Our workplace environments are built around practices of making eye contact, exchanging greetings, energetic group work, consistent back and forth communication, and generally overstimulating settings. Does this work for everyone? It doesn’t. The cost? We miss out on neurodiversity – the possibilities that a full range of brain types found in the human species can bring.

Exceptional abilities, and needs too

Let’s consider Robin – double masters and a PhD. He is gifted in data analytics, pattern recognition, and development of software applications. His competence in design thinking is superior too. You’d imagine he would land a job without difficulty. But that isn’t the case. If you observed him, you’d know why. He has a distinct need. To keep his productivity sharp, his desk must be aligned to his chair at 90 degrees, and his computer must be parallel to the chair. To ensure this, he rearranges his desk every 10 mins. Add to this his habit of speaking in short and sharp sentences. Challenging, right?

Robin has exceptional abilities, but isn’t welcomed into workspaces because of his ‘eccentricities’. Just like other people with Autism Spectrum Disorder. These people, including Robin, also belong to the group we are referring to as neurodiverse. And it includes varied other brain types, like that of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Dyslexia, or even Anxiety Disorder.

The benefits are many

Due to the many ways in which different brain makeup manifests, neurodiverse individuals need special accommodations at work – headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation, roles that don’t rely on linear thinking, a culture of awareness around mental health, etc. Also, embracing neurodiversity is not about being altruistic, or meeting a diversity/ inclusion goal. It is about leveraging the gifted abilities of a group of individuals who are willing to give, and whose skills are much needed! The opportunities and business benefits are immense.

Many market leaders today, like Yahoo, Ernst & Young, SAP, Hewlett Packard, and Microsoft, have programs that hire and nurture neurodiverse individuals. What do the managers have to say? These programs are paying off in ways initially unimagined: productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and broad increases in employee engagement. And these benefits are more direct than other diversity initiatives. Because neurodiverse people are wired differently, they bring new perspectives to a company’s efforts to create or recognize value.

According to Silvio Bessa, Senior VP at SAP, the neurodiversity program “forces you to get to know the person better, so you know how to manage them. It’s made me a better manager, without a doubt.” However, unemployment amongst this group is high. Wondering how you can make an impact? Stay tuned for our next post.

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