Neurodiversity In The Workplace

NEURODIVERSITY (noun): The range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population (used especially in the context of autistic spectrum disorders) (Oxford English Dictionary). 

Neurodiversity, coined by sociologist Judy Singer, was originally a mantle taken up by the autism spectrum community, but now casts its net widely among other neurodevelopmental conditions such as: Developmental speech disorders, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysnomia, intellectual disability and Tourette syndrome, schizophrenia and some other mental health conditions such as bipolarity, schizoaffective disorder, antisocial personality disorder, dissociative disorders, and obsessive–compulsive disorder. 

Neurodiversity is not a hindrance–it’s an asset. Neurodiverse people see the world in a different way than neurotypical people; not for the worse, but for the better. Speaking for myself, I am excellent at noticing discrepancies in writing and solving puzzle-esque problems with my ability to analyze small details and the way that I am able to hyperfocus on tasks.

Harvard Business Review (HBR) published an article back in August of 2017 about neurodiversity being an advantage in the workplace. According to their research, “[m]any people with these disorders have higher-than-average abilities; 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.” Neurodiverse people bring immense skill and talent to their workplace, however they often find difficulty in searching for positions due to discrimination. Neurodiversity has become a hot topic in neurotypical work spaces as Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) become more prevalent in workspaces. Neurodiverse people are advocating for themselves alongside allies to fight for equal treatment in the workplace, rather than being treated as an “outsider” for having a brain that is simply wired differently. 

How can neurotypical people accommodate their neurodiverse coworkers? I believe the main way to accommodate neurodiverse people is to understand that we come in all shapes, sizes, and with all sorts of varying capabilities and should be treated with the same amount of care as neurotypical coworkers. Other ways of accommodating neurodiverse coworkers are:

  • Being understanding of the eccentricities that may come along with your neurodiverse coworker.
    • For instance, you may find that your coworker may bounce their leg while sitting behind their desk or shake their hands. This could be your neurodivergent coworker stimming–which is a method of self-regulation and adjustment to their surroundings.
    • Some neurodivergent people wear headphones while working–it is not because they view you as a nuisance, but rather the headphones block external stimuli and noises from getting in the way of completing projects.
  • Some neurodivergent folks require additional instruction–this does not necessarily mean that they require constant instruction, but rather clear and precise instructions that provide concrete examples of what the end product should be. For example, if you are looking for your neurodivergent coworker to complete building out an editorial calendar, provide examples of already-completed editorial calendars.

Neurodiversity challenges the “Medical Model of Disability” and instead argues that the main cause of disability is not the medical diagnosis, but society’s inflexibility to accessibility is the predominant cause of inequity in the workplace. It is the job of neurotypical individuals to not view their neurodivergent colleagues as projects that require fixing–but instead create a more accessible and welcoming environment to those who are neurodivergent. 

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