Neurodiversity refers to the numerous ways in which people experience and interact with the world around them. And since there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning or behaving, these differences are not viewed as deficits. These variations in function and cognition within the brain can affect areas including sociability, learning, attention, mood and more, and are the basis of neurodiverse conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, anxiety, Tourette syndrome, bipolar, down syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD) and depression. While each neurodiverse condition has its own unique set of obstacles to contend with, some of the most common include difficulty concentrating, excessive stress, problems with timekeeping or scheduling and even physical disease or other comorbidities.
Neurodiversity does not have to be inherited and can present itself at any age. In fact, while millions of people around the world—approximately 15%—are affected by neurodivergent diagnoses, those numbers have only skyrocketed since the start of the pandemic in 2020. Of course, because many types of neurodiversity aren’t always visible, you may not realize that you likely interact with at least one neurodivergent person every day.
So with neurodivergence more prevalent than ever, let’s look at some ways that companies can maximize the benefit of thinking differently in our business. Though the obstacles that neurodivergent people face get the most attention, the way their brains work also grants them many extraordinary strengths that may be untapped assets to our culture and all the work neurodivergents do. According to an article by Denton, it was found that people with autism possess unique strengths in a number of areas, such as:
- Processing information: Expertise in analysis and the ability to spot anomalies are two areas in which autistic people often shine.
- Productivity: JPMorgan’s Autism at Work project found that employees with neurodiversity were 90% to 140% more productive than their neurotypical counterparts.
- Attention to detail: Neurodiversity in the workforce can be a great asset when it comes to difficult, repetitive jobs that require sustained attention.
Elsewhere on the neurodivergent spectrum, people with ADHD symptoms have their own set of unique benefits their condition provides them. According to studies, persons with ADHD are more likely than those without ADHD to be creative and innovative thinkers who offer new ideas to any situation.
- Processing information: Those who have ADHD are great in a crisis because they can multitask and look at all angles of a situation at once. These folks thrive under time limits or other forms of pressure.
- Productivity and work quality: Neurodivergent individuals are often flexible and spontaneous which makes them more likely to be creative and original thinkers that can bring new ideas to the workplace.
- Workplace attitude: Employees with ADHD are known for their positive and pleasant demeanor.
The value these strengths provide in our industry are paramount. Companies have an opportunity to value the full range of human experience in the workplace and unlock their neurodivergent employees’ best abilities. To do so, organizations need to look at how they hire and retain the neurodiverse talent.
Hiring for Neurodiversity
The hiring of neurodivergent people shouldn’t be thought of as a good deed–it should be thought of as a wise one. Instead, companies should be actively seeking them out to join us as exceptional assets to culture, productivity, abilities and potential.
So, what can organizations do to ensure their hiring process is neuro-inclusive? According to Harvard Business Review, there are several key tips to consider if they want to demonstrate to potential employees that they support neurodiversity in the workplace. A few of the most salient ones include:
Tip 1: Collaboration with government or non-profit organizations dedicated to assisting persons with impairments in finding work.
Tip 2: Train other workers and managers. Low-key training sessions for existing employees on what differences or accommodations they might expect to experience with their new co-workers help everyone get more comfortable more quickly.
Tip 3: Evaluate and train employees using methods beyond the norm of interviews. Creating extended assessment processes or casual interactions between prospective neurodiverse talent and company managers often allow candidates to demonstrate their abilities.
Supporting Neurodiversity at Work
Attracting and acquiring neurodiverse talent is a goal unto itself, but organizations must ensure that their work culture is open, supportive and inclusive to retain them as well. As with anyone, getting to know your colleagues personally and learning what needs they may have will be beneficial for everyone. Sometimes neurodiverse people benefit from slight workplace adjustments. According to the United States Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC), some accommodations that may prove helpful are:
- Changes to physical space
- Providing a quiet workspace with little stimulation (or allowing the use of headphones)
- Making attendance at work-related social functions optional
- Providing instructions via email (rather than, or in addition to, verbally)
- Reassignment to a vacant position or a different team
- Implementing workplace buddies or job coaches
When companies celebrate and embrace the differences neurodivergent people bring to the table, they’ll be better suited to ensure they have a seat. Utilizing their extraordinary talents and difference in world views can only benefit our business and our culture as businesses learn to see every individual for who they are.
This post is the first in a series of blog articles from the NeuroAPCO Employee Resource Group. Over the next few weeks, we’ll be exploring more topics related to neurodiversity and how neuro-differences should be seen as a social category, such as gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation or ability.