empathize and make life easier for everyone.

This is the main question of our interview. Can you please share five best practices that can make a business place feel more welcoming and inclusive of people who are neurodivergent? If you can, please share a few examples.

1. Adapted content formats. Now, with AI, there are so many ways to convert information from one format into another – long form to short form, ‘translating’ formal or technical language into layperson’s language, text-to-speech and vice versa. I’m a big fan of using online whiteboards like Miro, as they make it easy for people to combine formats to communicate with each other, both real-time and asynchronously, via text, diagrams, images, comments and so on.

2. Support with executive function & self-regulation. Neurodivergent folks are likely to have notable strengths in certain areas but struggle with things that neurotypical people might consider to be simple. Don’t require everyone to be an ‘all rounder’ – instead, provide assistance with planning, prioritizing tasks, reminders and time management.

3. Enable hyperfocus rather than multitasking. In today’s fast-paced, largely digital workplaces, anyone can feel bombarded by distractions and demands. These can come from multiple different people, channels and topics – during the course of a single hour, never mind a workday or week. It’s particularly important for many neurodivergent people to minimize that experience. Make it easy for people to go ‘offline’ for a few hours in order to focus on one task or give their undivided attention to a shared project with coworkers.

4. Accommodating sensory sensitivities. Be cognizant of people’s sensitivities to certain lighting, noise, temperature and other environmental factors. If someone’s not physically comfortable, don’t just make a joke of it or sweep it under the rug – it could massively impact their ability to concentrate and may drain them of energy fast.

5. Job descriptions. Ultimately, a lot of these things come down to what’s actually required of an employee – the same thing shouldn’t be expected of everyone. Companies have different roles for a reason, so recognize and celebrate people’s signature strengths and make it easy for them to access ‘flow’ state. Different environments work best for different people: some get more done in the office, others at home. Some can manage their own calendars easily, others struggle with that. Some thrive on switching contexts a few times during the day, others find that overwhelming. None of these are ‘good’ or ‘bad’ things in a colleague, just differences that make us complement each other well in a team. So be crystal clear about what you really need in the role before advertising it, set up the interview process to test for those very specific things, and try to avoid anything else. Don’t hire for a machine learning role just by doing interviews – try to replicate what the job would look like by doing a remote pairing exercise, for example.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share a story about how that was relevant in your own life?

My favorite quote is “We are here to help each other get through this thing, whatever it is” from A Man Without A Country by Kurt Vonnegut.

I love that quote, because it focuses on being helpful to other people. It‘s about our mutual interdependence. And it’s got a sense of bafflement – it doesn’t know the answers.

It’s also got the sense of recursion in it that reminds me of naming in early open source software. I used to love the fact the Linux operating system GNU stood for ‘GNU’s Not Unix’ and is a recursive acronym.

In moments of doubt, I often remember that quote and think about how to apply it.

You are a person of enormous influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Happiness doesn’t come from flashy holidays, cars, and clothes. There’s a human tendency for economies to push for ‘more, more more’. I’m concerned that this wonderful new technology we’re building, AI, is primarily being deployed on that basis.

I’d love to see a world where people who are already well off are more happy with what they’ve got. I’d love to see a world where progress looks like improving quality of life for those who have less access to resources. I’d love to spark a movement to use AI to serve the vulnerable.

How can our readers further follow your work online?

Follow our progress and hear our thoughts on the world of AI to serve the vulnerable via HelpFirst on LinkedIn. You can read our blog and sign up for our newsletter on our website. Or you can get in touch with me directly via

This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for the time you spent with this. We wish you continued success and good health!