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Learning in the Workplace

As Temple Grandin says: "the world needs all kinds of minds." We talk about neurodiversity quite a bit here at AbilityLinks. Specifically, how companies are embracing the concept of neurodiversity and realizing that it's just good business sense to draw experience from a wide variety of people.

When companies do this, it's important for leaders and employees to realize that different minds might learn differently, too. Neurodiversity encompasses a wide range of topics, and disabilities such as -- but not limited to -- autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD, and ADHD. Neurodiverse individuals, one source states, may have "a cognitive profile characterized by extreme strengths and weaknesses." (In fact, the aforementioned Temple Grandin says this in a different way in her talk, suggesting that individuals with ASD like herself are very good at some things and not at other things.)

The best way that an individual learns, plus the way they provide value, may be influenced by one or more disabilities as well. As such, employers should avoid creating "in-groups and out-groups" or offering accommodations based on a label or single condition. Rather, it begins with human kindness and a willingness to provide reasonable accommodations in order to unlock every individual's true potential.

Here's a few ways companies can get started.

Acceptance and awareness

A disability that affects the best way someone learns might not be immediately visible to others. Without awareness and acceptance from co-workers and leadership, employees with these types of disabilities can experience anxiety, stress, and become less productive. Companies can choose to educate their employees in a variety of ways, including disability awareness training. In any situation, the theme of acceptance must come from and be lived by everyone in the organization.

Noise and environment

For many of those who experience different ways of learning, distractions can be very unwelcome. As we all know, one of the most common distractions -- of course -- is noise. Providing a quiet space for individuals who need it can be a reasonable accommodation that makes all the difference.

Flexibility

Personnel Today frames this as something that can be done with virtually zero cost -- simply being flexible to meet the needs of neurodiverse individuals. Things like structuring meetings in advance, for example, can help individuals with these types of disabilities to work to their full potential.

Technology

Finally, a variety of technology can be leveraged in the workplace to accommodate persons with different learning styles or challenges. For example, individuals with attention-deficit type disorders may benefit from applications or software that provides a "Focus Mode" that helps to minimize distractions. Many productivity and writing applications offer this, including several from Microsoft as part of their Learning Tools in Office 365. The Windows 10 operating system features Focus Assist.  Word completion or suggestion in Microsoft Word can assist individuals with cognitive impairments. There are a number of visual accessibility options in Windows which may provide better options for visual learners. These are just a few examples of how software can help!

There's other ways, too, with endless possibilities for accommodating the needs of diverse employees. Some additional examples are providing noise-canceling headphones or noise masking speakers throughout the office, both of which can reduce or buffer auditory stimuli as well as assist with focus.