Neurodiversity is a concept that emphasises the fact that there are great differences in how people’s brains are wired and work, and that neurological differences should be valued in the same way we value any other human variation. People experience and interact with the world around them in different ways, there is no one ‘right’ way of thinking, learning, and behaving. These differences should not be viewed as deficits.
Although the world’s view on these disabilities or differences has changed a lot, still there are a lot of stigmas attached to them. Many children on the autism spectrum go undetected because their parents or schools fail to recognise their problems or early signs.
Sometimes, they are in denial and fear the consequences of diagnosis. When I interact with parents of children with autism spectrum disorder, I emphasise that they should not consider this diagnosis as a disorder, but rather a variation in their perspective, behaviour and social interactions.
Creating a learning and working environment where these kids and adults can also excel equally is what our eventual goal should be as a society. This has given birth to the concept of neurodiversity, encouraging these individuals to lead their lives as neurotypical individuals without being outcasts or rejected from work or social opportunities.
Let us look at society's view on neurodiversity and the role of each sector in promoting this concept. Neurodiversity as a movement was started in 1990 by an autistic scientist. The point raised was that autistic or dyslexic minds can work differently but with the right help and support, they have the capability to excel in many of the daily tasks.
Just like life outside, the workplace is a hugely diverse environment. Our life experiences and preferences shape how we would like to work and get things done. Just one in 10 organisations say that they consider neurodiversity in their people management practices. This is a start, and we as a society, have a long way to go.
These individuals who have some different wiring in their brains may seem weak in some routine skills, but they have other remarkable skills that may benefit their teams. A company with a neurodiverse workforce has a wider perspective of workflow, which in turn increases efficiency and quality. It brings more creativity, innovation, and productivity into the organisation.
As contributing members of our society, we should act as an ‘ally’, someone who may not belong to the ‘people of determination’ group or the under-represented group, but who takes action to support people from the neurodiverse group and helps abolish any external hurdles that may hinder the ability of the differently-abled individual to contribute to the society with their skills and talent.
The concept that there is great diversity in how people’s brains are wired and work, and the fact that neurological differences should be valued in the same way we value any other human variation; should be imbibed and drilled into every organisation’s core ethics.
Here are how companies and the development sector can benefit from neurodiverse employees:
Using their powerful skills
Instead of the differences, the leaders can utilise their best skills for their benefit. For example, autistic individuals are great at mathematics and pattern recognition while ADHD ones are great at communication and idea brainstorming. Similarly, individuals with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) can be great at organising things and documents. So, the manager can use their skills accordingly, which encourages them to work hard and create great models in society.
Giving a comfortable work environment
The organisations and teams must make sure that they provide a comfortable and respectful environment for these individuals too. For autistic and social anxiety disorders a low-light work environment or less noisy and crowded places will do great. Also, they can get them noise-cancelling headphones or gadgets that may help them to adjust to our regular workplaces without any triggers.
Overlooking the differences
Employers must talk, respect, and give chances to all their employees equally. Focusing on the positives and overlooking their breakdown movements or ignoring their slow progress in some domains. This will promote confidence and improve their productivity.
To blend in the concept of neurodiversity in society we as individuals and as organisations must work to promote inclusivity in our companies, universities and schools. Every individual has an equal right to academic opportunities or jobs and must not be denied anything unless the reason is merit.
Dr. Arif Khan, Paediatric Neurologist and Founder of Neuropedia.
The current trend
We have been seeing a demographic shift recently where many companies are showing a sharp increase in the neurodiverse workforce. Individuals with autism, ADHD, Tourette’s syndrome, and dyslexia are being recruited to bring their unique skills to a variety of companies. The unemployment figures in this group are close to 40 per cent but now many organisations are tapping into this pool to build a diverse workforce.
An excellent example is Microsoft, which was one of the earliest companies to launch an official programme for recruiting autistic workers in 2015. They changed the interview process and let job seekers come as they are and show them their strengths. They have hired more than 200 full-time employees through this programme. They have employed them in different departments and not just in coding. Microsoft has helped these individuals to get a career not just a job!
Despite efforts in the advocacy networks, the medical community has unfortunately been slow in embracing this group within their healthcare workforce. We as doctors, nurses and managers need to actively invite neurodiverse individuals to join our clinics, hospitals and centres to experience the work environment. They should then have a training programme to harness their specific skillset, which will help them become an integral part of the organisation and they will continue to refine that skill as they grow their career.
Every established organisation should develop a neurodiversity hiring programme (NHP) where they receive resumes and then selected candidates are invited for assessments to highlight their skills that can then be refined using in-house training programmes. A job coach or mentor can be allocated to them once they are hired.
A better world for everyone
A lot of talent and amazing ideas are still untapped due to our reluctance and the stigma in society related to neurodiverse people. Yenn Purkis a presenter and author with autism, once said: “I don’t suffer from autism, I suffer from others' ignorance, prejudice and ableism”.
We have been great advocates of diversity in race and gender, we need to go further now and include neurodiversity in our agenda.
Dr. Arif Khan, Paediatric Neurologist and Founder of Neuropedia.