Neurodiversity in the Workplace
by Wendy Hoke
Neurodiversity is a worldwide movement that recognizes and respects neurological differences just as other human variations are respected. These differences can include individuals with dyslexia, dyscalculia, autism, autism spectrum disorder, dyspraxia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and others. Now major enterprises such as Microsoft and EY (formerly Ernst & Young) have embraced this concept and have developed programs to recruit people with neurological disorders like autism spectrum disorder (ASD), which is a range of conditions impacting the way an individual processes information, sees the world, and interacts with people.
These companies in the United States are working to reach out and recruit individuals with autism, preferring to see them as having unique abilities that are valuable in the workplace rather than seeing them as having a disability. This positive approach recognizes the importance of clarity in instructions and routines and uses those abilities to benefit both the employee and employer. While the process may take some additional effort to integrate new methods into the already structured hiring and training process, employers are discovering that making the additional effort pays off.
Major Companies Recruiting Individuals with ASD
Companies like Microsoft are holding special events designed to recruit individuals with autism and other disorders, as well as tailoring the pre-induction phase by producing welcome packs that give prospective employees that chance to familiarize themselves with the prospective workplace first. Other companies are eliminating the conventional interview and allowing individuals to participate in a work trial first to get a feel for the job and skills that are needed. In addition, some companies are reaching out to recruiters to give them additional skills and confidence for interviewing candidates who are neurodiverse.
As businesses embrace this concept, they are finding that neurodiversity can flourish in the workplace through process-oriented positions, although managers also need additional training to oversee and direct these individuals who have different needs and different ways of communicating. Simply hiring a neurodiverse staff does not mean success. The managers need the confidence and skills to work with a wide variety of people. They need the understanding that a neurodiverse staff will have a wide range of expectations, and if those expectations are not met, the situation can cause considerable anxiety for the employee.
Overcoming the Challenges
These businesses are also finding that a challenge to overcome is training other employees on the characteristics of ASD, autism and other disorders to promote a healthy atmosphere that celebrates diversity. It is important for the entire organization to understand the various methods of communication and ways of socializing to minimize the potential for conflict or hurt feelings. Other challenges can arise if there are changes to routine, as many neurodiverse individuals flourish with well-maintained routines with very few alterations if any. Consistency can be crucial to success, and some issues can be very important, such as the same workspace every day, the same start and stop times, and the need for quiet space in some cases.
The benefits of maintaining a neurodiverse workplace can be many. The key that many businesses are discovering is how important it can be to play to the strengths of people with autism or ASD, such as a keen ability to pay attention to small details. One company in Denmark, Specialsterne, creates software code, and three-quarters of their employees have ASD. Coding takes considerable routine, and this plays to their strengths.
Given the fact that approximately 1 in 68 children in the United States has ASD, the need to integrate them into the workforce will make neurodiversity a growing trend. In addition to Microsoft and EY, other large enterprises have developed hiring programs that reach out to adults with ASD. These include Freddie Mac and the international technology giant, SAP, which has set an objective to reach one percent of their future workforce through their program “Autism at Work.” This program aims to recruit, train and onboard people with autism by the year 2020. Creating a supportive workplace allows them to employ individuals with autism in areas such as software development and software testing. It’s a win-win situation for employer and employee alike.
Benefits of Neurodiversity in the Workplace
Companies are discovering the untapped potential that neurodiversity brings to the table, just as other forms of diversity do. The benefits go beyond hiring someone accustomed to attention to detail. Just as employees who come from a wide range of economic or racial backgrounds bring diversity of creativity, those who are neurodiverse bring a different kind of creative thinking that a business can harness. Many businesses rely on a steady supply of innovative ideas to continue growing, so it matters to have a wide range of perspectives as possible.
Individuals with autism and ASD will likely see the workplace in a way that is different than others. They may be happy with the status quo, but at the same time, they can be less likely to always take things at face value. This is a trait that many great inventors of the world have, and some of the greatest thinkers and inventors have displayed traits that today would be considered “on the spectrum,” such as Einstein and Darwin. What business would want to pass up an employee with the potential to offer such creative ways of viewing the world?