Embracing Neurodiversity: Unlocking the Power of Differences in the Workplace-Erica Blackwood

October 11, 2023

OCTOBER IS NATIONAL DISABILITY EMPLOYMENT AWARENESS MONTH!

 

Observed each October, National Disability Employment Awareness Month (NDEAM) celebrates the contributions of America’s workers with disabilities past and present and showcases supportive, inclusive employment policies and practices that benefit employers and employees. With this year’s theme of “Advancing Access and Equity,” let’s take a moment to celebrate disabled talent, and review the reality of the Disability Divide and how it impacts opportunity in society. As part of a new series, Each month we will be sharing new information highlighting disabilities and sharing ways to be more inclusive in your organization. This month’s highlight is for working with neurodivergent folks in the workplace. Be sure to check back each month for continued conversations regarding inclusive workplaces and closing the disability divide. 

 

Embracing Neurodiversity: Unlocking the Power of Differences in the Workplace

 

In recent years, there has been a growing recognition of the importance of diversity and inclusion in the workplace. While diversity often refers to various dimensions such as gender, race, and ethnicity, it is crucial not to overlook the concept of neurodiversity. Neurodiversity encompasses the natural variations in the human brain, including conditions such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and other neurological differences. Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace not only fosters a more inclusive environment but also unlocks the untapped potential of individuals with unique perspectives and abilities.

 

Understanding Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways;  there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving and differences are NOT viewed as deficits. The word neurodiversity refers to the diversity of all people, but is often used in the context of autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or learning disabilities. The neurodiversity movement emerged during the 1990s, aiming to increase acceptance and inclusion of ALL people while embracing neurological differences. The term was first coined by Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist, who coined the term “neurodiversity” to promote equality and inclusion of “neurological minorities”. While it is primarily a social justice movement, neurodiversity research and education is increasingly important in how our movement views and addresses certain disabilities and neurological conditions.  Neurodiversity challenges the traditional notion of “normal” by celebrating the diversity of cognitive styles and neurological conditions. It recognizes that neurological differences are not inherently superior or inferior, but are simply variations of the human experience. Just as biodiversity is crucial for the health and balance of ecosystems, neurodiversity is vital for the growth and innovation within organizations. 

 

What Conditions Can a Neurodivergent Person Have?

People who identify themselves as neurodivergent typically have one or more of the conditions or disorders listed below. However, since there aren’t any medical criteria or definitions of what it means to be neurodivergent, other conditions also can fall under this term as well. People with these conditions may also choose not to identify themselves as neurodivergent.

 

Some of the conditions that are most common among those who describe themselves as neurodivergent include:

 

 

Neurodiversity and Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is associated with differences in communication, learning, and behavior, though it can vary from person to person. People with ASD may have a wide range of strengths, abilities, needs, and challenges. In example, some people with ASD are able to communicate verbally, have an average or above average IQ, and live independently. Others might not be able to communicate their needs or feelings, may struggle with impairing and harmful behaviors that impact their safety and well- being, and may be dependent on support in all areas of their life. Additionally, for some people with autism, differences may not cause any suffering to the person themselves, instead, the suffering may result from the barriers imposed by societal norms, causing social exclusion and inequity.

 

Benefits of Neurodiversity in the Workplace

  1. Enhanced Creativity and Innovation:
  1. Attention to Detail and Accuracy:
  1. Diverse Skill Sets:
  1. Increased Productivity:

 

Creating an Inclusive Workplace

To foster an inclusive environment that embraces neurodiversity, organizations can take several steps:

  1. Promote Awareness and Education:
  1. Flexible Work Arrangements:
  1. Accommodations and Support:
  1. Sensitize Recruitment and Hiring Practices:
  1. Foster Collaboration and Teamwork:

 

There are many things people can do to be supportive of neurodivergent individuals. Some of the most important things you should keep in mind include:

 

 

Conclusion

“Neurodiversity” is a word used to explain the unique ways people’s brains work. While everyone’s brain develops similarly, no two brains function just alike. Being neurodivergent means having a brain that works differently from the average or “neurotypical” person. This may be differences in social preferences, ways of learning, ways of communicating and/or ways of perceiving the environment. Because of this, a neurodivergent person has different struggles and unique strengths. People who are neurodivergent can benefit from education and programs that help them develop their strengths using them to their benefit to live happy, healthy lives.

 

Embracing neurodiversity in the workplace is not just a moral imperative but also a strategic advantage for organizations. By creating an inclusive environment, employers can foster a workplace culture where employees are respected and empowered to contribute equally, as well as be supported with access to the same resources and opportunities, regardless of individual demographics and neurologically diverse backgrounds.