May employers, especially in the tech sector, are embracing an interesting demographic shift: the sharp increase in the neurodiverse workforce, made up of workers with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome, and other learning and mental health differences.
Roxanne Hobbs, an author and coach who specializes in diversity, says, “We have to welcome, accommodate and support a wider range of ‘normal,’ and only then will we benefit from the extraordinary difference the diverse minds can bring.”
Differences are Not Deficits
As John Elder Robinson writes on Psychology Today, “Neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome,” and he continues to lay out the case that neurodivergent individuals bring a unique set of talents that can complement a workforce.
According to experts, when organizations leverage neurodivergent talent pools, it can be a competitive advantage. Most managers are familiar with the advantages organizations can gain from diversity in the employees’ backgrounds. Benefits from neurodiversity are similar but more direct. Because neurodiverse people are wired differently from “neurotypical” people, they may bring new perspectives to a company’s efforts to create or recognize value.
Some Benefits Employers are Seeing from Hiring a Neurodiverse Workforce
According to Ajay Kaul’s article in InformationWeek, organizations that have embraced neurodiversity have seen enhanced overall employee morale and positive impacts on organizational culture. He goes on to describe some specific benefits, such as:
- A Wider Talent Pool: Employers can widen the organizational talent pool and recruit new talent by being neurodiverse inclusive.
- Increased Rate of Innovations: Because neurodiverse people’s minds can work unconventionally, it provides a broader range of possibilities and solutions.
- More Focused and Creative Employees: Neurodiverse minds are often less impacted by external distractions.
- Enhanced Management and Leadership Skills: As management works with neurodiverse minds, they strengthen their own leadership qualities and become more inclusive.
Some Best Practices for a Workforce Inclusive of Neurodivergent People
Shift to a ‘Long-Term’ Mindset
It takes ‘buy-in’ from the entire organization to successfully integrate an influx of diverse employees. Hiring practices need to be adjust and accommodations will need to be planned for. Occasionally, neurodivergent employees exhibit challenging eccentricities, but the potential returns are great. Obviously, looking at the ‘long-term’ benefits will help justify the short term changes that need to be made.
Neurodiverse people frequently need workplace accommodations to work comfortably and effectively. A common example is . In many cases the accommodations and challenges are manageable, here are some examples.
- Accommodate Sound Sensitivity: Some autistic employees will be more comfortable wearing headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation. Offer a quiet break space, and communicate expected loud noises (like fire drills).
- Uniform/Tactile Accommodations: Allow modifications to the usual work uniform.
- Accommodate the Need for Movement: Allow the use of fidget toys, allow extra movement breaks, offer flexible seating.
- Use Clear Communication: Provide concise verbal and written instructions for tasks, and break tasks down into small steps. Avoid sarcasm, euphemisms, and implied messages.
- Etiquette: Explain to the neurodivergent employee what the workplace etiquette is and inform the other employees about what they might expect and how to behave with their neurodivergent coworker.
Above all, be kind and be patient.
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