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Harnessing the Power of Neurodiversity at Work

Harnessing the Power of Neurodiversity at Work

With up to 20% of U.S. adults having a neurodivergent condition, supporting neurodiversity in the workplace is crucial in creating an environment where everyone can thrive. In fact, 51% of neurodivergent workers say they want to quit their job (or they already have!) because they don’t feel valued or supported by their employer.

By embracing neurodiversity in the workplace and valuing diverse cognitive perspectives, organizations can create a more welcoming and diverse culture while also boosting creativity, problem-solving, and productivity. However, effective training is crucial in realizing these benefits, as it equips managers and colleagues with the tools to understand and support a neurodiverse workforce.

Empower neurodiverse staff – and your entire team – to be more effective and work seamlessly through tailored training programs, inclusive policies, and creating a culture that acknowledges and celebrates different ways of thinking and working. Read on to learn more!


Our favorite ideas to harness the power of neurodiversity in the workplace:

  • Learn and share about the benefits of neurodiversity (find statistics throughout this post!)
  • Implement inclusive hiring practices to recruit and successfully onboard neurodiverse employees
  • Proactively offer accommodations that help neurodiverse and neurotypical employees succeed at work
  • Provide training on neurodiversity for all employees to help build a more cohesive and inclusive team
  • Celebrate diversity through events, holidays, and awareness days such as Neurodiversity Pride Day in June

In this post, you’ll find:

  • What is neurodiversity?
  • Various types of neurodiversity
  • Challenges that neurodiverse employees may face at work
  • Best practices for supporting neurodiversity in the workplace
  • Ways to embrace neurodiversity and build a workplace culture of inclusion
  • Training solutions to foster inclusion and acceptance of neurodiverse employees

Neurodiversity: Recognizing and Valuing Differences

Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Harvard Medical School defines neurodiversity as “the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one ‘right’ way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits.”

Diversity in the workplace can encompass a wide range of neurological differences – including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and more. Recognizing and valuing these differences in the workplace can help ensure that employees feel welcomed and included, while also ensuring they have the accommodations they need to thrive.

Additionally, encouraging neurodiversity on your team can have a positive impact on your work environment and team. In fact, Deloitte notes in their article A Rising Tide Lifts All Boats, “Organizations that make an extra effort to recruit, retain, and nurture neurodivergent workers can gain a competitive edge from increased diversity in skills, ways of thinking, and approaches to problem-solving.” The article’s authors also note that “teams with neurodiverse professionals in some roles can be 30% more productive than those without them.”


Exploring the Spectrum: Types of Neurodiversity

Exploring the Spectrum - Types of Neurodiversity

When considering neurodiversity in the workplace, it’s important to consider that there are many different types of neurodiversity. Below, we’ll share brief definitions and some statistics related to a few common types of neurodiversity.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

According to ASAN (Autistic Self Advocacy Network), “Autism is a developmental disability that affects how [people with autism] experience the world around us. Autistic people are an important part of the world. Autism is a normal part of life, and makes us who we are. Autism has always existed. Autistic people are born autistic and we will be autistic our whole lives.” The Centers for Disease Control report that around 1 in 36 children has been identified with ASD.

ASAN further notes, “There is no one way to be autistic… Some autistic people also have intellectual disabilities, and some autistic people don’t. Some autistic people need a lot of help in their day-to-day lives, and some autistic people only need a little help… All of us experience autism differently, but we all contribute to the world in meaningful ways.”

Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

The National Institute of Mental Health notes that “attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is marked by an ongoing pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity that interferes with functioning or development.” The National Institute of Mental Health shares that around 4.4% of adults currently have ADHD.

The Society for Human Resource Management, SHRM, shares that while ADHD symptoms can bring challenges if not effectively managed and accommodated, “individuals with ADHD also bring a unique skill set to the table. Many individuals with ADHD are creative, bring out-of-the-box thinking, may take strategic risks and can be hyperfocused.”

Dyslexia

The International Dyslexia Association (IDA) defines dyslexia as a language-based learning disability that “refers to a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading.” People with dyslexia may also have difficulty spelling, writing, and pronouncing words.

Historically, it has been difficult to determine how many people have dyslexia. Research suggests anywhere from 3% to 17.4% of people may be dyslexic, based on the evaluation criteria used. Overall, the IDA estimates that as many as 15-20% of the population have some of the symptoms of dyslexia, including “slow or inaccurate reading, poor spelling, poor writing, or mixing up similar words.”

Other Types of Neurodiversity

Remember, neurodiversity isn’t limited to the types listed above. In fact, the Cleveland Clinic shares a list of other conditions that are most common among people who describe themselves as neurodivergent. A few highlights include:

  • Down syndrome
  • Dyscalculia (difficulty with math)
  • Dyspraxia (difficulty with coordination)
  • Mental health conditions such as bipolar disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and others
  • Sensory processing disorders
  • Social anxiety
  • Tourette syndrome

The Strengths of Neurodiverse Employees

The Strengths of Neurodiverse Employees

Did you know studies show that cognitively diverse teams achieve better results when it comes to creative problem-solving? These days, more and more companies are thinking of neurodiversity as an asset.

Neurodiverse employees can bring unique strengths and talents to the workplace. In fact, one Harvard Business Review article shares, “Research shows that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics. Yet those affected often struggle to fit the profiles sought by prospective employers.”

The article further shares that prominent companies such as Microsoft, EY, Hewlett Packard Entertainment, and others have “reformed their HR progresses in order to access neurodiverse talent.” In the same way, other companies such as Caterpillar, Deloitte, IBM, JP Morgan Chase, and more, are creating plans to encourage neurodiversity in the workplace. In fact, managers at one company, SAP, note that their efforts have resulted in “productivity gains, quality improvement, boosts in innovative capabilities, and broad increases in employee engagement.”

A Forbes article on neurodiversity in the workplace shares that “JPMorgan Chase created an Autism at Work initiative and found that their neurodiverse hires were, on average, 90% to 140% more productive than employees who had been at the company for five or 10 years.”

Building a work culture where neurodiversity is embraced, honest discussions are welcome, and employees are equipped with the accommodations they need can have profound implications for both inclusivity and your team’s effectiveness. Read on to learn how you can help neurodiverse employees navigate workplace challenges. Additionally, we’ll explore ideas for effective training that empowers neurodiverse employees.


Challenges Faced by Neurodiverse Employees

Challenges Faced by Neurodiverse Employees

In sharing about the strengths and talents of neurodiverse employees, it’s important to not minimize the challenges that neurodiverse people often face. These difficulties may stem from conditions themselves and their symptoms. Or, challenges may stem from societal barriers, difficulties in receiving treatment or accommodations, and frustrations with a way of life that is often set up to accommodate neurotypical people.

It’s important to remember that no two people are the same. As such, each neurodiverse person is unique and faces their own individual challenges based on their unique circumstances. With that in mind, there are some common challenges that neurodiverse people voice experiencing more frequently at work.

To begin, the hiring process is often geared toward neurotypical candidates. Rigid aptitude tests, hours-long rounds of interviews, social interactions such as handshakes and making regular eye contact, and accessibility barriers may all pose challenges. In fact, one Medium article shares that 30-40% of people with neurodivergence are unemployed, despite the fact that hiring neurodiverse employees can make for a more well-rounded and successful team.

Once employed, neurodiverse people may encounter resistance getting the accommodations they need in order to be successful at work. They may also experience challenges with their work environment. For instance, a noisy environment where colleagues drop by announced can be overwhelming and make focusing on tasks all the more difficult. Additionally, neurodiverse people may find certain social situations challenging or may struggle with communication gaps.

Understanding these challenges can help your team provide appropriate support, understanding, and accommodations for neurodiverse employees. In the next few sections of this post, we’ll review how to work through these challenges to empower and equip your neurodiverse employees and form a more effective team.


Empower Neurodiverse Employees Through Effective Training

Empowering Neurodiverse Employees through Training

Through ongoing, interactive, effective training sessions, you can support both neurodiverse and neurotypical employees in your workplace. As a result, you can form a more cohesive team that works seamlessly together, understanding each other’s unique needs and challenges. In particular, explore training programs that educate employees and managers on neurodiversity, its benefits, and how to create an inclusive environment.

Engaging an external consultant or training firm to guide your team through neurodiversity training can help ensure your team is receiving the most up-to-date and effective information. Having a “neutral third party” can also bring credibility and clarity when encountering internal resistance.

Unexpected Virtual Tours & Training offers a variety of live virtual and in-person training options with expert guides. Additionally, we offer diversity, equity, and inclusion-related consulting to help you navigate your company’s unique challenges and goals.


Reach out below to learn more about Unexpected Virtual Tours & Training and book your team’s session!



Key Components of Effective Neurodiversity Training

There are a few key components to keep in mind to ensure that your neurodiversity training program results in a stronger and more inclusive team.

First, look for training programs and consultants who promote a deep understanding of neurodiversity. For instance, seek out programs that share about the range of neurological conditions and common strengths and challenges of people who have these conditions. This understanding should be paired with empathy-building exercises, such as personal stories and interactive activities, to delve more deeply into the lived realities of neurodiverse individuals.

Additionally, training should offer actionable strategies for accommodating neurodiverse employees. This might include tailored communication methods, flexible work arrangements or schedules, shared roles/job-sharing, and/or sensory adjustments to corporate environments. Together, the right accommodations can create a supportive and inclusive atmosphere, ensuring that your neurodiverse employees are set up to thrive as well as contribute meaningfully to the organization.


Create a Culture of Acceptance and Understanding

Create a Culture of Acceptance and Understanding

Supporting and empowering workplace neurodiversity starts by creating a work culture of acceptance and understanding. As mentioned above, training programs are one method we recommend utilizing to build an inclusive work culture. Additionally, there are a variety of other ways to foster a respectful, warm, and friendly work environment.

Strategies to create a culture of acceptance and understanding include:

  • Provide individualized accommodations based on each employee’s unique needs.
  • Offer regular training sessions to educate employees about neurodiversity – including training executive leaders and managers on how to effectively manage and support neurodiverse employees.
  • Implement inclusive hiring practices, such as creating clear descriptions for roles and ensuring accessibility during the interview process.
  • Offer flexible working hours and remote work options to better accommodate all employees, including those who are neurodiverse.
  • Use clear, straightforward communication and provide information in multiple formats to accommodate a variety of learning styles.
  • Consider forming an Employee Resource Group (ERG) for neurodiverse employees.
  • Celebrate diversity and holidays such as Neurodiversity Celebration Week in March, Neurodiversity Pride Day in June, ADHD Awareness Month in October, and more.
  • Be open-minded and respectful of new ideas that neurodivergent people may share – and exercise patience and flexibility in working alongside them.

Recap: Practical Tips for a Supportive Workplace Culture

As we’ve discussed in this post, embracing neurodiversity in the workplace can lead to a more inclusive and innovative team by leveraging the unique perspectives and problem-solving approaches of neurodiverse individuals, fostering creativity, and enhancing overall performance.

To create a supportive workplace culture, organizations should provide education and training on neurodiversity, promote open and empathetic communication, and implement flexible work arrangements tailored to individual needs. Establishing clear policies and providing personalized accommodations, such as sensory-friendly workspaces and diverse communication methods, further supports a neurodiverse workplace.

Encouraging the formation of employee resource groups, offering mentorship programs, and regularly celebrating diversity through events and awareness days can also help cultivate an environment where all employees feel valued and empowered to contribute their best work.


Best Practices for Accommodating Neurodiverse Employees

Best Practices for Accommodating Neurodiversity at Work

Accommodations provided by employers can greatly enhance productivity, comfort, and feelings of belonging for employees with disabilities. Remember, no two employees will have the exact same challenges, needs, and goals. Equip your employees with the tools and resources they need to thrive by offering accommodations that meet the unique challenges, needs, and goals of each team member.

Streamline this process by ensuring executive leadership is on board with accommodations offered. Furthermore, managers should lead by example and utilize accommodations themselves when needed. This can help to de-stigmatize accommodations, sending a clear message that all employees should feel comfortable utilizing them.

Depending on your location and circumstances, certain accommodations may be mandatory for legal compliance. For instance, the U.S. Department of Labor notes that under Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act, “reasonable accommodations” are required to ensure equal opportunity in the application process as well as to enable people who may qualify with a disability to perform essential job functions and enjoy equal benefits and privileges of employment.

Importantly, the Department of Labor notes, “Reasonable accommodations should not be viewed as ‘special treatment’ and they often benefit all employees. For example, facility enhancements such as ramps, accessible restrooms, and ergonomic workstations benefit more than just employees with disabilities.”

Examples of Accommodations for Neurodiverse Employees (that Benefit All Employees!)

  • Flexible work schedules and remote/hybrid work options.
  • Quiet workspaces/booths to reduce sensory overload and allow for distraction-free calls.
  • Sensory-sensitive environments with features such as adjustable lighting.
  • Job coaching, training, and mentorship opportunities.
  • Providing information in a variety of formats – such as visually with charts and diagrams, in text, and verbally.
  • Permitting and de-stigmatizing the use of sensory tools such as fidget toys and stress balls to help with regulation.
  • Assistive technology and tools – read more about this in the next section!

Assistive Technology and Tools

Fortunately, today there are many assistive technologies and tools available to support neurodiverse employees – and all employees – to thrive in the workplace.

Some assistive technologies and tools to equip neurodiverse employees for success include:

  • Speech-to-text software that can convert spoken words into typed text.
  • Screen readers like JAWS and screen magnifiers like ZoomText, both of which can help employees with visual impairments.
  • Noise-canceling headphones to support employees with sensory sensitivities.
  • Time management and strategic planning apps such as Asana, Monday, toggl, and others.
  • Instant message tools such as Slack and Google Chat that allow for quick and clear conversation in writing vs. in person.
  • Digital note-taking apps such as Evernote.
  • Closed captioning on videos your company posts internally and externally.
  • Recorded meetings to help employees process ideas and suggestions at their own pace as well as recall information.
  • Customizable workstations with ergonomic furniture and adjustable standing desks to accommodate a variety of physical needs.
  • Subscriptions to mindfulness and relaxation apps, such as Calm and Headspace.

Embrace Neurodiversity to Build a Thriving Workplace

Embracing Neurodiversity in the Workplace

In conclusion, embracing neurodiversity in the workplace helps build a more inclusive and innovative environment for all. By recognizing and valuing the unique strengths and perspectives of neurodiverse employees, you can positively impact the lives of neurodiverse employees and job candidates as well as drive success in your organization.

Neurodiverse individuals often bring exceptional problem-solving abilities, creativity, and attention to detail, which can drive innovation and improve team performance. In fact, the World Economic Forum notes that at the end of 2022, more than 150 CEOs called on their peers to support disability inclusion initiatives. The letter shared that “we stand to boost the American GDP by up to $25 billion if we hire just 1% of the untapped talent with disabilities.”

The letter also points out that “…companies that have led on key disability inclusion criteria …have realized: 1.6x more revenue, 2.6x more net income, and 2x more economic profit than other participants in Disability:IN’s annual benchmark survey. They are also 25% more likely to outperform on productivity…”

By practicing inclusive hiring, proactively offering accommodations, creating supportive work environments, and implementing neurodiversity training programs, organizations can unlock the full potential of neurodiverse talent. By doing so, you’ll create an environment where all of your employees can feel their best – and do their best work for your organization!


To find actionable ideas to build a more inclusive workplace, read our blog post on engaging team DEI activities for the office. You can also explore fun and educational ideas to honor Celebrate Diversity Month in April.

Join Unexpected Virtual Tours & Training for a live virtual DEI program to see why groups from The Coca-Cola Company, Google, The Home Depot, IHG Hotels & Resorts, UPS, and more love our engaging team building experiences!