Over time, more and more employers have come to a better understanding of the ways in which neurodiverse employees can benefit the workplace. Neurodiversity—an umbrella term that refers to a variation in neurocognitive function—is just another form of diversity, and workplaces with more neurodiverse employees function better, and have better organizational culture. As a result, hiring practices—once discriminatory against those with neurodiversities—are slowly becoming more equitable, which benefits everyone.
In his book David and Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell theorized that adversity can be an advantage; those who face certain challenges also have particular strengths that can benefit them in and beyond their work lives.
What does “neurodiversity” really mean?
Neurodiversity is a relatively new term, coined by Judy Singer, a sociologist with autism, in the 1990s. Remember, neurodiversity is an umbrella term—there is a range of neurocognitive differences that fall within it. For example, autism, attention deficit disorder, anxiety, depression, and dyslexia all fall under the term neurodiversity, even though they’re all very different, and come with unique strengths.
Folks across the neurodiversity spectrum have various “specialty skills,” or specific things they can do exceptionally well, and that may benefit their work life. Below are just a few examples of specialty skills that neurodiverse folks may have.
Higher empathy levels
Ongoing research suggests that people with autism may have higher levels of what’s called affective empathy, or a type of empathy that’s based on instinct and involuntary response. This is contrary to the stereotype that people with an autistic neurodiversity lack the ability to empathize with others. In the workplace, increased affective empathy may help neurodiverse employees react quickly and appropriately to sensitive situations, or care for their coworkers in a way that other colleagues can’t.
While people with ADD or ADHD may have trouble focusing or staying organized, studies suggest that they may have increased creativity, especially within short time constraints. Folks with ADD and ADHD may also act more impulsively, and be willing to take risks that ultimately benefit the workplace, and benefit their colleagues.
Better visual processing
More research is needed, but preliminary studies suggest that people with dyslexia may have more powerful visual processing abilities, especially when it comes to geometric shapes and figures. This can benefit people who work in engineering, design, and other visually-oriented jobs.
Adversity as an advantage
While neurodiversity carries some challenges, and many workplaces still have a long way to go in creating welcoming environments, it can be helpful to keep in mind the ways neurodiverse minds benefit those around them. Neurodiverse folks are not only beneficial to the workplace, but can help push their colleagues to be better workers and people. Think of neurodiversity as just another level of diversity.