We often agree that no two humans think the same. When we witness people whose behaviors and ways of learning differ from the “predefined normal,” we label them as not normal rather than neurodivergent. We also treat them differently in social, academic, and corporate circles.
Today, many organizations are championing their diversity, equity, and inclusion goals. While it is an achievement worthy of celebration, a small portion of the human population is often neglected regarding inclusion. These neurodivergent could be an equally valuable—if not more—asset if accommodated well. What can organizations do to include them? Read along to find out.
- What do we know about Neurodiversity?
- 11 Ways to Make Your Workplace Inclusive of Neurodivergent Employees
- Frequently Asked Questions
What do we know about Neurodiversity?
We can understand neurodiversity as a term that describes natural variations in the human brain in relation to how we think, process, learn, and behave. The term ‘neurodiversity’ is often associated with sociologist Judy Singer. Like many other movements popularized in the late 20th century that challenged the predefined norms, neurological diversity or neurodiversity, too, was a challenge to the way we perceived ‘normal’ brain function.
Two terms often pop-up while exploring neurodiversity: neurotypicals and neurodivergents. Neurotypical refers to people with standard brain function who were formerly the only ones considered ‘normal.’ Neurodivergent, on the other hand, describes people who deviate from standard or typical way of brain function. Neurodivergence can be characterized by many conditions:
Neurodiversity in the Workplace
With a massive chunk of the population coming under the neurodivergent category, it can be expected that a significant portion of the workforce will be divergent too. However, it is quite the opposite. UConn’s Center for Neurodiversity and Employment Innovation displays that “unemployment for neurodivergent adults runs at least as high as 30-40%, which is three times the rate for people with disability, and eight times the rate for people without disability.”
Spectrum Suite quotes neurodiversity pioneer Judy Singer on employment and autism, “Business is built around speed and competition and that makes it very hard for those on the autistic spectrum to get jobs.”
Existence depends on fulfilling needs, and human beings are no exception. With high levels of unemployment within the community, a significant portion of their needs might remain unfulfilled. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs talks about five basic needs of human beings: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization. Unemployment might leave the safety needs of people unfulfilled.
Neurodivergent employees can have a hard time even while employed, given the problems regarding the accommodation of their needs in the workplace. Neurodivergent employees might not receive any special assistance or guidance at their jobs. Often, the physiological needs of employees might be neglected.
Employers might question the need to hire neurodivergent employees considering special accommodations that have to be made for them. However, people might possess talent that a company might have been trying to acquire for a long time. Organizations must focus on neurodivergent employees’ ability to think out of the box rather than their inability to conform to the majority’s way of thinking.
Accessing neurodivergent talent can be a competitive advantage. Tapping into the reservoir of skills people have to offer might unlock a treasure trove of creative ideas. Neurodivergent employees can bring a unique perspective into the workforce. Research suggests multiple strengths of people with conditions. For instance, people who have ADHD have creative thinking abilities, hyper-focus, passion, and courage. Similarly, people with dyslexia exhibit strengths like visual reasoning, practical skills, and story-telling ability.
Neurodivergent employees bring several skills to the table, and hiring them can benefit companies in many ways. However, their needs must be fulfilled, and a well-thought strategy must be implemented to accommodate them in the workplace.
11 Ways to Make Your Workplace Inclusive of Neurodivergent Employees
1. Team up
When an unfamiliar task is presented to you, it is always wise to seek help. Businesses might not be aware of how to acquire and manage neurodivergent talent. In such a case, it is beneficial to team up with nonprofit or government organizations experienced in working with people.
Organizations like EXPANDability and The Arc are committed to helping people with disabilities find jobs. These organizations also help employers “recruit, hire and retain talented job seekers with disabilities.” Companies can approach such organizations to acquire unique talent that these people bring to the table.
2. Be creative
In a world managed by the neurotypical majority, neurodivergent people can suffer at the hands of a system that was made without considering their needs. Consequently, traditional hiring processes and job assessments can be unfair to neurodivergent applicants or employees.
Organizations can combat this challenge by adopting creative ways to recruit new talent. They should try to adopt a non-interview-based recruitment process for neurodivergent people. Companies can also extend assessment time for applicants as their capabilities might take some time to surface. Special internship and training programs for applicants can also help in this case.
3. Train your employees
Neurodiversity is a concept that has been around for about two decades or more. However, people are still unaware of what comes under neurodiversity or how to accommodate neurodivergent employees or peers. It is beneficial to create awareness about neurodiversity within your organization. Harvard Business Review recommends that managers get extensive training to “familiarize them with sources of support” for employees.
Companies can also train employees on what to expect while working with their neurodivergent peers. Such training sessions can help increase efficiency and train employees to make their workplace welcoming for recruits.
4. Send them support
Entering the workforce can be daunting for neurodivergent people. If a company has set up a program to hire neurodivergent employees, it is vital to set up a support ecosystem for all recruits. Organizations can collaborate with social support groups or provide employees with a life skills coach. Members of the HR team, managers, and even families of neurodivergent employees can be part of this support ecosystem!
5. Set goals for your neurodivergent employees
Companies must accommodate neurodivergent employees and their needs, but employers must also set goals for them, keeping their long-term careers in mind. Likewise, employers can assess their performance and give them appropriate feedback. Employers can also align the goals of their employees with their organizational goals. You can access this article for more details on goal alignment.
6. Set neurodiversity goals for your organization
When it comes to organizational goals, organizations can aim for neurodiversity to expand their diversity, equity, and inclusion initiatives. Businesses can assess their capability to accommodate all employees and set up numbers to achieve.
Such goals can help companies strategize how to use and hone the skills of their employees. It can also help set a systematized neurodiversity program in motion and include neurodivergent employees on various organizational levels.
7. Think long-term
A company’s neurodiversity program should not be limited to a month on two on its calendar. To truly embrace the concept of neurodiversity, organizations must create a long-term program to achieve their neurodiversity inclusion goals. Organizations can also start by arranging training and internship programs for employees and slowly integrate them into mainstream roles in the organization.
For instance, Google Cloud’s Autism Career Program aims to “further grow and strengthen Google’s existing autistic community by hiring and supporting more talented autistic individuals in the rapidly growing cloud industry.”
8. Offer small adjustments
Besides making large-scale changes, organizations can offer minor adjustments to accommodate neurodivergent employees. Harvard Health Publishing provides three small ways in which companies can help their employees with their sensory needs:
- Sound sensitivity: Offer your employees a quiet break space, let them know about expected loud noises (like fire drills), or offer them noise-canceling headphones.
- Tactile: Organizations can allow modifications to the usual work uniform.
- Movements: Employees should be allowed to use fidget toys and extra movement breaks and should be offered flexible seating.
9. Use assistive technology software
Many employees might require assistive technology software at work. Organizations should offer their employees such software to help them at work. Employees can choose the best methods to work and complete their tasks through such software.
For example, Read and Write for Work is literacy software for adults. It helps people with neurodivergent conditions with reading and writing tools. Microsoft, too, offers a set of intelligent tools to support neurodiversity in the hybrid workplace.
10. Communicate better
Employers should communicate clearly with their neurodivergent employees. They should avoid any sarcasm or euphemism as it might confuse them. Often, neurodivergent employees might need clear step-by-step guidance for task completion. Similarly, employers should communicate clearly with neurodivergent employees regarding their needs. For ease in this process, organizations can use a tool like Pietential, which monitors employees’ needs in five significant areas: physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem, and self-actualization.
11. Ask, don’t assume
Employers should choose to ask their employees about their conditions rather than making assumptions. This can help avoid confusion and unfavorable circumstances. Two people with the same neurodivergent condition may have a completely different set of symptoms. So it is advised that employers ask their employees with neurodivergent conditions about what to expect and how their needs can be accommodated efficiently.
Neurodiversity is a movement that has been gaining momentum thanks to the effort of many. However, we are still taking baby steps to include neurodivergent people in the workforce. It is a slow process and one that requires patience. But with consistent efforts inclusion of neurodivergent people guarantees holistic and sustainable success.
Frequently Asked Questions
- What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity explains and acknowledges that people do not have the same brain function and that there is no right way to think, learn, act, and behave.
- What is meant by neurotypical and neurodivergent?
Neurotypical refers to people whose brains function in the standard way, and neurodivergent relates to people whose brains deviate from the socially standard way of functioning.
- Are neurodivergent people a minority?
- How can we accommodate neurodivergent employees in the workplace?
We can offer small adjustments like giving them a quiet space and noise-canceling headphones, using assistive technology software, creating cultural awareness, and making large-scale changes at the organizational levels.