How to Build and Support Neurodiversity in the Workplace


Imagine this scene: You’re interviewing a potential candidate for a role as a developer with your company. The candidate seems to have the skills you need but also displays a few social eccentricities – perhaps he has a tick, or rocks back and forth in his seat, or won’t make eye contact.

For decades, potential hires like this have been rejected from the candidate pool. “Poor culture fit” has typically been the rationale.

But what if in the hunt for the “right culture fit,” you’re rejecting an entire pool of highly qualified – maybe even the best qualified — workers?


An untapped pool of potential

For those living on the autism spectrum, finding a job suited to their skillset can be an immense challenge.

In fact, Drexel University’s National Autism Indicators Report says 51% of workers on the spectrum have skills higher than what their job requires. Meanwhile, fewer than one in six adults with autism even has full-time employment.


What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiverse individuals are those with developmental disabilities such as autism, ADHD and social anxiety disorders.

However, there’s a growing understanding that these individuals aren’t disabled per se, but rather differently-abled. While they may struggle with social skills, they tend to have above-average abilities when it comes to things like analysis, information processing, and pattern recognition.

Building a neurodiverse workforce is much more than an inclusive practice. Neurodiverse people possess the skills particularly needed right now as businesses adopt more advanced technology. For example, artificial intelligence and robotics, and the demand for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) talent increases.


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How to build a neurodiverse workforce


1. Get buy-in from all levels

Engage with leadership so that they, in turn, can have conversations with their teams about what it means to have a neurodiverse workforce.

It’s important that these conversations are open and transparent. It needs to be a safe space for both neurotypical employees to ask questions and for neurodiverse employees to come forward and disclose.


2. Engage with the local community

Community groups can help employers find and attract neurodiverse talent. These groups may take the form of government agencies, non-profits, vocational rehab centres, educational institutions, or offices for disabilities.

In addition to helping with recruitment, such groups can provide crucial advice and resources for training.


3. Adjust your hiring practices

Hiring managers need to reframe their idea of what makes a “good candidate.” Many superficial norms, such as a strong handshake or looking someone in the eye, are difficult for neurodiverse individuals to perform. Managers also need to ask the right questions to best draw out the individual’s skills and capabilities.

It's also important to remember that resumes don’t tell the full story. Because so many neurodiverse individuals have struggled to find work that matches their abilities, they are often self-taught or possess transferrable skills.


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4. Organise expert-driven, two-way training

Soft skill training is a critical part of building a neurodiverse workforce and should be done by an expert with the appropriate experience – something you can also look to the local community for.

Note that this training isn’t just for neurodiverse employees, but for all employees and especially managers, who need to be educated about what it’s like to be on the spectrum, and how to best work together.


5. Be ready and willing to accommodate

Individuals with autism may be sensitive to things like temperature, sound, and lighting. As such, you may need to provide accommodations such as noise-cancelling headphones, privacy rooms, or flexible work schedules, so employees can be their most productive.


6. Amplify the message

Individuals on the spectrum have often had negative experiences in the world. So, while they may feel understood at work, they may not feel as safe outside of the office.

A strong neurodiversity program should push its message externally as well as internally, making it a more normal part of employment in general.


The Red Cube episode 15: How to Build a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace with Woodie's

Listen below! 👇


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