Neurodiversity 101: Supporting a neurodiverse workforce

Posted in : Blog
Posted on : April 14, 2024

As workplaces become more aware of the benefits of diversity, it's essential to embrace the unique strengths and challenges that come with different ways of thinking and functioning, also known as neurodiversity. In this blog post, we’ll delve into what neurodiversity entails and explore practical strategies for supporting a neurodiverse workforce. 

What is neurodiversity? 

The concept of neurodiversity was coined by Judy Singer, a sociologist on the autism spectrum, in the 1990s.[i] The idea behind neurodiversity is that it is acceptable for people to have brains that function differently, and that there is not a “right” way to think, learn, and behave. In this way, the neurodiversity movement calls on society to adjust to neurodivergence rather than the other way around.

There are a few other terms that go along with this concept:

Neurodivergence/neurodivergent: Having a style of neurocognitive functioning that is significantly different from what is considered “typical” by societal standards. That is, thinking, behaving, or learning differently than these standards. For example, some people may need to do some kind of repetitive movement (often called “stimming”) in order to pay attention in class. Neurodivergence generally includes people with autism, ADHD, OCD, dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia, or Tourette's, but others may also identify with the term. [ii] [iii]

Neurotypical: Having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within what is considered “typical” by societal standards. That is, thinking, behaving, or learning in ways that are in line with these standards. [iv] [v]

Neurodiverse: A group of people with varying styles of neurocognitive functioning. It is important to note that “neurodiverse” and “neurodiversity” refer to groups. When referring to individuals, the correct term is neurodivergent. Neurodiversity includes people who are neurotypical. [vi] [vii]

Is neurodivergence a disability?

Neurodivergence and disability are separate concepts, but it is important to acknowledge both, as well as the challenges faced by many individuals in navigating a world that wasn’t built with neurodivergence in mind. People who are neurodivergent may or may not consider themselves to have a disability. It depends on lots of things, including individual perceptions of disability and themselves (that’s to say – it’s very personal!).

What are the benefits of a neurodiverse workforce?

A neurodiverse workforce brings a multitude of benefits to organizations.[viii] [ix] Here are just a few: Firstly, it fosters innovation and creativity by harnessing a variety of perspectives and thinking styles. Neurodivergent individuals often possess unique problem-solving skills and approaches that can lead to fresh insights and novel solutions to complex challenges. Additionally, a neurodiverse workforce promotes inclusivity and diversity, which enhances employee morale, engagement, and retention. 

How can you support a neurodivergent workforce?

While there are lots of ways to support a neurodivergent workforce, this blog post introduces three areas for consideration: Flexibility, clear communication, and listening to employee needs.

1. Flexibility

Flexibility can be important for neurodivergent employees, as it allows them to structure their workday according to their unique work styles and peaks in productivity, or to choose a work location that is more suitable for their needs, which enables them to be more productive.[x] 

Schedule flexibility: Neurodivergent employees may have different needs when it comes to work schedules. Offering flexible scheduling options, like adjustable start and end times, can help accommodate varying needs and improve work-life balance. 

Workplace flexibility: Consider offering remote or hybrid work arrangements to provide neurodivergent employees with a comfortable and less stimulating work environment. Remote work can help to reduce potential sensory triggers present in a traditional office setting, allowing employees to focus better and be more productive.

2. Clear communication

Clarity in communication can be crucial for neurodivergent employees. Some people may interpret language and social cues differently, making it challenging for them to understand vague expectations or instructions. Ambiguous instructions can also trigger anxiety for individuals who find uncertainty or unpredictability particularly stressful.[xi]

Communicating expectations: Clearly communicate performance expectations and job-related tasks to neurodivergent employees. Providing written guides, visual aids, or checklists can help clarify expectations and reduce misunderstandings.

Providing clear instructions: Break down tasks into manageable steps and provide clear, concise instructions. Avoid using ambiguous language or jargon and be open to answering questions or providing additional clarification as needed.

When changes occur: Keep neurodivergent employees informed about any changes in procedures, policies, expectations, or workplace dynamics. Sudden changes can be distressing for individuals who thrive on routine, so providing advance notice and explaining the reasons behind the changes can help ease the transition.

3. Listening to employee needs

Everyone has different needs, whether neurodivergent or neurotypical. By seeking out and listening to individual employee needs, employers can provide personalized support and accommodations that enable each employee to perform and contribute to the best of their potential.[xii] [xiii]

Formal accommodations: Be adaptive and open to providing formal accommodations to neurodivergent employees, as needed. This may include making physical modifications to the workspace like replacing overstimulating lighting, providing assistive technologies, or offering the kind of flexibility mentioned earlier.

Informal requests: Encourage neurodivergent employees to voice their needs and preferences through informal channels. Create a culture where employees feel comfortable discussing their challenges and seeking assistance from supervisors or colleagues without fear of judgment or stigma.

Feedback mechanisms: Implement feedback mechanisms such as surveys, suggestion boxes, or regular check-ins to gather input from neurodivergent employees (and everyone else!) about their experiences in the workplace. Use this feedback to identify areas for improvement and make necessary adjustments to better support a neurodiverse workforce.

At the core of neurodiversity is the idea that people think and react to the world differently. In order to help our employees thrive in our workplaces, it’s essential to be adaptable to those differences. The practices suggested here would help not only employees who are neurodivergent, but they can also benefit everyone.

By accommodating diverse cognitive styles and providing support for neurodivergent employees, organizations can unlock the full potential of their workforce and build a culture of empathy, understanding, and respect.

References (click here to review the sources)

Tags #CDNdiversity #Neurodiversity

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