Neurodiversity In The Workplace

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In light of autism acceptance week from March 28 until April 3, HR Team will be discussing neurodiversity in the workplace.

What Is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiverse individuals are those with developmental disabilities such as autism, ADHD and social anxiety disorders.

However, there’s a growing understanding that these individuals aren’t disabled per se, but rather differently-abled.

Neurodiversity refers to the different ways we think. Most people are neurotypical. In other words, they process information in a similar way and as society expects.

With neurodivergent people, the brain functions, learns and processes information differently. Most people experience neurodivergence along a ‘spectrum’ of characteristics, and these traits vary for each individual. Neurodivergence is commonly recognised where people have been diagnosed with neurological conditions such as:

  • Autism
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder

Many people with these disorders have higher-than-average abilities; research shows that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics.

Neurodiversity is associated with workplace benefits including:

  • Higher levels of innovation
  • Creative thinking
  • Lateral thinking
  • Highly specialised skills
  • Analysing strategically

Companies that embrace neurodiversity in the workplace can gain competitive advantages in many areas – productivity, innovation, organisational culture and talent retention. Yet those affected often struggle to fit the profiles sought by prospective employers and sometimes they exhibit challenging eccentricities, and may slip through the net. To realise the benefits, most companies would have to adjust their recruitment, selection, and career development policies to reflect a broader definition of talent.

A report found that 51% of workers on the spectrum have skills higher than what their job requires. Meanwhile, fewer than one in six adults with autism has full-time employment.

How to Build and Support Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Neurodiverse people frequently need workplace accommodations, such as headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation, to activate or maximally leverage their abilities.

In many cases the accommodations and challenges are manageable and worth the potential returns. Employers may also find that many of the accommodations made for the neurodiverse can also benefit their neurotypical employees, such as setting clearer expectations, giving more explicit feedback and providing consistent communication.

5 Tips To Support Neurodiversity:

1. Get buy-in from all levels

Engage with leadership so that they, in turn, can have conversations with their teams about what it means to have a neurodiverse workforce.

2. Engage with the local community

Community groups can help employers find and attract neurodiverse talent. These groups may take the form of government agencies, non-profits, vocational rehab centres, educational institutions or offices for disabilities.

3. Adjust your hiring practices

Hiring managers may need to reframe their idea of what makes a ‘good candidate’. Many superficial norms, such as a strong handshake or looking someone in the eye, are difficult for neurodiverse individuals to perform.

As well, it’s important to remember that resumes don’t tell the full story. Because so many neurodiverse individuals have struggled to find work that matches their abilities, they are often self-taught or possess transferrable skills.

4. Be ready and willing to accommodate

Individuals with autism may be sensitive to temperature, sound and lighting. As such, you may need to provide accommodations such as noise-cancelling headphones, privacy rooms, or flexible work schedules, so employees can be their most productive.

5. Amplify the message

A strong neurodiversity program should push its message externally as well as internally, making it a more normal part of employment in general.

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