Bringing Neurodivergent (ND) talent into the public sector workforce is a growing priority for many organizations. Neurodivergent people bring high impact skills and performance enhancing perspectives into the workforce, but they have unique needs that must be considered if they are to flourish in a work setting. Learn how to support your Neurodivergent employees for optimal outcomes.
What Is Neurodivergence?
Neurodiversity describes the natural variation in the way people think, learn, perceive the world, interact with their environments, and process information. The term neurodivergent refers specifically to people with Autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and learning disabilities like dyslexia. ND people may exhibit exceptional attention to detail, pattern recognition, visual and creative thinking, strong recall of information, creative problem solving, and technical and analytical skills.
Neurodivergence at Work
Each neurodivergent person is unique, and there’s no accurate way to generalize their cognitive experience. There are, however, some characteristics shared by many that require special consideration in the work setting. ND individuals often are highly sensitive to sensory stimuli and experience difficulty with executive functioning. They may experience time differently than neurotypical people and have challenges regulating their attention or energy on demand or in accordance with “clock time.” They may also have more difficulty coping with or adapting to unexpected occurrences, changes, and interruptions. Their communication styles often differ significantly from neurotypical patterns and norms.
Additionally, many people living with one or more of these diagnoses often have experienced a lifetime of stigma and “othering” by the people around them, making it feel risky or even unsafe to self-disclose as Neurodivergent at work. It is vital to have an organizational culture and accessibility systems in place to ensure ND employees’ needs are met when they seek accommodation or support.
6 Ways to Support Your Neurodivergent Employees
To capture the full potential of ND employees and support their long-term success, consider their needs across the entire employee life-cycle, from recruiting to off-boarding. In particular, consider the following:
- Include Neurodivergence in your training of people managers. Discourage interviewers from drawing conclusions about suitability for a position based on things like lack of eye contact, tone of voice, facial expressions, or other neurotypical standards of behavior.
- Ensure your ND staff have access to work spaces conducive to their success. This might include quiet spaces, dim lighting, proximity to out-of-doors, or remote work.
- Facilitate both flexibility and inflexibility. For some, working non-standard, variable schedules work best, while other ND employees respond better to predictable, consistent schedules and routines.
- Make the reasonable accommodation policy and procedure highly visible, legible, and friendly. Approach requests for accommodation with a spirit of collaboration toward a common goal. Treat ADA compliance as the floor, not the ceiling.
- Tailor accommodations and supports to the individual. Every ND person’s brain works differently and will require different conditions to thrive.
- Educate your workforce, especially leaders, managers, and HR staff, on the topic of neurodivergence. Dispel myths and misconceptions about this group, and help your neurotypical workers understand how they can be good colleagues to their ND counterparts.
The Neurodivergent population represents a valuable and underutilized talent pool. Many organizational changes designed to be more inclusive of ND workers result in positive outcomes for neurotypicals as well. To learn more, see the Employer Assistance and Resource Network on Disability Inclusion’s Neurodiversity in the Workplace guide.
Tucker Duval is a Human Resources and Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion professional based in Athens, GA. He is a graduate of the United States Military Academy at West Point and earned an MBA from Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia. He currently works as an Employment Generalist in the Athens-Clarke County Unified Government and serves as a charter member of the ACC Human Relations Commission.
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