Diversity: An Autism Perspective

A new meaning to ‘thinking outside the box’

Neurodiversity refers to the difference in brain functioning in individuals with conditions of Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), Dyslexia and ADHD. Such differences may impact information processing and communication style, but open doors for creative ideas, promoting the ability to think differently. There is no need to ‘fix’ neurodiversity, much like how it would be wrong to impose change on LGBTIQ+ and racially diverse individuals. People experiencing neurodiversity are unique individuals who require support and accommodation but have used their atypical minds to make ingenious contributions to society to the likes of Michelangelo, Mozart, and Einstein.

Why should I bother making extra effort for Neurodiverse candidates?

People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are experiencing higher rates of unemployment. In 2015, there were 75200 Australians with ASD between the working ages of 15-64, with an unemployment rate of 31.6% – more than 3 times the rate of people with disability, and 6 times the rate of people without disability (ABS, 2015). Unfortunately, this prevalence of unemployment is worsening outcomes for the population with ASD, as the lack of workplace inclusion is preventing opportunities for development of communication and other work skills.

“You could call people with neurodiversity ‘specialists’, as opposed to ‘generalists’ – masters of some things but not jacks of all trades”.

Dr Nancy Doyle, CEO – Genius Within (Doyle, 2019) 

Additionally, people with neurodiversity are intelligent and capable and could provide new insights.

Although individuals with ASD experience differences in behaviour and communication, these differences take place on a spectrum of strengths and challenges. This means that neurodiverse candidates may be stronger, even gifted, in certain areas and can contribute to the workforce more effectively than is generally expected. Some organisations are even viewing neurodiversity as a competitive advantage!

Hewlett-Packard (HPE) has experienced improvements in quality, productivity, innovation, employee, and even customer engagement resulting from inclusion of neurodiverse talent. For example, when undergoing software testing, as characterised by their disorder aversion, neurodiverse employees became intolerant of the chaos and disorder in a client’s project. This led to questioning and an innovative redesign of the software launch process.

Companies such as HPE, Microsoft, Vodafone, and SAP Software Solutions have implemented development programs for neurodiverse talent, which has led to further consideration of employee development for the entire workplace. Understanding one another is the key to effective teamwork and success.

Workplaces should take the following into consideration when working with neurodiverse employees:

Environmental adjustments: individuals with Autism can experience visual and auditory over-stimulation and may benefit from blocking lights and sounds out to minimize distractions. The use of headphones, light adjustments, and weighted blankets to decrease restlessness has shown to be effective for neurodiverse employees.

Consider flexible working arrangements, and the ability to take breaks when necessary, giving the individual an ‘out’ if over-stimulation is taking a toll.

Many variables can impact the way a neurodiverse individual feels at work. ATC has developed a tool that can assess an office’s suitability to employees with ASD. Try this workplace Autism friendliness quiz to see how your office lines up.

What makes them tick? Every neurodiverse individual has different strengths and challenges. Many psychologists recommend personal, human contact as a way to support and improve outcomes for people with Autism in the workplace. This can range from ‘light-touch’ support such as regular communication and check-ins to formal career counseling and development. As experienced by large corporations, employee and leadership development programs increase understanding of neurodiverse employees, improving group cohesion and teamwork.


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