What is neurodiversity, and why has it become so important to employers, educators?

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Increasingly, workplaces and those in education are trying to familiarize themselves with the term “neurodiversity.”

So, what exactly is it -- and why is it becoming a hot topic for many?

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Below are five key questions in regards to neurodiversity, with insight from Dr. Susanne Bruyere, professor of disability studies in the Industrial Labor Relations School at Cornell University.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is a concept all about differences in the brain, that cause people to interact with the world around them in a variety of ways.

It doesn’t necessarily refer to a deficit in brain function, just differences in the way people socialize, learn and perform various mental tasks.

How is neurodiversity associated with autism and other disorders?

In 2018, data from the CDC’s Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring Network estimated that 1 in 44 children has been identified with autism spectrum disorder.

Bruyere said when factoring in other differences such as Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder and Tourette’s Syndrome, that 1 in 5 of the U.S. population can be affected by some condition or disorder.

Why has neurodiversity become such an important issue with educators and employers?

Bruyere said research done by Drexel University in 2015 showed that that young adults with autism have lower rates of employment than those with other disabilities, adding that those who are employed are in low-wage or part-time jobs.

But another wrinkle is that Bruyere said research in 2014 showed that 46% of autistic adults who are employed are overeducated or exceed the skill level needed for the roles they are in.

“This represents a significant proportion of young people who will need or are currently needing to be shepherded through higher education and on toward successful employment,” Bruyere said.

Is there a competitive advantage with neurodiversity in the workplace?

Many companies definitely see a competitive advantage to pursuing neurodiversity, Bruyere said.

Those with autism or other disorders might be able to provide certain skills that are unique and can be valuable.

“An increasing number of companies are now following early adopters, seeking to take advantage of what they see as a possible way to address needed talent for certain positions where the distinct characteristics of focus and attention to detail (of) autistic individuals, for example, could be leveraged,” Bruyere said.

How do workplaces become neurodiversity-friendly?

Bruyere said there are several ways workplaces can become more neurodiversity-friendly, which include the following below:

  • Train recruiters and managers around ways to be neurodiversity-inclusive in their roles.
  • Streamlining a company’s interview and on-boarding process to make them more neurodiversity-inclusive.
  • Tooling up internal resources such as employee assistance programs to be neurodiversity-service ready to provide needed support systems.
  • Establishing relationships with community employment service organizations who are equipped to source qualified neurodiverse candidates and support employees who are neurodiverse once hired.

About the Author

Keith is a member of Graham Media Group's Digital Content Team, which produces content for all the company's news websites.

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