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A relatively new concept, neurodiversity is the idea that the differences in behavioral traits and individual brain functions are a part of the normal and acceptable variations of the human brain. People on the autism spectrum and other learning and thinking differences are referred to as neurodiverse.
According to WHO statistics, one in every 160 children is on the autism spectrum. While neurodiversity in the context of children has been widely explored, it is also equally relevant in the context of adults. Especially when it comes to workplace inclusivity. Neurodiverse people, despite possessing extraordinary talents, struggle to find jobs suited for their skillsets.
Major multinational organizations including Ernst and Young, Google, SAP, Microsoft, and many more have taken positive strides towards the goal of inclusivity. The challenges associated with making a workplace neurodiversity friendly though deter many other modern organizations from taking the first step. However, the competitive advantages of building a neurodiverse workforce far outweigh the initial challenges.
Here’s how organizations – small and big – can make a neurodiversity friendly workplace for a neurodiverse workforce:
Tweak the recruitment process
The usual recruitment approach aimed at finding ‘good candidates’ may work for neurotypical individuals but the same process would miss out on people with autism. Besides, most behavioral characteristics of autistic people stand in stark contrast with the preconceived notions of what an ‘ideal candidate’ should be. Autistic people can add value to the organization’s offering in various other ways. For instance, their repetitive and obsessive behavioral traits can prove to be a great asset for the tech sector.
Another aspect of the recruitment process – a personal interview – can be intimidating and overly stimulating for an autistic candidate. Providing candidates on the spectrum with a clear idea about what the interview process entails, preferably along with a set of interview questions that they can expect will allow them enough time to prepare. Another good practice would be to ask them about any specific accommodations that they might need to feel supported and comfortable.
Promote awareness about neurodiversity
While looking to hire neurodiverse employees, it is important to raise awareness among the existing neurotypical employees. Provide vital information about the new employee and educate the staff about any specific accommodations that they might be expected to make on their account.
Formal neurodiversity training conducted by certified professionals can help the other employees to be accepting and non-discriminatory towards neurodiversity in the workplace. Right from learning the meaning of the terms like autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, dyslexia among others to understanding how these conditions affect the individual could be included in these training sessions.
In addition to sensitizing the neurotypical employees about neurodiversity, it is important to lead by example and create a workplace that values and supports neurodiverse employees. Flexible conditions like an option to work remotely can significantly improve their productivity by eliminating the need to adjust to a new environment.
It is also the duty of the employer to minimize (if not completely remove) any disadvantages that neurodiverse employees might face. This can be something as simple as adjusting the lights, providing them with noise-canceling headphones and a flexible work schedule to having an expert on call. Creating a private space that they can use to avoid any sensory overload is another thoughtful accommodation that employers can offer.
Be patient and willing to accommodate
Building a neurodiverse talent pool for the organization can be tricky at times. Every neurodiverse individual is different and as such not all of them can be supported in the same way. Organizations must remember to be patient with their neurodiverse employees. But most importantly, businesses must be willing to have an open mind, adapt and evolve.
A neurodiverse workforce brings with it immense potential for creative and innovative ideas. There are certain aspects of a business where neurodiverse individuals excel. But at the same time, it is important to have realistic expectations from the employees.
While neurodiverse people have been around forever, it is only recently that organizations around the world have started to realize how they can support them and in turn benefit from their skills. A neurodiverse workforce has the ability to bring an out-of-the-box perspective and add unique value to businesses. This list of steps that companies can take towards being more neurodiverse is by no means an exhaustive one, but even a small nudge in the right direction can lead to a big change. After all, the journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
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