A Brief Introduction To Neurodiversity
How to advance your business by being inclusive- diversifying your team through mental differences is the future.
‘Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome’- John Elder Robison.
Neurodiversity has long been misunderstood- particularly in the world of business- and during the recruitment process. The term neurodiversity refers to variation in the human brain, namely sociability, attention, mood, and learning. The phrase was coined in 1998 and refers to people who have (for example) autism, dyspraxia, ADHD, and social anxiety disorders. Considering neurodiversity as a way of thinking differently rather than as a disability is incredibly important to shifting the thinking of the recruitment industry on neurodiverse policy making and support, hopefully the information provided below can help with that.
What do these people have in common? Usually, neurodivergent people have impressively vast skillsets, or higher-than-average abilities. Yet neurodivergent applicants are less likely to get the job they are so equipped for. Why is that you may ask. Firstly, neurodiverse people often need workplace accommodations; headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation, a quiet space for project work, or low lighting.
The reality is that unemployment in neurodivergent people runs as high as 80%, and the highest levels of bias are thought to be against employees with Tourette Syndrome and ADHD. Research has found that people’s misconceptions of Tourette Syndrome are causing many managers to hesitate when employing those with TS. An example of this would be that employers often assume everyone with TS has the swearing tic, where it is only 10-15% of cases. Another research paper found that it was as many as half of managers would be uncomfortable hiring a neurodivergent applicant- further proof that it may be time to reform the recruitment process for neurodivergent applicants, as well as educating each other to better understand the implications of neurodiversity. This will also help us to be more compassionate towards those who have special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), something that has not been considered deeply enough by a great quantity of people who are neurotypical.
Debunking the ‘perfect’ employee
Many of us picture a good employee as someone who has a salesperson-type personality, with an ability to network and conform to standard practices. Maybe this person is also a great team player, is persuasive, and hones good communication skills. The trouble is, many neurodivergent people are better listeners, impressive problem solvers, analytical workers, and quieter individuals. And for some reason, employers often look past these applicants. In 2021, it is time to realise that having a neurodiverse workforce is the best way to optimise your business and educate you employees on strengths of people with specialist interests and skills, for example.
Companies that embrace neurodiversity also notice a shift in the mindset of their current staff- giving people the power to disclose their neurodivergence and showing people that they can reach out if they need support. This way, performance can remain optimal, and engagement will be high (from staff and customers alike!).
How to reform the recruitment process
On the spot questioning does not necessarily assess an applicant’s initiative. Instead, consider a take-away-task that requires deeper analysis or problem solving. People with autism spectrum condition (ASC) would benefit from this, and it will give you a more accurate demonstration of their skills.
Listen to what applicants are asking of you, as the employer. If an applicant is presented with a multiple-choice scenario, but they would prefer to give a short but personal response, try not to reject an alternative answering approach. Though it is important for applicants to listen to the instructions (or questions) provided by an interviewer, it would be a shame to disregard responses that are out of the box simply because the applicant struggled to conform to your expectations.
Guiding neurodivergent employees
Once a company has a neurodiverse workforce, listening to the needs of all employees, in particular neurodivergent individuals, is very important. Whether it be a request relating to sensory preferences and environments, or the opportunity for career progression, it is the responsibility of a great boss to provide all employees with the same access to support, information, and responsibility.
Offering development opportunities such as project management or skill progression courses can make all the difference in the world to a neurodiverse employee.
For more in depth understanding of neurodiversity in the workplace, read Neurodiversity at Work by Amanda Kirby and Theo Smith. Amanda Kirby also provides fascinating and educational articles on neurodivergent living, with a desire to improve life for neurodivergent people at school, at work, in care, and beyond.
There are also many wonderful charities dedicated to supporting and educating neurodiverse people and aiding the learning of neurotypical people on the struggles faced by atypical individuals.
ADHD Foundation: The Neurodiversity Charity; offering strength-based services for neurodivergent individuals.
The Donaldson Trust; educating everyone on neurodiversity.
Lexxic: provides services to Occupational Health providers, their founder Nicola James (Chartered Occupational Psychologist) being dyslexic herself.
Also see- Walk in My Shoes, a short film about school life with autism https://youtu.be/KSKvazfTLv8
Psychology student writing about behavioural sciences, business psychology and child development