This article was updated on July 26, 2018.
Neurodiversity, defined by Psychology Today as a combination of the terms neurology and diversity, refers to the inclusion of individuals who fall outside the typical range in certain neurological areas. These individuals may be diagnosed with conditions like autism or Asperger's syndrome.
Expanding Your Definition of Diversity
Neurodiversity is playing a larger role in organizational definitions of diversity. While these types of conditions can create some challenges, such as difficulty communicating or shyness, many employers recognize that neurodiverse individuals often have unique strengths that help them thrive in certain positions. Difficulties in one area, such as reading body language, for example, often coexist with a strength in another area, such as the ability to process numbers at a high level.
Realize That Neurodiversity Is a Spectrum
Neurodiversity is a spectrum, and each person is an individual with particular needs, strengths and challenges. As a result, many organizations begin with pilot programs to recruit individuals for positions where their ability to focus, grasp mathematical concepts and work with large quantities of data will be an asset. From there, it's important to develop a personalized action plan for each employee's success — just as you would with workers not on the spectrum.
Consider the Work Environment
Harnessing the talent of a neurodiverse employee may begin with providing basic accommodations to create a distraction-free environment. For example, an open office plan may not be the most effective strategy. Instead, you may need to look for office space that's quiet, away from printers or other loud machinery and where factors such as the brightness can be controlled to an individual's preference. A person who is on the neurodiversity spectrum may have unique sensory needs — but taking steps to incorporate this into the work environment can mean great success for that individual and, as a result, the organization.
Adjust Your Onboarding Process
Onboarding and training is critical to every employee's success, but many organizations have found that simple adaptations can help individuals with a variety of different neuro-atypical conditions thrive. For example, one approach is to provide training that's more practical. According to The Atlantic, Ernst & Young (EY) launched a pilot program for autistic accountants. The training period caused management to evaluate their methods. "What EY found was that having colleagues with autism challenged the office's status quo, and made it easier to broach questions about whether or not communication and management strategies were effective and logical," notes The Atlantic.
Invest in Management Training
Managers might be unsure of what their responsibilities are when working with neurodiverse employees. It's important to be familiar with the requirements of the Americans with Disabilities Act, to understand whether reasonable accommodations may be required and to check on what additional steps the business may be willing to take. It's also critical that managers understand that performance expectations are equal for all employees, and individuals with neurodiverse perspectives can have valuable talents that increase productivity and add to an organization's bottom line.
Businesses are focusing on neurodiversity as a priority because of their commitment to a more diverse and inclusive workplace and because these individuals have strengths that can add to an organization's bottom line.
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