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Valuing Types of Neurodiversity at Work

Valuing Types of Neurodiversity at Work

In today’s workplace, embracing different types of neurodiversity isn’t just the right thing to do. It can also be a powerful strategic advantage.

Neurodiversity, which includes conditions such as Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADHD, dyslexia, and other cognitive differences, brings unique perspectives and talents that can drive innovation and creativity. By building an inclusive team culture that values and supports neurodiverse people, companies can unlock new levels of productivity and problem solving.

In this post, we’ll explore the importance of valuing neurodiversity in the workplace. Along the way, we’ll share statistics on the benefits of neurodiverse teams as well as insights for creating supportive environments. Learn how to best leverage the strengths of all your employees and create a more welcoming and effective workforce. Let’s delve in!


In this post, you’ll find:

  • Helpful information to grow awareness and understanding about various forms of neurodiversity
  • Why a neurodiverse team is a strong asset for modern companies
  • Best practices to build a workplace that values and embraces neurodiversity
  • Ideas to bolster diversity and inclusion efforts in your organization
  • Frequently asked questions about neurodiversity in the workplace

Types of Neurodiversity

Types of Neurodiversity at Work

Neurodiversity is an umbrella term that encompasses a wide range of distinct neurological differences. Growing your awareness of these differences is crucial for creating an inclusive and supportive work environment. Let’s delve into some common kinds of neurodiversity you might encounter in the workplace.

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

ASAN, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network, shares that Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is “a developmental disability that affects how [people with autism] experience the world.” The U.S. Department of Labor estimates 1-2% of the population has ASD.

People with ASD may refer to themselves as being “on the spectrum.” This phrase is a nod to the varied ways in which people can experience autism. While each person is unique, there are some shared challenges, strengths, and talents associated with having ASD. These may include:

  • Thinking differently in ways that can enhance a team’s problem-solving skills.
  • Deeply pursuing hobbies and interests, delving into details that neurotypical people may not notice.
  • Relying on structure, schedules, and routines to stay regulated and keep projects on course.
  • Sensory sensitivities, such as being averse to bright lights and/or loud noises.
  • Moving or speaking differently, which can include challenges with motor skills, eye contact, and/or speech.
  • Saying what is meant rather than using implications, sarcasm, or metaphors.
  • Socializing differently, including challenges navigating body language, facial expressions, and social cues.
  • Challenges adapting to a society that wasn’t created with the well-being of neurodiverse people in mind.

People on the spectrum are often careful, detail-oriented workers who find creative solutions that neurotypical people may not think of. In fact, some people speculate that noteworthy figures like Sir Isaac Newton, Mozart, Emily Dickinson, and Albert Einstein were on the spectrum.

Today, noteworthy leaders and celebrities like Greta Thunberg, Wentworth Miller, Christine McGuinness, and Tallulah Willis have all shared about being on the Autism spectrum. As conversations about mental health become further de-stigmatized, we anticipate more global figures sharing their experiences with ASD in the years ahead! To learn more, explore employer resources related to autism.


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)

According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) ADHD is a “developmental disorder associated with an ongoing pattern of inattention, hyperactivity, and/or impulsivity.”

For the 4.4% of adults who currently have ADHD, NIMH notes that effective treatments are available to manage symptoms. They also emphasize, “It is never too late to seek a diagnosis and treatment” to make daily life easier, regardless of your age.

While people with ADHD can sometimes get a bad rap for appearing less productive or forgetful, it’s important to remember that modern work systems were not designed for the way an “ADHD brain” works. In fact, when they are offered flexibility to support their needs, people with ADHD can bring unique qualities to the table that serve as a competitive advantage.

ADHD has been associated with heightened creativity, innovation, and artistic inspiration. For instance, one Forbes article notes that people with ADHD “have this more creative way of thinking and when we can use that to our advantage, then we can innovate, and we can come up with products, inventions, and new ideas…”

Case in point: many successful people in arts and entertainment have spoken about their ADHD diagnoses. TODAY notes that these include Emmy Award-winning comedian and writer Trevor Noah, music DJ and youth advocate Paris Hilton, and Barbie director Greta Gerwig. Another person with ADHD: the legendary Simone Biles, the most decorated gymnast (of any gender) in history!


Dyslexia

Dyslexia - Types of Neurodiversity

Dyslexia is a learning disability that refers to “a cluster of symptoms, which result in people having difficulties with specific language skills, particularly reading,” according to the International Dyslexia Association (IDA). People with dyslexia can also experience difficulties with spelling, writing, and word pronunciation.

While awareness of proper spelling and grammar may be important to your business, remember that misspellings or grammar errors may be caused by a disability rather than carelessness. The IDA estimates 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.”

Offering assistive technology, such as screen readers and text-to-speech software, can help employees with dyslexia succeed in the workplace. Additionally, consider online grammar checker tools such as Grammarly to support neurodivergent and neurotypical employees with proofreading. To learn more, you can also read this post from Harvard Business Review on Tips and Strategies for Working with Dyslexia.

Countless people with dyslexia go on to lead successful careers. Celebrities with dyslexia include Gwen Stefani, Tom Holland, Jennifer Aniston, Keanu Reeves, Salma Hayek, and Tom Cruise.


Dyspraxia

Dyspraxia is a condition that affects motor skills and coordination. The Cleveland Clinic notes that dyspraxia can refer to a childhood developmental coordination disorder (a chronic neurodevelopmental condition) as well as movement difficulties that begin later in life after a stroke or other brain injury. The latter is sometimes called “acquired dyspraxia.”

Children and adults with dyspraxia can benefit from occupational and physical therapy as well as accommodations in the workplace. That’s because tasks that require coordination and fine motor skills may pose unique challenges to these individuals. Accommodations might include ergonomic or specialied equipment, speech-to-text software to reduce the need for typing, and flexible work arrangements.

People with dyspraxia are often creative thinkers, as they may have had to learn to do things their own unique way. Learn more about dyspraxia in the Medium articles Advantages of Dyspraxia and Working to Your Dyspraxic Strengths. The author notes that dyspraxic people may bring high levels of determination and motivation, powerful long-term memory recall, heightened empathy, strategic thinking skills, and more.

English singer and songwriter Florence Welch speaks proudly about her experiences with dyspraxia, which she was diagnosed with as a child. You might know the powerhouse vocalist from her band “Florence + the Machine” as well as her recent song “Florida!!!” on Taylor Swift’s latest album, The Tortured Poets Department.


Dyscalculia

Dyscalculia - Types of Neurodiversity

Even if you haven’t heard the word dyscalculia, it’s likely you have an awareness of the concept. Dyscalculia is a learning disorder that affects a person’s ability to do math; around 3-7% of people worldwide are affected.

The Cleveland Clinic shares that people who have dyscalculia “struggle with numbers and math because their brains don’t process math-related concepts like the brains of people without this disorder.” While mental math problems may seem simple to some people, solving them is a complex process that requires the brain to simultaneously operate visual processing, short and long-term memory, quantitative skills, and language.

While many people with dyscalculia grew up hearing, “You won’t always have a calculator in your pocket” during school, fortunately, today, most of us do walk around with calculators! That said, many people with dyscalculia may still struggle with symptoms of the disorder, and/or with anxiety or shame around the disorder. In fact, people with dyscalculia also have a higher risk of mental health disorders, whether due to correlation or causation. Moreover, some positions, such as working in a retail or cashier position, as well as working with spreadsheets or numbers in an office, can bring feelings of frustration or anxiety.

To support employees with dyscalculia, consider whether there is accounting or other software that can help automate numbers-based tasks. This can help employees with dyscalculia as well as help reduce human error for all employees. Additionally, consider sharing information in visual ways such as charts or graphs, rather than as numerical figures. If this feels daunting, explore training opportunities on data visualization for your team. You might also provide employees with spreadsheet templates or other templates that can help employees with commonly-referenced calculations.

Public figures with dyscalculia include Cher and Mary Tyler Moore.


Tourette Syndrome

The Tourette Association of America shares that Tourette Syndrome is a neurodevelopmental disorder “characterized by sudden, involuntary movements and/or sounds called tics” that can range in severity. Research estimates that around 350,000-450,000 U.S. children and adults have Tourette Syndrome, with another one million U.S. children and adults having another persistent tic disorder.

People with Tourette Syndrome may experience symptoms while at work, which can lead to feelings of shame or discomfort if the work environment is not supportive. To counteract this possibility, proactively offer training on neurodivergence to all employees and emphasize the importance of an inclusive work environment.

The Tourette Association of America offers insights for both employees and companies to navigate Tourette Syndrome at work. For instance, employers can offer accommodations such as a flexible work environment and remote work options, noise-canceling headphones to help employees manage auditory distractions or triggers, private workspaces or phone booth-style spaces, adapting roles to suit employees’ strengths, and more.

Some well-known figures who are succeeding with Tourette Syndrome include 9-time Grammy Award-winner Billie Eilish, Scottish singer and songwriter Lewis Capaldi, and actor and filmmaker Seth Rogan. Read more and get inspired with this article: 9 Celebrities Breaking the Stigma Around Tourette Syndrome.


Other Types of Neurodiversity

Neurodiversity also includes a range of other conditions beyond the ones described above. For instance, other neurodiversity types include Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD), synesthesia, Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD), and more.

Growing your team’s awareness of neurodiversity is an important step toward creating a more inclusive workplace. Consider learning about the various kinds of neurodiversity together through a training program or with an external consultant.


The Value of Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Valuing Types of Neurodiversity in the Workplace

With approximately 20% of U.S. adults having a neurodivergent condition, valuing neurodiversity can help ensure your company and its people represent the population you serve. A diverse team that includes neurodivergent individuals can be be better equipped to anticipate the potential challenges and needs of neurodiverse customers. Neurodiverse employees are also uniquely positioned to brainstorm solutions for how to best serve neurodiverse customers.

Another way to think of this: if your company is not considering neurodiversity in your marketing efforts and your hiring process, you could be missing out on 20% of your potential target market and prospective talent pipeline!

The benefits of a neurodiverse workforce are wide-ranging, from increased innovation to stronger problem-solving skills and a wealth of diverse perspectives. In the next section, we’ll explore specific ways in which neurodiversity can contribute to your company’s bottom line.


The Business Case for Neurodiversity

The Value of Neurodiversity in the Workplace

A neurodiverse team can be a powerful business advantage. That’s why over 200 CEOs from companies like General Motors, Salesforce, NIKE, Intel, and others signed a letter calling on their peers to support disability inclusion initiatives.

The letter shares, “We have experienced first-hand, within our companies, the potential for innovation, sustainability, and profit as a result of disability inclusion…We stand to boost the American GDP by up to $25 billion if we hire just 1% of the untapped talent with disabilities.”

In fact, the Disability:IN’s annual benchmark survey found 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.”

The results that come from embracing neurodiversity show that uplifting employees’ well-being can also uplift your bottom line, too!


Building a Neurodiverse-Friendly Company Culture

Building a Neurodiverse-Friendly Company Culture

There are a few best practices to keep in mind as you work to create a company culture that is welcoming and supportive of neurodiverse employees.

First, begin with an inclusive hiring process that is designed with both neurotypical and neurodiverse candidates in mind. Once team members are hired, proactively offer reasonable accommodations for employees. Remember: there are many accommodations, such as flexible schedules, that can help neurotypical as well as neurodiverse employees thrive! As the saying goes, “a rising tide lifts all boats.”

Additionally, consider creating opportunities for mentorship and peer support. Educational programs and engaging team training sessions can help build rapport while also growing employees’ knowledge of important topics.

To learn more about how to support neurodiverse employees, explore the Neurodiversity Inclusion: Checklist for Organizational Success. You can also browse resources from the Job Accommodation Network (JAN). JAN is the “leading source of free, expert, and confidential guidance on job accommodations and disability employment issues” for both employers and individuals with disabilities.


Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

Types of Neurodiversity

What should I do if I suspect an employee is struggling due to their neurodiversity?

If you suspect an employee is struggling because of something related to their neurodiversity, approach the situation with sensitivity and respect. Start by creating a safe, private space for an open and honest conversation.

Then, express your observations without making assumptions or judgments. Ask how you can best support them. During this conversation, it’s essential to listen actively and provide reassurance that the employee’s well-being is a priority.

Consider discussing potential adjustments or accommodations that could help the team member thrive. For instance, this might include flexible work hours, a change in workspace, or project management and communication tools. Empathy, trust, and honesty are key when it comes to finding effective solutions that meet each employee’s unique needs.

Not sure where to start? Engage a consultant who can help you think through your approach and offer guidance along the way.


How can I create a more inclusive workplace for neurodiverse employees?

Inclusive Workplaces for Neurodiverse People

By seeking to create a more inclusive workplace, you have already taken a big step toward fostering inclusivity. One of the strongest forces for inclusivity is a group of passionate, engaged employees who care about their colleagues’ well-being and commit to taking steps toward a more equitable workplace. Kudos to you!

So, where do you go from here? First off, consider your company’s current initiatives related to neurodiversity, if any. If none exist, brainstorm ways that your company might begin to incorporate neurodiverse-friendly practices.

Inclusive practices for neurodiverse employees might include:

  • Posting job opportunities on diverse career boards such as Mentra, Hire Autism, and others
  • Organizing training sessions to educate team members on neurodiversity
  • Booking a powerful virtual program that celebrates Disability Pride Month in October, uniting team members across different schedules and locations
  • Offering flexible schedules or remote/hybrid work arrangements
  • Providing training for managers on how to best support neurodiverse employees
  • Offering and de-stigmatizing the use of accommodations such as fidget toys, closed captioning, noise-canceling headphones, etc.
  • Encouraging neurodiverse team members to suggest accommodations that would help them thrive.

What resources are available for employers looking to support neurodiverse employees?

Fortunately, there are a wide variety of resources available to help employers navigate the best ways to support neurodiverse employees.

Organizations such as the Job Accommodation Network (JAN) offer guidance for employers and employees. Look to JAN for information on accommodation solutions, best practices related to disability employment, and resources related to compliance with the ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act). Additionally, the Autistic Self Advocacy Network (ASAN) and the ADHD Foundation offer resources related to specific neurodiverse conditions.

You can also explore training programs and consulting services from experts in the fields of neurodiversity, DEI, and human resources. These professionals can equip your organization with the tools and knowledge necessary to create a more inclusive environment.

Leveraging these resources can grow your team’s ability to support neurodiverse employees and educate all employees.


Building Bridges, Not Walls for a Neurodiverse Workplace

Building Bridges, Not Walls

All in all, valuing neurodiversity in the workplace is essential when it comes to creating a truly inclusive and innovative environment. Understanding and appreciating the various types of neurodiversity can lead to a more collaborative and productive workforce in which everyone’s unique strengths are valued and best utilized.

By learning more about neurodiversity and implementing supportive practices, we can create workplaces accommodate and celebrate the differences that make us unique. Together, we can foster an environment where neurodiverse individuals are empowered to contribute their talents and perspectives to our collective success.


Ready to start creating a more inclusive, welcoming, and effective team? Reach out to Unexpected Virtual Tours & Training to learn more about our virtual DEI training programs and book your team’s session!



For more ideas to plan inclusive team events, explore our DEI calendar! You’ll find a list of diversity and inclusion-related holidays, with best practices to celebrate respectfully at work.

Additionally, you can delve into DEI topics such as why diversity, inclusion, and equity matter – and how to measure the success of your diversity and inclusion initiatives. Plus, Celebrate Diversity month each April with 10 powerful ideas to embrace diversity!