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The benefits of neurodiversity in the workplace


Diversity makes amazing things happen. From our oceans to the workplace, diversity leads to healthier environments and better outcomes. But beyond the most talked about facets of diversity such as gender and race, what happens in the workplace when we embrace the diversity of our brains?

Neurodiversity is the concept that all our brains are unique. In particular it shines a light on the more distinct differences in brain function that are experienced by those of us with neurological differences such as autism, ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, dysgraphia and tourette's syndrome.

Neurodivergent people have “spiky” profiles which means there is often a large disparity between strengths and weaknesses when compared to a neurotypical person. A neurodivergent person's strengths and weaknesses would appear as high peaks and troughs if plotted on a graph whereas a neurotypical person’s profile would be flatter. An organisation can benefit from neurodiversity by understanding and nurturing neurodivergent strengths and accommodating for things neurodivergent people find challenging.

When organisations embrace neurodiversity it can become a competitive advantage.

So what are the benefits of neurodiversity?

It’s important to understand that every neurodivergent person is unique, just like every neurotypical person, however there are some commonalities in their strengths.

  • Neurodivergent people literally think differently. Their thinking style is ‘at the edge’ which means they often excel at innovation and creativity.

  • They excel at clarity, detail-oriented thinking and problem-solving. Neurodivergent people often see things neurotypical people might miss. They see the connections other people don’t see, and can provide solutions to problems others don’t even see as problems. Their naturally direct styles means they excel at clear instructions.

  • Neurodivergent people often have the ability to sustain focus for long periods of time, particularly if focused on an area of interest. They also often outperform neurotypical people on repetitive tasks.

  • Pattern recognition, spotting irregularities and detecting critical information are key skills that neurodivergent people often possess. They are often systematic thinkers that can see patterns and connections more easily.

  • In the right environment, and on the right task, neurodivergent people often excel at dependability, motivation and engagement.

  • Neurodivergent people are naturally inclusive and accepting of difference.

However, just as all neurodivergent people are unique, so are the strengths associated with each neurological difference. So what are the benefits of neurodiversity when viewed through the lens of the most common neurological differences?

Specific strengths of autistic people

  • Autistic people are often exceptional analytical and logical thinkers.

  • They have an advanced ability to assimilate and retain detailed information which can result in highly specific interests and a technical ability in a specific work area.

  • Autistic people are often punctual, reliable, dedicated and loyal employees.

  • However, it’s important to beware of stereotypes - autistic people are hugely varied and thinking styles can encompass visual thinkers, pattern thinkers, and verbal thinkers who excel with words, all resulting in different areas of excellence.

Specific strengths of dyslexic people

  • Dyslexic people often excel at inventiveness and creativity.

  • They can often excel at pattern spotting.

  • Dyslexic people over-index in entrepreneurship. This could be attributed to their ability to see the big picture, and create and share a vision through visual narrative thinking and storytelling, and their comfort with risk-taking.

Specific strengths of dyspraxic people

  • Dyspraxic people excel at bold, ‘big picture’ thinking, pattern spotting and inferential reasoning.

  • They are resourceful and determined problem solvers.

  • They are creative, original and unique (much like all neurodivergent people!)

Specific strengths of ADHDers

  • People with ADHD are comfortable taking calculated risks and are at ease with uncertainty and pushing boundaries.

  • Insightfulness, creative thinking and problem solving are typical strengths.

  • They have a great ability to multitask and respond to changing environments and work demands.

  • People with ADHD are often composed in pressure situations that others would find overwhelming.

  • They have the ability to hyperfocus in the right environment and on the right task.

  • Like dyslexic people, those with ADHD are overrepresented amongst entrepreneurs. Their excellence at innovative, visionary thinking is likely to be a key contributing factor.

To enjoy the benefits of neurodiversity organisations must focus on the strengths of their employees, optimise their ability to harness what people are good at, and accommodate for their differences. Ultimately, that’s how organisations can get the most from all talented people, not just those that are neurodivergent.

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