Supporting and Celebrating Neurodiversity in The Workplace
Updated: Apr 8
How to Build Sustainable Inclusivity Beyond Autism Acceptance Month
Most organizations are thinking about diversity, equity and inclusion (DE&I), but it’s important to remember they’re intersectional and encompass much more than race. While April is Autism Acceptance Month, neurodiversity should be celebrated and advocated for year-round.
Neurodiversity is a Spectrum
Neurodiversity is the concept that neurological differences are a natural form of human diversity, and understanding it is a critical part of shaping the employee experience®. As Stanford Medicine says, “Slowly but surely the capabilities and talents of those considered neurodiverse are being recognized and sought after, rather than simply accommodated.” This includes people affected by autism spectrum disorder (ASD), dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, social anxiety disorders and many others.
ASD is called a “spectrum” disorder because of the wide variation in the type and severity of symptoms people experience, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. Fostering inclusion requires the understanding that neurodiverse individuals can sometimes experience severe difficulty with communication and interpersonal interaction, restricted interests, repetitive behaviors and other symptoms. There’s no singular experience: the spectrum ranges from subtle to severely debilitating.
Creating an Inclusive Workplace
Unfortunately, there’s a well-documented employment gap for individuals who are differently-abled. Those with ASD are often underemployed and underpaid, but this is largely due to lack of appropriate supports. “Individuals with ASD can work, including those with complex support needs and behaviors that others may find challenging, if given the proper supports and the right job match,” Autism Society explains.
Many companies have taken the important first steps in reforming their processes to attract and support employees who are neurodiverse. With diverse perspectives in the room, unique talents and innovative ideas will lead to organizational success. As you reflect on your organization’s inclusion of neurodiverse employees, here are some tips to guide your strategy.
1. Open Doors for Neurodiverse Talent
Traditional recruitment processes leave neurodiverse talent behind. Refresh your job descriptions, interview procedures and training programs, and ensure your recruiting and human resources teams are trained to give all employees their best chance for success. Mentor, advocate for and sponsor neurodiverse employees.
2. Drive an Informed Culture Shift
Learn about the challenges neurodiverse employees may be facing and adjust HR policies and business processes accordingly. Rather than expecting employees to fit into your culture, ensure your organization is ready to welcome everyone with open arms. There are countless resources noting best practices for accommodations, flexibility and employee listening.
3. Communicate Mindfully
Audit your communications for inclusive language and train your teams on these principles. Employees and leaders alike should be ready to adapt to the various communication styles of their stakeholders. Communication is a two-way street, so take the lead of the individual with whom you’re communicating. Most importantly, don’t make generalizations.
4. Listen and Act with Empathy
Every manager and leader in your organization must be committed to understanding and carrying out their role in fostering inclusivity. Work on developing emotional intelligence and empathy, so your managers are better able to leverage the talents of all employees through greater sensitivity to individuals’ needs.
These recommendations are only the tip of the iceberg. Ensure your DE&I efforts are constantly adapting to meet the needs of your employees and prospective talent. Really listen to and value the immense talent neurodiverse employees bring to the table. Continuous learning is key, so below are some resources to help you get started.