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Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Modern workplaces, aided by technological advancements and a desire for more inclusive environments, are beginning to embrace the concept of neurodiversity. The concept of what an “ideal” candidate for any given job is much different than what it used to be, and for very good reason.

What is neurodiversity, anyway?

Neurodiversity is a term that refers to a group of individuals with varied cognitive processing and communicative abilities, caused by natural and normal variations in the human genome. This often includes individuals affected by dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADD, ADHD, or autism spectrum disorder.

While these were once considered strictly to be disabilities, research now shows that neurodiverse workers can not only survive -- but also thrive in the modern workplace. In fact: a workforce that embraces neurodiversity can have a competitive advantage. It just makes good business sense.

The benefits of neurodiversity in the modern workforce

Put simply, everyone views the world a little bit differently. Sometimes a lot differently than you do! This holds true for non-disabled persons, but for those who are living with a disability as well. This can bring a significant advantage when it comes to creatively solving problems in a rapidly changing work environment.

One example to demonstrate this is autism spectrum disorder ( ASD ). While we want to avoid making generalities -- there is no set way that autism affects a given individual -- the condition is said by Autism Speaks to be “characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech and nonverbal communication.”

There is no way to avoid the fact that this presents challenges to both an employee with ASD and their employer. But it also presents advantages even beyond having a diverse breadth of experience across your workforce. (In addition to the examples below, author and professor Temple Grandin provides a great explanation of how individuals can see the world differently .)

Of course, these advantages do not extend to those affected by ASD alone – it’s difficult to quantify the true benefits, and unique characteristics of every neurodiverse individual in just a simple list!

How companies are embracing neurodiversity

Companies such as IBM, Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, Ford, and more have demonstrated a strong commitment in restructuring their organizations. They’ve seen substantial benefits with streamlined processes. Plus, more specific process documentation that has improved training across the board for all new employees – both non-disabled persons and individuals with disabilities.

There’s no single template or set way that companies can do this, other than to live it. A commitment to actively recruiting a workforce that represents neurodiversity needs to come from everyone in the company, including upper management. Reasonable accommodations must be made as well.

How technology helps a neurodiverse workforce

Of course, these accommodations are made much more accessible with modern technology!

Microsoft, for example, builds a lot of this functionality into their productivity software, Office 365. Focus Assist allows employees to customize alerts and notifications and eliminate distractions that may be difficult to work with for persons affected by sensory disorders. Reading View helps clear distracting content from web pages to enhance reading comprehension. Tell Me allows workers to find commands or features using everyday language.

Regardless of the technology a company is using, it’s likely that many tools and features that will help your neurodiverse employees are already available built in!