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Neurodivergent Employees Can Add Value to Your Organization

Neurodivergent Employees Can Add Value to Your Organization

Neurodivergent individuals, including those with conditions like autism, ADHD, and dyslexia, often have exceptional skills in problem-solving, attention to detail, pattern recognition, and creativity.

They may also have a different way of thinking and processing information, which can lead to innovative solutions and approaches to problems. For example, someone with ADHD may excel at multitasking and thrive in a fast-paced environment. In contrast, someone with autism can focus on details and be highly analytical.

In addition to these strengths, hiring neurodivergent employees can also help to foster a more diverse and inclusive workplace culture. Organizations can encourage creativity, innovation, and better decision-making by creating an environment where individuals with different backgrounds and perspectives are welcomed and valued.

To fully realize the benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace, organizations should provide support and accommodations tailored to the needs of neurodivergent employees. This may include giving quiet workspaces, flexible scheduling, or assistive technology. By doing so, organizations can create a workplace where all employees can thrive and contribute to the organization’s success.

What Is Neurodiversity?

A cashier at my local grocery store is unfailingly polite and fast. I always choose his line when I do my shopping. In between asking, “How are you today?” and “Would you like paper or plastic?” he hums softly, quietly drumming a beat on the countertop with his fingers. The humming and drumming are a product of his neurodivergence, and they add to my shopping experience because I enjoy music.

“Neurodivergence,” or neurodiversity, is an umbrella term for various conditions and refers to natural brain variations. The time “neurodiversity” was introduced by sociologist Judy Singer in 1998 to convey that the way people differ in how they think and act is not something that needs to be fixed but rather understood.

Various studies estimate that 15 to 20% of the world’s population is neurodiverse. It isn’t necessarily a disability but an advantage under some conditions. According to WebMD, neurodivergence includes attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia, and other conditions.

Neurodiverse Celebrities

It’s easy to find examples of successful neurodiverse people.

Michael Phelps, the most decorated Olympian of all time, talked about his ADHD with People magazine. “Growing up, I could never sit still. A teacher told me I would never amount to anything, and I would never be successful.” Phelps’ mother used his love of swimming to help him focus, which led to his international success as an athlete.

Harry Potter star Daniel Radcliffe says his dyspraxia (a motor skill disorder) makes completing tasks such as tying his shoes or writing a legible thank you note challenging. But this didn’t stop him from a successful acting career.

Anderson Cooper, Keira Knightley, Whoopi Goldberg, Steven Spielberg, Danny Glover, Salma Hayek, and Tom Cruise are celebrities with dyslexia, a reading-learning disability. Cher has both dyslexia and dyscalculia, a condition that affects her ability to do the math.

Asperger’s syndrome is another type of neurodivergence. According to the American Psychological Association, Asperger’s syndrome is “associated with deficits in social and conversational skills, difficulties with transitions from one task to another or changes in situations or environments, and a preference for the predictability. Obsessive routines and preoccupation with subjects of interest may be present, as may difficulty reading body language and maintaining proper social distance. People with Asperger’s disorder have an IQ in the normal to the superior range and may exhibit exceptional skills or talents.”

Climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has Asperger’s syndrome, said she’s “sometimes a bit different from the norm. And — given the right circumstances — being different is a superpower.” Her tendency to use direct language due to Asperger’s has served her well. She has been nominated for the Nobel Prize five times, featured in a Time Top 100 list twice, and twice on a Forbes list of influential people.

Asperger’s syndrome is one form of autism. Autism, also known as an autism spectrum disorder, is a neurodiversity condition related to the development of the brain and characterized by difficulty with social interactions and communication.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1 in every 100 people has autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the number in the US is higher, at about 1 in every 44 children.

Some people with autism experience movement disorder. Sam Forbes, an autistic Canadian barista, is one example. He has difficulty concentrating unless he is moving. His manager, Chris Ali, had a simple, creative solution to help Sam succeed. Chris played fast-paced music and encouraged Sam to channel his repetitive movements to the music. The customers loved it. Sam’s reputation as the Dancing Barista spread, and the volume of business increased dramatically.

These are just a few examples of neurodivergent celebrities who have been open about their conditions and helped raise awareness and reduce stigma around neurodiversity.

Asperger’s syndrome is one form of autism. Asperger’s syndrome, also known as an autism spectrum disorder, is a neurodiversity condition related to the development of the brain and characterized by difficulty with social interactions and communication.

According to the World Health Organization, approximately 1 in every 100 people has autism spectrum disorder. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates the number in the US is higher, at about 1 in every 44 children.

Some people with autism experience movement disorder. Sam Forbes, an autistic Canadian barista, is one example. He has difficulty concentrating unless he is moving. His manager, Chris Ali, had a simple, creative solution to help Sam succeed. Chris played fast-paced music and encouraged Sam to channel his repetitive movements to the music. The customers loved it. Sam’s reputation as the Dancing Barista spread, and the volume of business increased dramatically.

A video of Sam at work, talking about his condition, went viral in 2016, garnering millions of views and positive comments. This led to an interview on The Ellen DeGeneres Show.

Australian barista Vari Desho was initially less fortunate. He experiences Tourette’s syndrome, which causes him sometimes to make involuntary movements or noises called tics. Despite this, he has worked successfully for many years at a café. However, one day, two customers canceled their order and left when Vari’s condition caused him to make barking sounds. They gave the establishment a one-star online rating and included a detailed review of the symptoms they witnessed.

The Business Advantage

A survey by the US National Business & Disability Council found customers appreciate and patronize businesses that hire people with disabilities, including neurodiversity. A high percentage of consumers indicate they will purchase goods or services from companies they know to take the following actions:

  • Employ people with disabilities – 73%
  • Feature individuals with disabilities in their advertising – 66%
  • Provide easy access for individuals with disabilities at their physical locations – 78%
  • Ensure easy access for individuals with disabilities on their website, kiosk, or mobile app – 70%

I’ve seen examples of customer support firsthand. Several people I know go out of their way to shop at a grocery store that employs people with disabilities. And at the grand opening of a local restaurant partially staffed by neurodivergent employees, a line of customers went out the door and down the sidewalk.

Overall, consumers appreciate businesses that take proactive steps to be inclusive and accommodating of people with disabilities, including neurodivergent individuals. By doing so, companies can improve their public image and customer loyalty and tap into a valuable and underrepresented talent pool.

Ernst & Young found that neurodiverse employees “often bring a hyperfocus to complex, repetitive tasks, which they can sustain over a long period.”

JPMorgan Chase found that neurodiverse employees in the appropriate roles were 90-140% more productive than other employees and had fewer mistakes.

One particular intelligence unit of the Israeli Defense Forces comprises primarily adults on the spectrum because they tend to recognize data patterns others cannot.

Hewlett Packard Enterprise reported that teams with neurodiverse employees generated significant innovations. Also, its neurodiverse testing teams were 30% more productive than the others.

SAP’s neurodivergent employees helped develop a technical solution estimated at $40 million in savings.

SAP, JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, and Ernst & Young report retention rates of more than 90% among their neurodiverse employees, which is higher than the average retention rates in their industries.

After successful outcomes with its 16-week internship program, Freddie Mac offered full-time employment to people on the autism spectrum.

Employment Considerations

Clearly, it can make good business sense to employ people who are neurodivergent. So why don’t more employers do so?

According to Deloitte, “In the US, it is estimated that 85% of people on the autism spectrum are unemployed, compared to 4.2% of the overall population.” Of course, there are some neurodiverse people whose condition is so severe that employment is not an option.

The Americans with Disabilities Act requires companies with 15 or more employees to not discriminate based on disability, including neurodivergence. They must make reasonable accommodations that allow qualified employees to perform their jobs. State laws apply similar regulations. These requirements apply to job applicants as well.

Recruiters and hiring managers do not always realize that the eye contact, gestures, and body movements of some neurodivergent job applicants may be different from what is expected. Some job applicants will not be comfortable with handshakes. This lack of awareness can disqualify qualified candidates.

According to Susanne Bruyere, academic director of the Yang-Tan Institute on Employment and Disability at Cornell University, “Some neurodivergent people struggle with social dynamics and new environments like traditional job interviews, which highlight social skills and the ability to answer vague questions like ‘Describe a challenge you faced.'”

Workplace consultant Haley Moss explained, “Communication can be difficult for people on the spectrum. Some people struggle with executive functioning—like starting and stopping a task and making deadlines.” She recommends giving specific deadlines. Also, encourage employees on the spectrum to check their email only twice a day at specific times so they have fewer interruptions to their tasks.

Natalia Lyckowski, global neurodiversity advancement leader at IBM, says, “We offer reasonable accommodations to job applicants and employees. Accommodations include working from home or in a quieter office, noise-canceling headphones, social contracting, etc. They are handled on a case-by-case basis as each person has unique needs.”

While many people who are neurodivergent do not need accommodations, the solutions for those that do are often simple. Some employees with autism spectrum disorder are hypersensitive to sounds, lighting, odors, and room temperature stimuli. A simple adjustment can include fans, white noise machines, and noise-canceling earbuds. To accommodate an autistic employee sensitive to smells, place their work area away from the lunchroom or the breakroom microwave.

Standard accommodations for people with ADHD include providing a task list, permitting the employee to wear headphones to screen out distractions, locating their workspace in a quiet area, or allowing them to work from home.

According to a global survey by Texthelp, 56% of neurodivergent respondents have experienced communication barriers at work. Typical accommodation for those on the spectrum involves minor changes to communications and directions, such as stating specific instructions that include verbs. For example, instead of saying, “Work on this project and complete it in the next few days,” you could say, “Add all the missing data to this spreadsheet by noon on Wednesday.”

The broader range of adaptive devices and software has enabled employment for more neurodiverse people. Some applications, like Google’s Voice to Text, are free. Dyslexic.com advises, “Those with dyslexia often find that text-to-speech software provides significant support if they struggle with reading or digesting text on the computer screen. The hearing text read aloud in a natural voice also helps dyslexic people proofread their written work.”

Employment Resources

Organizations want data to support the likelihood of success before trying new hiring initiatives. Many major companies that actively recruit and hire neurodivergent employees share their data and success stories through the Neurodiversity @ Work Employer Roundtable. Founded in 2017, this collection of employers makes resources available for others, as does neurodiversityhub.org in the UK.

The Job Accommodation Network offers an online directory where employers can research disabilities and accommodations.

The Neurodiversity Career Connector features job listings by US employers seeking neurodiverse applicants.

For employers still not sure they’re ready to employ neurodiverse employees: you are almost certainly already using some very successful neurodiverse employees. You don’t realize it. Because of stigma, many neurodivergent job applicants and employees do not disclose their condition.

Companies that offer optional employee resource groups (also called business resource groups) for neurodivergent employees are often surprised by the many people who self-identify as a member of this group. By creating a safe way for neurodivergent employees to gather and share their experiences, workplaces can learn how to meet their needs better and attract others from this robust talent pool.

Syntrio Recognizes Neurodiversity
and Celebrates
World Autism Awareness Day

Syntrio offers a complete training program for both managers and non-managers. Contact us today to learn how to foster a diverse and inclusive workforce where each person’s unique skills are valued.

Stephanie Evans’ extensive training development expertise in employment law, compliance, DEI, cybersecurity, and business skills includes almost two decades at a Fortune 500 company. Her career encompasses training, human resources, and communications.

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