The benefits of embracing neurodiversity in the workplace

Diversity and inclusivity in the workplace have become an important topic in recent years.  It has tended to focus on categories such as gender, age, sexuality, ethnic background, and physical disability but now there is growing momentum to embrace a diverse group of brain types.  The concept of neurodiversity recognises the variety of brain makeups found in humans – a categorization of identity that has long been overlooked and underserved in many workplaces.  When it is considered, attention tends to focus more on the challenges often associated with neurodivergence in the workplace, rather than on the strengths. 

Neurodiversity covers a range of conditions and includes autism (ASD) and ADHD and also traits like severe anxiety, dyspraxia, or highly sensitive personality.  These conditions are often seen as ‘disorders’, but entrepreneur and writer Nick Walker talks about the importance of embracing differences at work. As he shares in his blog about being autistic, “The greater the diversity of the pool of available minds, the greater the diversity of perspectives, talents, and ways of thinking–and thus the greater the probability of generating an original insight, solution, or creative contribution.” (1)

Neurodivergent individuals hold so much potential that some big companies (including Microsoft), are embracing neurodiversity.  A neurodiverse person may well be better at a particular job than someone who is not autistic. Australia’s Department of Human Services reported that a neurodiverse testing team was 30% more productive than their neurotypical peers. Autism, dyslexia, and dyspraxia have all been linked to lateral and creative thinking.

As well as their individual strengths and talents here are some further common skills different neurodiverse categories may demonstrate;

ASD  –     high levels of concentration

          –     reliability, conscientiousness, and persistence

          –     accuracy, close attention to detail, and the ability to identify errors

          –     technical ability, such as in IT

          –     detailed factual knowledge and an excellent memory

Generally, these people like to follow routines and procedures, focusing 100% on one task at a time and seeking perfection. They are less likely to join in office gossip or office politics and they will tell you the truth as they see it.

ADHD- This person will probably have a mind that is constantly on the go and is able to analyse multiple thoughts at a time. As a result, they will most likely notice things that others would not. They will probably not be afraid to take on new challenges. People with ADHD might excel in stressful situations, pushing through set-backs in order to rush urgent work.

DYSLEXIA– these people often have an excellent visual memory and spatial awareness and show creative exploration and expression.

DYSPRAXIA -strategic thinkers. Their brains are often wired so differently that they will have had to find so many solutions for overcoming barriers on an everyday basis, therefore finding solutions to problems is natural for them. People with dyspraxia also tend to have a sense of persistence and determination to succeed.

Neurodiverse people are often disadvantaged when it comes to getting and keeping a job because of other people’s lack of understanding and support.  Most workplace environments and systems work for neurotypical people, with generally overstimulating settings involving eye contact, noisy group work, networking events etc.  But for those with a different brain structure, these circumstances can reduce productivity. As such, neurodiverse employees may need some, often simple, support within the workplace.  By gaining an understanding, you can open up new possibilities for your organisation. 

If employers want to benefit from the qualities that a neurodiverse employee can bring, they need to create the best environment for them to allow them to achieve their full potential as an employee. As Walker explains, “In any given sphere of society, we only get the benefit of the contributions of those individuals who are empowered to participate. And we only get the full benefit of a given individual’s unique potential if that individual is empowered to participate without being forced to suppress their differences.”

See the following articles :

– Supporting neurodiversity in the workplace as an employer

– Working with a neurodiverse colleague

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