By Mike Park
A neurodiverse workplace is a workplace that embraces individuals with neurological differences – differences in the way we learn, process information and work. It regards these differences not just as part of normal variation in the human population but as a workplace advantage in terms of productivity and innovation.
Neurodiversity in the workplace is not just a nice to have, it’s a value add. There is a strong track record that shows how neurodivergent capabilities contribute to business value. Typically, when neurodiverse teams are measured against neurotypical teams, neurodiverse teams exceed expectations. Time and time again, neurodiverse individuals who are given the support they need for job roles show they can be more productive, more efficient, and less distracted than their neurotypical peers.
Most people, when they hear the evidence, become quick believers in the idea of neurodiversity in the workplace. Many become quite passionate. The challenge comes in the doing. Companies across the country are asking how do we get from believing in the idea of neurodiverse employment to executing a plan that will be successful?
At CAI’s Autism2Work (A2W), we know that the essential component of any neurodiversity program is the framework of support. We think of it as a “success infrastructure.” For most organizations, building a neurodiverse workplace requires a change in perspectives. To help individuals excel at their jobs, shift the culture of the workplace, and sustain a healthy neurodiversity program for the long term, employers have to incorporate three key steps.
Get buy-in from senior leadership. In the case of building a neurodiverse workforce, almost every successful program has behind it a senior leader who is willing and able – and who has the authority – to influence other executives and to introduce change.
Identify program champions. It is important to identify individuals with the vision, aptitude, and desire to facilitate adoption of your neurodiversity program.
Research programs that have succeeded elsewhere. Companies that have already gone down this path are great resources. CAI’s A2W offers a fully managed service built on providing expertise and ongoing support that can help you build a program from the ground up.
Understand where to get talent. Outreach and recruiting are key components to every neurodiversity program. Knowing where and how to connect with individuals is crucial to the overall success of your program.
Think differently about the interview process. Nothing does more to help neurodiverse individuals reduce anxiety, demonstrate their skills, and express themselves appropriately than creating a non-threatening environment where they can show their talents.
Put the people in the right positions. You will need to understand the strengths and support requirements of each individual. A robust and proven assessment process is a necessity. Success depends on matching individuals with the best positions suited for them and your organizational needs.
Use onboarding as a time to make your neurodiverse team members comfortable and productive. The goal is for your neurodiverse employees to bring their authentic selves to work. Consider checklists for certain roles, tasks and or project flowcharts so there is minimal ambiguity in how to accomplish what is being asked.
Provide awareness training across the organization. To create true culture change, clearly communicate the goals of the program and show progress. Communicate the gains in productivity and culture so teams across the organization can understand and appreciate the new direction.
Remember this work is for the entire organization. A successful neurodiversity program provides training and education for new candidates but also for colleagues, recruiters, managers, and senior leaders. Get everyone on board for neurodiverse employment.
According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC)1, there are over five million adults in the U.S. with autism spectrum disorder. Studies estimate that a staggering 50-75% are either unemployed or underemployed. Employers cannot afford to overlook this talented population. A2W has helped numerous organizations build a neurodiversity employment program to match qualified talent to solve business needs.
Listen to our five-part webinar series to get started:
1-“Key Findings: CDC Releases First Estimates of the Number of Adults Living with Autism Spectrum Disorder in the United States.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, April 27, 2020, https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/autism/features/adults-living-with-autism-spectrum-disorder.html
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