Could your office incorporate the unique and creative solutions neurodiverse individuals bring to the table?
Companies routinely complain about the lack of qualified individuals available to fill open or proposed positions. The talent pool is, indeed, small for many types of jobs, especially in burgeoning tech fields.
While that’s a barrier for many organizations, others are exploring options previously uncultivated, including actively recruiting neurodiverse candidates to meet workplace diversity demands. However, before your company decides to take these steps, it’s vital to comprehend just what neurodiversity is and why it’s important.
Defining Neurotypical and Neurodiverse
Neurotypical is defined as behavior that falls within the accepted concept of “normal.” The difficulty with that definition, of course, is the lack of agreement on what normal is.
What appears normal to one individual or group of individuals may vary dramatically from another. Cultural norms, for example, can impact how normality is defined even within a relatively small region.
Neurodiverse, on the other hand, is defined as any behavioral pattern that fails to fall within the parameters the majority of society defines as normal. It’s a broad category that’s pretty difficult to quantify as, once again, who is making the determination of what is or is not normal?
Since human brains are all different, establishing a particular point where normal becomes abnormal is not a simple process.
The autism spectrum is a good example of the conundrum people face when defining what is normal.
“Approximately 3.5 million people in the United States are somewhere on the autism spectrum, which includes those (often un-diagnosed) with autism or Asperger Syndrome,” Curtis Silver of Motherboard shared.
That number is dramatically larger than twenty years ago, as experts now include may individuals on the spectrum that were not diagnosed in the past.
As the population of the autism spectrum grows, does that present a shift to a new normal?
Of course, autism isn’t the only neurodiverse category: those with dyslexia, ADHD, and a host of other diagnoses also fit the neurodiverse mold.
Exploring the Numbers
The Arc suggests that while 68 percent of neurotypical people between the ages of 16 and 64 work, only 24 percent of those deemed to have some level of cognitive disability do. That’s a huge number of individuals who have abilities meeting the needs of companies that are simply not considered for positions.
This indicates that as minorities and women continue to gain ground in the workplace, another strategy is needed to include neurodiverse individuals to benefit from true workplace diversity.
“The growing interest in neurodiversity—hiring people with cognitive disabilities like Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)—is motivated by companies looking to tap into a largely unnoticed labor pool at a time when many bemoan the lack of skilled workers,” Roberta Holland of Bloomberg said.
So, the question then becomes, what would it take for organizations to make use of this talent pool, and what would need to change for this to happen?
Facing Interviews and Job Conditions
Job applicants typically must pass a battery of tests and interviews before hired by major organizations. However, neurotypical applicants are often the only potential employees that can ace these interviews. That puts potential neurodiverse applicants at a distinct disadvantage, generally making it difficult, at best, to be considered for a position.
“Social difficulties are one of the hallmarks of ASD, making it hard for those with ASD to make it through a traditional hiring process.,” said Holland. “Roughly 60 percent of people with ASD have average or above average intelligence, yet 85 percent are unemployed.”
A small number of companies who truly believe in workplace diversity are now taking advantage of the potential talent pool of those with ASD and other neurodiverse diagnoses. But, even if hired, these individuals face some unique challenges in the workplace.
Positives Outweigh the Negatives
Those who are considered neurodiverse might require some changes in how a work environment runs to be truly successful in the workplace. Some need absolute quiet and no distractions; others require more guidance than neurotypical employees.
While many companies see these changes as detrimental to neurotypical employees’ workflow, the real downside to focusing on the perceived negative aspects of developing a neurodiverse staff is the missed opportunities when the incredible talents of many ASD candidates are not considered.
From dyslexic graphic designers and multimedia designers with ADHD to autistic coders at Microsoft, neurodiverse individuals have found great success in both creative and technical jobs when given the opportunity.
Microsoft has a dedicated hiring program that focuses solely on recruiting neurodiverse people. The German software firm SAP, among a handful of other large companies, has similar programs proving it’s possible to integrate neurodiverse individuals into a workplace successfully.
That’s because these large corporations focused on workplace diversity recognize the benefits of recruiting neurodiverse employees: they offer different approaches to problem-solving and creating, many often have a hyper focus and an unrelenting commitment to getting the job done, and can present new ideas based on experiences neurotypical employees just haven’t had.
And that right there is the benefit all companies need to consider: as more people are diagnosed as neurodiverse, what is considered normal for the U.S. population shifts. Just like having a gender diverse workforce is necessary today, soon neurodiverse workforces could be the new norm.
Neurodiverse Candidates for Workplace Diversity?
With a dearth of qualified neurotypical candidates for existing or anticipated positions, organizations are likely to consider exploring new options for recruiting.
Determining whether or not the company culture can, or should, consider a neurodiverse workforce should certainly be explored.
The evidence is already present that neurodiverse candidates can be a good fit in many situations, especially with larger organizations. Could your workplace benefit from new ideas from new employees?