Approximately 15% to 20% of the population, or about 1 in 7 people, exhibit some form of neurodivergence. With their extraordinary mathematics, memory and creativity skills, these out-of-the-box big thinkers bring a lot to the table, and organizations are taking notice.
Harvard Business Review believes that hiring neurodivergent staff gives companies a competitive advantage. “Because neurodiverse people are wired differently from neurotypical people,” researchers Robert D. Austin and Gary P. Pisano write, “They may bring new perspectives to a company’s efforts to create or recognize value.”
To foster inclusive workplaces, HR departments must carefully consider the unique differences of their employees. Diversity, equity, inclusion and belonging (DEIB) stretches beyond gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, faith and physical abilities to include those whose brains process information differently.
The term “neurodivergent” describes people with medical disorders, learning disabilities and other cognitive conditions affecting their brains, such as autism, dyslexia, ADHD, Tourette’s Syndrome, dyspraxia and more. These individuals have different strengths and challenges than people with neurotypical brain functioning. Yet many employers have a one-size-fits-all approach to everyone’s learning and development.
Understanding the needs of neurodivergent workers is critical. So what are some solid solutions to help support them in the workplace?
Some special needs employees may feel uncomfortable speaking about their condition. While employees aren’t obligated to disclose their personal medical information, talent management can help support and embrace the way those with neurodivergence think, learn, communicate and interact in the workplace by asking, “What can we as a company do to support you in your role?” If an organization has 15 or more employees, it’s subject to the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) and must provide reasonable accommodations for divergent thinkers.
These meaningful 1:1 conversations allow employees to get the support they need, even if they are neurotypical or their type of neurodivergence doesn’t rise to the level of a disability.
2) Use available resources, tools and tips
Some supports are simple, such as providing a stick-on mirror for a computer monitor for better visibility, noise-canceling headphones for better focus or written detailed instructions for better comprehension. In addition, organizations can use the following:
- Subtitles for video conferences — Make it easier for everyone to follow the conversation by using auto-generated subtitles in video meetings
- Use AI tools — Check tone, generate summaries and simplify directions to help those who struggle with tone and executive function
- Use checklists — Dr. Temple Grandin, an expert in autism who is also autistic, suggests using “pilot’s checklists,” or a list of finalized tasks that ensure actions are thoroughly and correctly completed
- Make your job postings the “must haves,” not the “nice to haves” — People with autism are more likely to take things literally. If a job posting contains a lot of the nice-to-have skills rather than the essentials, people with autism are likely not to apply, and this can significantly reduce the talent pool
3) Celebrate neurodiversity
Advocating for neurodiverse awareness and allyship is critical to creating an inclusive culture.
Pamela Furr, founder and chief financial officer of Puzzle Box Academy and Kaleidoscope Interventions, shares suggestions for building an open and safe workplace:
- Provide support year-round with continuous conversations
- Ensure everyone has access to neurodiverse resources
- Accommodate for a spectrum of different needs since no two brains are alike
- Amplify the message of neurodiverse inclusion
Integrating these values long-term will be far more impactful than a once-a-year guest speaker, and it all begins with recognizing the importance of your special needs workers. Neurodiversity adds:
- Innovation and creativity
- Technical, design and creative strengths
- New ways to solve problems
- High levels of concentration
- Keen accuracy and ability to detect errors
- Strong recall of information and detailed factual knowledge
- Reliability and persistence
- Ability to excel at work that is routine or repetitive in nature
Ensuring neurodivergent employees have the confidence, support and resources to reach their full potential can help organizations close significant skills gaps, remain competitive with new ideas and innovations and cultivate a culture of inclusivity.
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