How often has neurodiversity in the workplace been discussed at your Wednesday management meeting? Well, I'm suggesting that you bring it up. It is estimated that 1 in 88 individuals have an Autism spectrum Disorder (ASD), and approximately 200k teenagers with ASDs will reach working age in the next five years.

It's time to expand the definition of 'fit' in the workplace

We seem to have worked out how to accommodate most of the visible and invisible disabilities employees have that are protected by the ADA. I say 'seem to have' for two reasons. For one, every day that statement is proved wrong on multiple occasions, and second, workplaces have not fully embraced neurodiversity in the talent pool.

Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others. - The National Symposium on Neurodiversity at Syracuse University

Education has gotten better at providing supports that enable people with ASDs to succeed academically. However, academic success has not translated to adult independence for many, and unemployment and underemployment remain high among adults with ASDs.

It's likely some neuroatypical employees are already employed at your company, and since the disabilities they have are largely invisible, they may not have disclosed them and you may not be aware. They may or may not need reasonable accommodations on the job to meet or exceed employer expectations. In some cases, like with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD), there may be behavioral differences that traditionally have seemed outside the parameters of typical 'fit' in your organization, and therefore neuroatypical candidates may not be making it past the phone screen or first interview.

The behavioral and perceptual characteristics these individuals have commonly result in sensory sensitivities like extreme discomfort with loud noises, sensitivity to certain types of lighting, or physical contact. There may be difficulties with motor skills that impact activities requiring high levels of physical coordination. Lack of acuity in non-verbal communication like tone of voice and body language can significantly interfere with understanding others and developing relationships, and executive functioning challenges can affect initiating, prioritizing, and completing tasks. People with ASDs often possess social awkwardness and underdeveloped soft skills.

These differences are not difficult to accommodate for (and frankly, remember the part about the ADA) and it's important to note that employes with ASDs often bring very desirable attributes to the table like focus, attention to detail, excellent memory, unconventional ways of thinking, insight and creativity.

We need to rethink this.

Want to learn about reasonable accommodations that could be effective for employees with an Autism Spectrum Disorder? Check out these ideas from Job Accommodation Network.



Leave a Reply