As businesses grow and evolve they are beginning to understand the importance of hiring employees who think differently and approach situations in ways one might consider out-of-the-box.
These neurodiverse individuals include people on the autism spectrum who possess skills that are in high demand, but are often hard to come by. It’s time we start paying attention to the undeniable value neurodiverse people provide to companies all over the world.
What is Neurodiversity?
The term neurodiversity is a concept that “considers the range of differences in human brain function and behavioral traits as normal variations.” Many times, this term refers to autism, but it can also include other cognitive disorders and disabilities.
Understanding neurodiversity is hugely beneficial for employers as it allows them to foster a diverse work environment rich in opportunities for growth and inclusivity.
Autism and Employment
Autism is having a monumental impact on the world. Currently, 1 in 59 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in the US and the number seems to be climbing every year. As these children become adults, often they must transition from a school setting and find ways to support themselves. Almost half of 25-year-olds on the spectrum have never been employed. Unfortunately, the unemployment rate for adults with autism is extremely high despite the decrease in the overall unemployment rate.
In fact, in February of this year, the unemployment rate in the United States decreased to 3.8 percent making it difficult for employers to find qualified employees.
The issue is not that there aren’t enough jobs available.
The real problem is that employers are only relying on the conventional applicant pool and are overlooking those who think differently, but can provide value.
The reason for this oversight stems from several different factors, including budget neutrality and bias.
Budget Neutrality: Does it Cost More to Hire People with Autism?
Often times workplaces are not opposed to hiring people who have autism, but a big limiting factor is budget neutrality. Companies don’t want to spend extra money and they believe hiring people on the spectrum will automatically entail this due to a perceived increase in additional accommodations, which is a common misconception.
Fortunately, this does not have to be the case and there are training programs in place that help companies effectively understand neurodiversity so those on the spectrum and employers alike can benefit.
Paul Shattuck, an associate professor of health management and policy at Drexel University’s Dornsife School of Public Health and director of the Life Course Outcomes Research Program at the A.J. Drexel Autism Institute, explains that oftentimes hiring people on the spectrum has the opposite effect than what some employers assume.
Bias in the Workplace
People who have autism often face discrimination, due to a bias that originates from discomfort. This is due to the fact that many people who don’t fully understand autism will sometimes assume that a person on the spectrum is in pain or struggling, which in turn makes the other person uncomfortable because they aren’t sure how to react.
They might feel as if they need to “help” in some way, but don’t know how and so they avoid interaction with those on the spectrum.
Peter Cappelli, a Wharton management professor director for the school’s Center for Human Resources, explains that there is a misconception that hiring someone with autism will require extensive accommodations, but more often it comes down to the simple fact that people don’t understand how to work alongside someone with autism.
Educating people so that they can feel comfortable around autistic behaviors is a large factor in companies successfully incorporating neurodiversity into their culture.
Shattuck comments that “such conversations help everyone connect the dots and move past the stigmas”.
As an example, Shattuck explains that people on the spectrum will usually perform repetitive physical behaviors as a way to reduce anxiety, such as rocking back and forth. This may make coworkers feel uncomfortable because they don’t understand why it’s happening, but once the education is present, they are much more likely to be understanding and accepting.
Adults who have autism can be beneficial employees in many ways. People on the spectrum have goals and aspirations just like everyone else. When employers can create an open-minded work setting, employees are able to thrive in new ways.
Benefits of Hiring Neurodiverse People
Hiring people with autism brings an array of benefits that most companies are missing out on. When a job is found that is a good fit they can potentially perform even better than a neurotypical employee due to their different thinking style. Hiring people with autism is not a charity, and it can be a true business opportunity as well as a great chance for an individual with autism to apply themselves.
People with Autism Can Have Unique Skillsets
Neurodiverse individuals often possess skills that are highly desirable, yet difficult to find, especially when it comes to areas like technology, math and science. For example, people with autism are sometimes skilled in analytics, pattern recognition, information processing, and are great at working with numbers and formulas. Many businesses desperately need these skills, but have trouble finding qualified candidates because they are overlooking the untapped resources that neurodiverse people have to offer.
Those on the autism spectrum tend to work well in predictable, steady environments and are extremely determined individuals along with loyal employees. They often prefer to remain with the same organization so companies can count on them as reliable assets rather than flaky employees who may jump at the next opportunity that approaches them.
Another significant benefit of hiring neurodiverse people is that they often think about challenges differently and can be great at using logical, straightforward thinking, which expedites the problem-solving process and increases overall productivity.
Forming a team that includes people on the spectrum creates a healthy, diverse ecosystem at work all while helping managers and bosses to become better leaders. If a boss can communicate with and lead someone with cognitive differences then they will be better equipped to work effectively with anyone.
Other employees will benefit as well because they will have the opportunity to step outside of their comfort zone and create relationships with those who may think and approach things differently. When we are able to spend time with those we perceive as “different” we begin to realize we are are much more alike than we are different. This cultivates an open-minded, accepting culture that companies far and wide are striving to create.
Just because an individual may be on the spectrum, it doesn’t mean they aren’t capable of front-office roles. Many neurodiverse people actually thrive in these types of settings. For example, Shattuck shares his experience at the Department of Motor Vehicles in Philadelphia where he was greeted by a helpful, friendly employee with autism who effectively directed him on what steps to take next. Shattuck recalls, “He was amazing. It was actually good for me to see that because I suffer from my own stereotypes and biases, and I need to be challenged on those as well.”
Hiring neurodiverse individuals is a win-win-win situation. It provides those on the spectrum with the opportunity to pursue a career and positively impact their community while creating inclusive workplaces and providing managers and other employees the chance to work with a diverse range of people resulting in personal and professional growth.
While hiring neurodiverse people is highly beneficial, neurodiversity programs are a very important part of this process because they educate employees, including management and HR recruiters, about the importance of working with neurodiverse individuals and how to most effectively conduct the hiring process along with how to create an inclusive environment where everyone can thrive together.
IBCCES currently offers a neurodiversity program geared towards the general workforce, which includes a 30 minute online training program and an introduction to neurodiversity in the workplace. The introduction to neurodiversity is ideal for all employees within the organization and includes the following nine modules:
- Why Neurodiversity Matters
- Autism in the Workplace
- ADHD in the Workplace
- Learning Differences in the Workplace
- Neurodiversity and Mental Health
- Inclusive Hiring
- Working in a Neurodiverse Team Contributing to a Supportive Culture
Managers and HR recruiters will complete a program that includes a 4 CE online training program and tactical training for employees who will be directly involved in the hiring of neurodiverse individuals.
- Dedicated to serving individuals with autism
- At least 80% of staff is trained and certified in the field of Autism
- Committed to ongoing training in autism
- Onsite audit by IBCCES experts
- Includes a comprehensive report with suggested recommendations/modifications, as well as sensory guides for activities
Who It’s For
The neurodiversity program is suitable for any organization that wants to learn how to properly work with individuals on the spectrum. These include:
- Sports and Recreation
- Early Childhood
- K-12 Education
- Higher Education
- Tutoring Centers
- Camps for Kids
- Technology Companies
- City and County Government
Making neurodiverse individuals a part of professional organizations is the future. The benefits are apparent for everyone. This includes people on the spectrum, employees and management, and the overall business.
Working with people who think differently will not only result in cutting edge ideas and solutions, but will help create a world that is more accepting, understanding and forward-thinking.