May 6, 2022

Neurodiversity & Inclusivity in the Workplace: Why it Matters

By Vincent Sokolowski and Noor Syed, PhD 
Center for Autism Advocacy: Research, Education, and Supports (CAARES) 

 
Let’s talk about neurodiversity and inclusivity!  

Neurodiversity, and the neurodiversity movement, is an identity representing those who experience, interact with, and interpret the world in unique ways. While diagnoses of those who identify as neurodivergent may include ADHD, autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, and Tourette's syndrome, the term neurodiversity refers to a broader group for those who may learn in different ways. Neurotypical individuals, on the other hand, do not have a diagnosis. Neurotypicals are less likely to experience challenges understanding social cues and experience typical development and intellectual/cognitive functioning. The unique talents of all groups of individuals, including those who identify as neurodivergent and neurotypical, results in a wonderful, inclusive environment. 

So, what is inclusivity, and why should it matter to us?  

Inclusivity means including and treating all types of people, things, or ideas at school, the workplace, and in the community fairly and equitably. Inclusivity can be fostered through equal access to resources and support, promoting self-advocacy and acceptance for all, and giving everyone an opportunity to learn and develop skills. For example, facilitating collaborative group decisions, in which everyone has a say, and directly addressing neurodiversity and inclusion to remove stigma are great starting points. Inclusion at work (and everywhere else) is so important because at least 20% of the adult population is neurodiverse. Yet, 80% of those who are neurodiverse are unemployed (HBR, 2022), and around 11% of enrolled undergraduates identify as neurodiverse (Conditt, 2020). 

Inclusion is multi-faceted but can be measured by a sense of belonging, connection, and community in our personal lives and at work. For example, instead of pressuring neurodiverse and autistic people to conform to ideas of “being normal,” we should help and encourage them to develop and share their individual identities. We should reward people for trying something new, allow them to contribute, and ask questions about how we can be a positive influence in their development and performance. Asking the right questions will also help us understand what each individual needs to successfully transition into and perform in the workplace to achieve success. Remember, many people do not know what neurodiversity or inclusivity is, therefore, regular training and/or educational programs to educate mentors, faculty, students, managers, and employees is a must. 

Promoting inclusivity at a college level is important in supporting the transition from education to a career for those who are neurodiverse. Practicing inclusivity will require efforts to offer people opportunities, regardless of the required time, funding, or encouragement. We must create and provide access for everyone so that they may expand their professional and personal goals by supporting accommodative education, advancing skill development, and encouraging the development of hobbies or passions. We should leverage the practices that we already have such as options to work and learn remotely, mentorship programs, and giving choice, universal support, and accommodative services (i.e. dimmable lights, visual aids, preferential seating, schedule flexibility, etc.) at work and school. Additionally, educating both neurodivergent and neurotypical people on rights in the workplace, giving clear direction, and supporting individuals’ strengths are great tools on our journey to inclusivity. We should think about how we use these practices, resources, and tools to promote inclusive actions and initiatives, and how we can expand our efforts. Inclusivity is not only about asking questions but asking the right questions to create discussions that lead to a vibrant culture and a positive atmosphere where we can all thrive. 

Promoting inclusivity at work can make the transitional phase from education to career-building something everyone will eagerly anticipate.  Unique competitive advantages are created when we include individuals who think differently, and evidence shows that diverse teams are more productive and efficient and enjoy greater work satisfaction. So, anytime you have the chance, include everybody and view them as you view yourself —unique, wonderful, and full of passion!  

For more information on CAARES, please email autism@esc.edu. 

 
References: 

Bernick, Michael. (2022). Is Your Company Inclusive of Neurodivergent Employees? Harvard Business Review. Retrieved https://hbr.org/2022/02/is-your-company-inclusive-of-neurodivergent-employees  

Conditt, Sabina. (2020). Neurodiversity in the College Setting. Retrieved https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/dd1f45e1f2da4ec38f60852226e68928   

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