Neurodiversity refers to the concept that neurological differences, such as those present in Autism Spectrum Disorder, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Down Syndrome, dyslexia, etc, reflect simply normal variations in brain development and are not inherently wrong or problematic. This recent change in the language surrounding neurodiverse individuals has been, in part, an effort to help reduce the stigma and negative assumptions associated with neurodiverse qualities. With an estimated 15 to 20% of the population in the U.S. being neurodivergent, it is important that we as a society work to create inclusive and diverse communities (Doyle, 2020). This includes making space for neurodiversity in the workplace. Neurodiverse individuals bring a variety of remarkable skills to the table and can, if given the chance, improve the success of an organization.
Neurodivergent Skills in the Workplace
Looking at Autism Spectrum Disorder specifically, according to the National Autistic Society, individuals on the autism spectrum can have a variety of different skills that enable them to thrive in specific work roles. In addition to bringing unique perspectives to the workplace, these candidates often demonstrate above-average skills in the following areas:
- High levels of concentration
- Reliability, conscientiousness, and persistence
- Accuracy, close attention to detail, and ability to identify errors
- Technical ability
- Detailed factual knowledge and an excellent memory
In addition to possible skills that individuals on the Autism spectrum may contribute, a 2018 study found that individuals with dyslexia tend to think more often “outside of the box” with creative ideas. This is only to name a handful of the many different skills that different neurodiverse individuals may possess.
Ways to Embrace Neurodiversity in the Workplace
As stated, neurodiverse individuals can often display higher-than-average abilities. Unfortunately, employers often overlook these individuals and their skills due to the stigma and negative assumptions towards the neurodiverse community. With unemployment rates for the neurodiverse community nearing 30 to 40%, a change is required. The following are a few ways in which employers and supervisors can begin to support and embrace neurodiversity in the workplace:
Employees should not feel they cannot talk about neurodiversity in the workplace. When employees are encouraged to speak about such topics openly, barriers begin to break down, and stigma is challenged.
Managers and supervisors should be trained to provide one-on-one support for all employees, specifically neurodiverse individuals. Open and honest discussion between employees and supervisors helps foster a healthy work environment where employees’ concerns can be addressed and resolved. This is a crucial element to many successful organizations.
Accommodate different needs
Accommodation can look like a variety of different things. Many options can be inexpensive and effective and may lead to a neurodivergent individual thriving in a workplace environment long-term. According to Anthony Pacilio, vice president of CAI Neurodiverse Solutions, a couple of options for accommodation could be:
- Noise-canceling headphones to block out distractions for better concentration
- Assessing desk placement options to reduce overall anxiety
- For remote employees, creating agendas for meetings, using closed-captioning, and taking notes so that materials can be accessed in various ways
There are many other changes that employers and supervisors can implement to better embrace neurodiversity in the workplace. Overall, embracing neurodiversity rather than rejecting it can increase productivity within an organization, resulting in higher profitability. Organizations that do not move towards this ultimate goal risk losing out to other organizations that provide progressive work environments. The ultimate goal in the end is to pursue better, safer, and more inclusive workplaces for all individuals.
Caminiti, S. (2022, April 21). JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft among growing number of companies turning to neurodiverse workers to help meet need for talent. CNBC. https://www.cnbc.com/2022/04/20/-neurodivergent-workers-help-companies-meet-the-demand-for-talent.html
Doyle, N. Neurodiversity at work: a biopsychosocial model and the impact on working adults. Br Med Bull. 2020 Oct 14; 135(1):108-125. doi: 10.1093/bmb/ldaa021. PMID: 32996572; PMCID: PMC7732033.
Furr, P. (2023, March 7). Why It’s Important To Embrace Neurodiversity In The Workplace (And How To Do It Effectively). Forbes. https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesbusinesscouncil/2023/03/07/why-its-important-to-embrace-neurodiversity-in-the-workplace-and-how-to-do-it-effectively/?sh=6c1e5c924669
Maurer, R. (2023, May 17). How to embrace neurodiverse talent and why You should. SHRM. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/talent-acquisition/pages/how-to-embrace-neurodivergent-talent-why-you-should.aspx
National Autistic Society. (n.d.). Employing autistic people. https://www.autism.org.uk/advice-and-guidance/topics/employment/employing-autistic-people/employers
The Value of Dyslexia: A report by Made by Dyslexia and EY. (2018, November 10). ThisLexic: Blog. https://thislexic.wordpress.com/2018/11/10/the-value-of-dyslexia-a-report-by-made-by-dyslexia-and-ey/