The full range of human neurodiversity includes each of us and how we learn and process information differently.
Within that neurodiversity, often advocacy movements focus on particular diagnoses. According to the groundbreaking study: “Neurodiversity at Work,” this often includes the following spectrum conditions (can be remembered as A-A-D-D):
- Attention Deficit Disorders
- Dyslexia (often associated with reading, but actually a more complex condition)
- Dyspraxia (affects movement and can be a co-existing condition with some or all of the above)[i]
Advocacy is undergoing a shift. As U.K. employment rights activist Janine Booth explains in Autism Equality in the Workplace, many individuals aren’t diagnosed. Others may choose not to disclose, may not meet today’s criteria, or may be less likely to be diagnosed because of biases in the diagnostic process. Yet, regardless of diagnosis, there are more people on social media and in person who are saying: “That sounds like me.”
The “Superpower” Trend: Acknowledging Neurodiversity Benefits
- Many popular CEOs and other high achievers are publicly talking about their own ADHD, and there’s a trend to call it a “Superpower” and look for ways to channel ADD and ADHD strengths.[ii]
- Actor Daniel Radcliff, first famous for his role as Harry Potter has encouraged others with dyspraxia, “a condition that makes it hard to plan and coordinate physical movement.” His advice? “‘Do not let it stop you,’” he said. “‘It has never held me back, and some of the smartest people I know are people who have learning disabilities. The fact that some things are more of a struggle will only make you more determined, harder working and more imaginative in the solutions you find to problems.’”[iii] Radcliff also credits his stunt training for the Harry Potter movies as being beneficial.[iv]
- A member of the technology community, Paul Watkins, recently posted on LinkedIn: “Autistic people simply ‘Think Different’, and have cognitive and creative strengths in some areas which compensate for the other areas that we tend to be less effective at.” Watkins continues, “But we do need to be understood. We do come across as very different in how we relate to the world, and this can often lead to misunderstandings, and even discrimination.”
An article in the Harvard Business Review supports this view: “The case for neurodiverse hiring is especially compelling given the skills shortages that increasingly afflict technology and other industries.”[v] Significant “…research shows that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics. Yet those affected often struggle to fit the profiles sought by prospective employers.” Executives, Human Resource professionals, and talent acquisition specialists, may ask, “What has kept so many companies from taking on people with the skills they badly need? It comes down to the way they find and recruit talent and decide whom to hire (and promote).”[vi]
How do we encourage a Neurodiverse workplace?
As an emerging area for innovation, the terminology and best practices about neurodiversity will continue to evolve. So today, let’s start by getting C-L-E-A-R.
C – Challenge
Encouraging a neurodiverse organization can start with challenging your organization’s policies throughout the employment life cycle: Recruitment, onboarding, ongoing job responsibilities, and more. The organization Mind Shift offers suggestions for employers to change how they screen or interview to create clearer questions, minimize distractions, allow additional time to answer, and says to “Come to the interview with an open mind and to allow your assumptions to be challenged.”[vii]
L – Listen
Listening is a superpower too. Understanding other points of view, whether that’s in person, through a technologically-mediated communication (poll, message, etc.), or through observation, is a part of analyzing how to improve outcomes. So, ask or survey members of various communities, current employees, and others what they think, and create the trust so that others can safely share:What is it really like?
What would help?
E – Engage
This is about the types of employee and candidate engagement that’s the feature of highly-ranked business content and making sure that’s inclusive. Consider this important mantra: “Nothing about us without us.”[viii]
A – All
Neurodiversity includes us all. An article in the Harvard Business Review about neurodiversity programs notes that, “Perhaps the most surprising benefit is that managers have begun thinking more deeply about leveraging the talents of all employees through greater sensitivity to individual needs.”[ix]
R – Rock on (Responsibly)
Giving everyone the space and freedom to rock on – or tune it out if preferred – can help with task completion, creative problem solving, and more. When talking about neurodiversity, often a more inclusive workplace is described as being less noisy (or allowing or promoting the use of noise-canceling headphones or similar accommodations). It’s also about clear, accessible job training that includes everyone (not just co-workers and managers), clear expectations, and support.[x]
So, giving candidates a chance – and employees the space to rock on – or cancel it out – and the freedom to exercise their strengths while providing support as needed/wanted, is a clear start to encouraging neurodiversity in your organization.
[i] Bewley, Helen, and George, Anitha. (September 2016). “Neurodiversity at work” (2016) National Institute of Economic and Social Research. https://www.niesr.ac.uk/sites/default/files/publications/Neurodiversity_at_work_0916.pdf (ISBN 978-1-908370-71 6).
[ii] Glazer, Jessica. “ADHD Can Be a CEO’s Secret Superpower.” (13 Sept. 2016). Huffpost. https://www.huffingtonpost.ca/jessica-glazer/adhd-ceo-career_b_8124154.html
[iii] Tucker, Geri Coleman. “‘Harry Potter’ Star Gives Dyspraxia Advice.” https://www.understood.org/en/community-events/blogs/in-the-news/2014/12/16/harry-potter-star-gives-dyspraxia-advice
[iv] “Harry Potter stunts helped Daniel Radcliffe overcome dyspraxia.” (24 Nov. 2010). Hindustantimes.com. https://www.hindustantimes.com/world/harry-potter-stunts-helped-daniel-radcliffe-overcome-dyspraxia/story-Al4iEYerLWGFZcovTH2ySI.html
[v] Austin, Robert D. and Pisano, Gary P. “Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage”. Harvard Business Review. (May-June 2017). https://hbr.org/2017/05/neurodiversity-as-a-competitive-advantage
[vi] Austin, Robert D. and Pisano, Gary P. “Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage”. Harvard Business Review. (May-June 2017). https://hbr.org/2017/05/neurodiversity-as-a-competitive-advantage
[vii] Mind Shift. Autism and the Job Interview. (6 June 2017) http://www.mindshift.works/blog/2017/6/6/autism-and-the-job-interview
[viii] Wolff, Eli A., and Hums, Mary. “‘Nothing About Us Without Us’ – Mantra for a Movement. (5 Sept. 2017). https://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/nothing-about-us-without-us-mantra-for-a-movement_us_59aea450e4b0c50640cd61cf
[ix] Austin, Robert D. and Pisano, Gary P. “Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage”. Harvard Business Review. (May-June 2017). https://hbr.org/2017/05/neurodiversity-as-a-competitive-advantage
[x] Sanchez, Di Ann. “Inclusion Revolution! – Neruodiversity in the Workplace!” (6 Aug 2018) https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/tools-and-samples/member2member/pages/inclusion-revolution–%E2%80%93-neurodiversity-in-the-workplace-.aspx
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