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4 Ways to Embrace Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Did you know that neurodivergent people are some of the most overlooked individuals in terms of employment?

Compared to the general population, the neurodiverse demographic is more likely to experience difficulty being accepted in workplace roles, let alone receiving interviews for desired positions. This creates a large gap in the employee diversity within most companies. Approximately 1 in 6 children are diagnosed with some form of developmental disability, including autism, cerebral palsy, and ADHD.

But modern movements are challenging the notion that those diagnosed with neurodivergence (such as autism or ADHD) are at a cognitive disadvantage compared to the rest of the population. In fact, a neurodiverse workforce stands to have an edge over the competition, both in terms of workplace inclusion and creative productivity in the day-to-day.

While it’s difficult to generalize the performance benefits of neurodiverse employees, many are capable of approaching challenges in “outside-the-box” ways that most other workers would not consider otherwise. This affords a great deal of creative potential and further increases the scope of a company’s capabilities.

Here are a few ways you can start embracing neurodiversity in your own team to foster an increasingly inclusive employment landscape that makes the most of everyone’s unique talents.

  1. Educate Your Team About Neurodiversity

As it happens, there is a lot of misinformation circling about neurodiverse conditions—and an even greater lack of clarity when it comes to the roles such individuals can hold in a work environment.

Fostering a work environment of inclusivity and equal opportunity should start with clearing the air of misunderstandings. Bring your team together and reaffirm the importance of inclusion amongst neurodiverse individuals. Support conversations that bring to light the value of having a neurodiverse workforce. Create a safe space for positive discussion to take place.

If they are comfortable with it, you should also allow those in your team who are already neurodivergent to step forward and identify themselves. Transparency will be key to building a workplace that accepts and understands all the unique talents those with developmental disabilities can bring to a company.

  1. Change Your Hiring Process

Neurodiverse people often have trouble expressing or presenting themselves in ways that most hiring managers expect from job candidates. Qualities like good eye contact, clear communication skills, and an extensive resume may not be achievable for a neurodiverse individual, especially given the few opportunities they receive to practice those skills. Unless the position specifically requires quick thinking and communication, the lack of those attributes should not be read as a red flag during the interview process.

Hiring managers must refine their definition of a “good” job candidate in order to counter the societal norm of overlooking neurodiverse individuals. The right person will meet the requirements of the position, carry themselves well, and be willing to improve. In reality, 51% of autistic individuals state that their skills are higher than those required by the jobs they apply for. Studies have also shown that disclosing an Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD) status, as well as education level, increases a neurodivergent person’s chance of employment by 3 times. However, not all job candidates will be comfortable sharing this information with an interviewer.

The pool of untapped talent is quite large amongst neurodiverse people looking for work. Unfortunately, social stigmas have prevented them from being considered good fits by most hiring managers. By changing the approach to the hiring process, an interviewer can instead discover the truly beneficial abilities that most neurodiverse individuals possess and incorporate them into a strong professional role within the company.

  1. Facilitate the Needs of Neurodiverse Employees

Neurodiverse individuals usually navigate problems and experience the world in a slightly different (yet completely valid) way compared to neurotypical people. While this allows them to focus more acutely on certain aspects of their work, it also carries unique challenges and needs that should be taken into consideration.

Many neurodivergent people experience overstimulation with sensory information, such as temperature, sounds, lighting, and the spacing of their work environment. These distractions can make performing work difficult and will vary from person to person. Listen to the needs of these employees and identify ways to improve the overall job experience so they can operate at their best.

Patience will also be crucial when interacting with neurodiverse individuals—especially as a business leader. It isn’t uncommon for those with developmental disabilities to require extra time learning something, the provision of written (instead of verbal) instructions, extra explanations of certain work aspects, and additional break time if needed.

  1. Spread the Word

Life can be difficult for neurodivergent individuals. Even if you create a work environment that is inclusive, supportive, and makes employees on the cognitive spectrum feel comfortable, a lot of their stress might extend outside the office.

One of the goals of managing a neurodiverse workplace should be to normalize neurodiversity amongst all employment opportunities—not just your own. This is a big-picture societal change. Although it might take some time to catch on, you should ensure you’re doing everything you can to provide equal opportunities for all neurodivergent individuals.

There are plenty of nonprofits that focus on helping and aiding people diagnosed with autism, ADHD, are other developmental disabilities. Consider donating to these causes (either with money or your time) and making others aware of your neurodiverse intentions. You might even encourage your employees to join in the vision by volunteering together or raising money through a company-sponsored event.

Looking Forward

It is a sad reality that many neurodivergent people have trouble finding an accepting place to be employed. Most aren’t given opportunities to land careers that align with their dreams or passions…simply because they exist on the cognitive spectrum.

But thankfully, many companies are beginning to make more concerted efforts to look past unjust social stigmas and improve their inclusion practices for equal opportunity. Integrating a diverse workforce allows room for the kind of unconventional thinking that gives businesses a creative edge over competitors. Neurodivergence grants a different perspective that is exceedingly valuable in making difficult decisions.

Moreover, business leaders are in the perfect position to address the labor shortage and pave the way to better workplace inclusion at the same time. Leverage your role to make the world a more welcoming place for those with cognitive patterns that are often unfairly disapproved of in the employment landscape. Give a voice to those who are rarely given the recognition they deserve.

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