By Martha McLaughlin

Human beings are wonderfully diverse. We come in different sizes, shapes and colors and have varying interests, instincts, talents and drives. Diversity makes us stronger together than we could be on our own.

Paper fishOne way we differ from each other is in the structure and function of our brains and nervous systems. These differences are known as neurodiversity. Frequently used in the autism community, the term is also embraced by people diagnosed with other conditions, such as dyslexia and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder. It’s use emphasizes that differences are normal and one perfect, prototypical human brain exists.

Neurotypical and neurodivergent are terms used to distinguish between those whose neurological makeup is common in the population and those who are more unique. The question of what is neurotypical and what is neurodivergent is a cultural one, as is the issue of what type of divergence is valued. For example, in his book The Power of Neurodiversity: Unleashing the Advantages of Your Differently Wired Brain, Dr. Thomas Armstrong notes that 150 years ago dyslexia was unknown, because there was no social expectation that everyone should be able to read.1

Neurodiversity in the Workplace

Slowly, the business world is coming to appreciate the advantages of a neurodiverse workforce. Ultra Testing, a company that tests software, looks for people with skills in analytical reasoning and pattern recognition. About 75 percent of their employees have been diagnosed with autism. One of the company’s founders notes that they have little turnover, and they outperform employees of similar companies.2

While neurodiverse employees may bring unique skills to the workplace, getting hired in the first place is a significant hurdle to overcome according to Forbes Magazine. Interviewers should adapt the process to accommodate neurodiverse applicants by allowing them to express what kind of support they may need to succeed in their work.

Employers may want to ask closed questions rather than open-ended or abstract ones, base questions on an applicant’s actual experience and prompt candidates for further information when necessary.3 Training can also help. There are programs that help people prepare for interviews, including by practicing with avatars.2

What to Embrace and What to Change

All people make decisions about which aspects of their personalities, lives and bodies to embrace and which they’d like to change. People growing older decide whether to dye their gray hair or accept the new color. Some people decide they need to become more assertive and others decide they need to work on their listening skills.

Armstrong notes that success in life depends to some degree on adapting our brains to our culture and environment, but it’s also important to modify our environment to fit our brains. Making appropriate career and lifestyle choices as well as using human resource services and assistive technologies is key, as the two approaches seem to be complementary. Animal studies demonstrate that those exposed to an enriching environment grow a more complex neuronal network in the brain, suggesting that a more complex brain is likely to adapt more effectively to the demands of the culture.

When deciding what to value and what to modify, addressing issues that affect both neurodivergent and neurotypical people is a great place to start. For instance, everyone can benefit from responding to issues like depression, anxiety or addiction. It’s also wise for all people to focus on nourishing and protecting their minds and bodies through diet, sleep, exercise, avoidance of toxins and stress management. When differences are valued and all members are the best versions of themselves, communities will thrive.


Sources:

1 Armstrong, Thomas. “Neurodiversity.” American Institute for Learning and Human Development, Accessed February 12, 2018.

2 Preston, Elizabeth. “Work in progress: An inside look at autism’s job boom.” Spectrum News, July 20, 2016.

3 Comaford, Christine. “Is Neurodiversity The Right Talent Path For Your Organization?Forbes, June 24, 2017.