Neurodivergence was coined in 1997 by Judy Singer, a sociologist and autistic woman. The term covers people whose brains function differently from what’s considered “typical”. Core types of neurodivergence are Autism Spectrum, ADHD, Dyslexia, and Dyspraxia. Neurodiverse people face a wealth of challenges daily, but one of the biggest challenges of all is the complete overlook of their extraordinary capacity for unique and highly complex skills.
UK stats suggest that 78% of neurodiverse adults are unemployed, making it the highest unemployment rate of any group in the UK, compared with 48% of disabled adults. But we’re finding it hard to grasp why that is when neurodivergence unlocks a type of talent that you won’t often find in a neurotypical person.
Most of us will be familiar with the benefits of greater diversity within a team, enhanced culture being one. Increased neurodiversity brings something a little more direct, though. Neurodiverse people are wired differently from their “neurotypical” counterparts, meaning they offer a fresh set of perspectives to your business’s challenges and innovative thinking.
Neurodivergent talent slips through the grasp of business rigidity
Take ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) as an example. For the ADHD entrepreneur, their neurodivergent traits have become their greatest business strengths.
A study conducted by economists found some incredible insights on ADHD in the business realm, with benefits including an ability to act under unforeseen circumstances without falling into anxiety and the ability to hyperfocus on tasks they’re particularly passionate about. The study’s summary of ADHD was “entrepreneurs with ADHD embrace new experiences and demonstrate passion and persistence”.
However, ADHD hasn’t been coined the entrepreneur’s superpower for no good reason. Many people with ADHD become founders, having not had the flexibility needed in employment. See, one prominent trait of ADHD is difficulty in self-regulating activity levels. So, peak energy times may fluctuate throughout the day, not fitting into the standard 9-5 schedule.
Innovation calls for talent from the margins. Imagine if these ADHD entrepreneurs were nurtured within employment? Not only would the individual and collective feeling of inclusion for neurodiverse people be significantly impacted, but the impact this set of individuals would have within a team (and to the broader world of work) would be profound.
Fortunately, the time has never been better to adapt the workplace. It’s happening at scale across the globe, so if there was ever the time to create the flexibility that neurodiverse talent needs, it’s now.
Adapting to complexity pays off
Neurodiversity is complex. What suits one type of neurodivergence might not suit another, and even two different people with the same type will need completely different things. The trick is in adapting your business for flexibility at scale but listening to the needs of the individual.
One of the first barriers to employment for a neurodiverse candidate is the interview process. Traditional interviews consider body language and social cues that can put a neurodiverse person at a disadvantage. To start stripping your company of recruitment processes that disfavour neurodiverse people is to unlearn everything you think you know about social etiquette. Which, of course, is no easy task.
An autistic person may struggle with the initial interview stage due to having different reactions to social cues. They’re a lot more sensitive than neurotypical people and see the world from a unique perspective – meaning their response to the world will likely sit outside of what you might expect. However, with the proper support and understanding in an interview setting, you’ll probably find that interviews with autistic people are some of the best interviews you’ll ever undertake.
Autistic people often have a heightened interest in an element of a role they apply for. This unique passion fuels a level of concentration and focus rarely seen in neurotypicals. Autism also correlates with a critical approach to detail and accuracy – making them some of the best coders and programmers in the world.
Managers at SAP reported that their neurodiversity programme was paying off in ways far beyond reputational enhancement – including productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and overall increases in team member engagement. When SAP launched their Autism at Work programme, they attracted Masters-level candidates in computer science, computational mathematics, engineering and anthropology.
“Not surprisingly, when autistic people with those sorts of credentials do manage to get hired, many turn out to be capable, and some are really great.” – Robert D. Austin and Gary P. Pisano for Harvard Business Review.
Activating a neurodiversity agenda
We’re not telling you it’s going to be easy, but we’re telling you it will pay off. Below, we have set out some resources to help you embrace greater neurodiversity in your team.
The first and most crucial step in increasing neurodiversity is finding specialist support from an agency that fully understand and represent neurodiverse needs in employment. London-based Exceptional Individuals can support you to navigate the complexities of neurodiverse recruitment.
If you’re a member of Huckletree, you can tap into our DEI consultancy service – supporting you to achieve greater diversity across the board, from race and gender to disability and neurodiversity – ask your hub Membership Manager for more information.