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  • Writer's picturePatty Laushman

Neurodiversity Inclusivity

Updated: May 15

By Patty Laushman

This week's blog post is a topic near and dear to my heart. As a parent of a neurodivergent teen and someone with her own neurodivergence, inclusivity for people who are different from the majority based on any type of characteristic is my dream for the world.

This is a core part of my values as a human being, and I believe this inclusivity doesn't just benefit those who are different. I believe everyone benefits when all perspectives are included.

It's generally accepted that biodiversity is important and greater biodiversity translates to a healthier ecosystem. I would assert that the same applies to neurotypes and societies. The healthiest societies are those that incorporate the perspectives of all and create on-ramps for all to participate.

We will only grasp the staggering potential of our time if we create onramps that empower all people to participate. ~Robert F. Smith

Neurodiversity is a relatively new term that has been gaining traction in recent years. But what does it actually mean?

Put simply, neurodiversity refers to the range of differences in how people’s brains function and how they behave, and how these differences are considered part of the normal variation in the human population.

figures with different colors as symbol for neurodivergent people

The group of people in a population who think and behave most similarly and are part of the majority are considered neurotypical. Individuals who think and behave differently from this norm are considered neurodivergent. A group of people where at least some members are neurodivergent would be called neurodiverse.

Finally, for clarity, an individual cannot be "neurodiverse" because that term is used to describe groups; an individual would be referred to as "neurodivergent".

More and more the term neurodiversity is used in the context of autism spectrum disorder, but also includes people with ADHD, dyslexia, Tourette's syndrome, and more.

In this blog post, we'll explore why neurodiversity is important and how understanding it can help create an inclusive environment for everyone.

What Exactly is Neurodiversity?

At its core, neurodiversity refers to the diversity of human brains and how they function. This biological fact starts with the idea that every person has a unique brain, offering different skill sets, abilities, and needs from those around them.

Neurodivergence encompasses a broad range of neurological conditions that challenge traditional social or educational norms. The neurodiversity movement emphasizes the need to recognize, accommodate, and celebrate unique strengths and differences -- to the benefit of everyone, not just those who are neurodivergent.

The neurodiversity movement rejects the notion that there is a “normal” way of thinking, feeling, and behaving and encourages us to embrace an understanding that diversity in all forms is a source of strength.

It is becoming increasingly accepted by educators, employers, medical practitioners, and other individuals as a necessary enrichment to our diverse ecosystem of humanity.

Judy Singer an Australian social scientist who coined the term neurodiversity
Judy Singer is credited with coining the term "neurodiversity".

The term "neurodiversity" was coined in 1988 by Judy Singer, an Australian social scientist who identifies as autistic, making it all the more meaningful for autistic individuals today.

And if we are ever to build acceptance and inclusion for those within neurodivergent communities we need to start by understanding what neurodiversity really is.

What Are Signs of Being Neurodivergent?

Being neurodivergent means you have a brain that works differently from the majority. This can lead to many unique thought processes, behaviors, and even experiences that those who are neurologically typical may not understand.

People who are neurodivergent often experience a wide range of differences. Let's take a look at some of the most common, but be aware that the entire point of the neurodiversity language is to recognize that our brains all work in different ways, so "neurodivergent" could theoretically apply to just about any experience anyone might have.

The Neurodivergent Student

If you or someone you know is neurodivergent and in school, there are some key signs to look for.

neurodivergent adult having difficulty reading

One of the most common is difficulty learning to read. These students often qualify for a diagnosis of dyslexia. They may require a different teaching method to learn to read and often don’t receive it, unfortunately.

They have difficulty producing written content that demonstrates their learning. These students may be dysgraphic. Often, removing the need to write their thoughts down with a pen or pencil and allowing them to type instead lifts a huge burden off the demand and enables them to share more of what they know.

Neurodivergent students may have trouble understanding number concepts and performing calculations. These students are dyscalculic and may benefit from instruction that taps into more of their senses or makes the math problem more real-world. For example, using physical blocks they can see and touch and count, or using measuring cups and spoons while baking make the concepts more concrete.

Neurodivergent students might also find it difficult to stay on task during class, often because the teaching method does not work for them. They sometimes need more breaks than other students because they are working so hard to learn. They might also struggle with communication skills, such as difficulty following instructions or expressing their own ideas in an organized way.

On the flip side, these are often some of the most creative and independent-thinking students in the classroom. Their challenges often mask their intelligence, and they are capable of so much more than those around them believe.

They may be phenomenal with hands-on work, which sadly often doesn’t happen much in modern classrooms, so they are stuck in the position of having their relative weaknesses constantly exposed.

An employee who is neurodivergent will likely experience different challenges than those faced by students in school. One key challenge that employees may face is difficulties with memory recall and processing information quickly enough, depending on their role.

Others might take longer to learn new job skills than neurotypical peers, but once they learn the skill, they can likely perform it as well as anyone else.

neurodivergent employee struggles with multitasking

Additionally, they might struggle with multitasking. If given too many tasks at once, especially verbally, they could become overwhelmed and unable to complete any of them successfully.

They may also be especially sensitive to the work environment – the lights, the sounds, the temperature. When the environment is not a fit for their sensory system, it can cause distress and sap bandwidth they could be spending on being more productive.

Because of their different brain wiring, they often bring unusual, rare, and highly valuable skills to the table. For example, for years, many software companies have gone out of their way to attract autistic applicants to software test jobs due to their exceptional attention to detail and ability to quickly identify problems with software code.

As another example, acknowledging possible exceptional talent with faster pattern recognition, sharper accuracy, and greater attention to detail, the British spy agency GCHQ and weapons manufacturer BAE Systems are actively trying to attract more neurodivergent women to work for them in cybersecurity jobs.

Is Neurodiversity Considered a Disability?

Neurodiversity is a relatively new term that covers a wide variety of neurological differences.

While these conditions have historically been viewed as disabilities, there has been an increasing focus on celebrating neurodiversity and recognizing the unique strengths that come with these conditions. But is neurodiversity as a blanket term considered a disability?

happy neurodiverse people bonding together

In short, it all depends on whom you ask. Some people argue that, while

neurodivergent individuals may have certain challenges in life due to their neurology, they are no more disabled than “neurotypical” individuals who also have different strengths and weaknesses. They argue that labeling neurodivergent individuals as “disabled” can lead to an overly negative view of their abilities and undermine the value of their unique gifts.

On the other hand, some people argue that neurodivergent individuals should be recognized as having disabilities because they do experience difficulties due to their neurology. They argue that by recognizing them as disabled and providing support for them accordingly (e.g., accommodations at school or work), we can provide them with the resources they need to succeed in life despite their challenges.

So what’s the answer? Well, unfortunately, there is no consensus on this question. It depends on whom you ask, and ultimately, it depends on the neurodivergent individual and their unique strengths and weaknesses profile, and how that profile impacts their ability to function in their current environment. What may be a disability in one environment may be a strength in another.

How to Create Inclusivity for Neurodivergent People

Neurodiversity is an important topic, and one that should be discussed more often. It’s all too common for neurodivergent people to be overlooked or discriminated against in the workplace, not because of their abilities but because of preconceived notions about their capabilities.

If you are neurodivergent, or simply want to advocate for this community, there are a few important steps you can take.

It’s All About Awareness and Understanding

hand holding a stick with picture of a light bulb inside a person's head symbolizing for awareness on neurodiversity

The first step to creating change for neurodivergent people is awareness and understanding about what neurodiversity is and how it affects individuals. That includes understanding the various challenges faced by those with different brain structures and learning styles. Once you understand what the challenges are, you can better identify strategies and resources that can help them succeed in their endeavors.

Know the Facts

One of the most important things you can do if you want to help impart change for neurodivergent people is to know the facts.

For example, studies have shown that people with autism, ADHD, or another neuro-differences are often rejected or fired after disclosing their diagnosis. Additionally, many people with autism feel pressure to "mask" themselves in order to avoid stereotyping or discrimination in the workplace.

And unfortunately, a 2020 report on UK employers found that 50 percent of managers surveyed admitted they would not hire a neurodivergent candidate. Even more disheartening is that 85% of autistic adults who have a college degree remain unemployed or underemployed!

These facts might be disheartening or frustrating to read. However, being aware of the numbers can help give you a new perspective on what it's like to be neurodivergent in the workplace in particular, as well as in other areas of life.

Focus on Ability Over Disability

It’s essential that we focus on ability over disability when it comes to hiring neurodivergent individuals.

neurodiverse woman working on a laptop and being productive

Studies show that teams with neurodivergent professionals in some roles can be up to 30 percent more productive and make fewer errors than those without them .

Autistic individuals can also be between 90 and 140 percent more productive than neurotypical individuals (e.g., Microsoft).

They are also much more loyal than neurotypical employees. This is probably related to the fact that it’s harder for neurodivergent people to obtain job offers and because they also tend to dislike change of any kind. Once they are on board and know their job, they will stick around.

So rather than viewing someone with autism as an obstacle in the workplace, it is time to find their strengths and celebrate them!

Be Mindful With Your Words

We need to remember that words matter when discussing neurodiversity in the workplace—and beyond! Avoid using phrases like “disabled” or “impaired.”

This small change may seem insignificant, but it goes a long way toward imparting understanding and acceptance instead of fear or pity—which is exactly what we should be striving for!

How do you know which language to use? Ask! Each neurodivergent person differs in their preferences and how they prefer to be referred to, so don’t be afraid to ask.

And if you're a neurodivergent person, think about how you would like to be referred to and what language you're most comfortable with as well, and then figure out the best way to advocate for yourself.

Validate Different Perspectives

neurotypical listening to neurodivergent friend while sitting on a couch

In addition to increasing your own knowledge about neurodiversity, it’s important to validate different perspectives when working with or interacting with individuals who are neurodivergent.

This includes recognizing that not everyone processes information in the same way or understands concepts at the same speed or level of detail. Validation also involves being open-minded toward new ideas and ways of thinking—even if they don’t make sense at first glance!

Create Inclusive Spaces

Finally, creating an inclusive culture where all members feel comfortable expressing themselves without judgment is key when trying to impart change for neurodiverse people. This starts by removing any stigmas or biases attached to certain behaviors or communication styles so that everyone feels welcome and respected regardless of their differences.

Providing opportunities for individuals with different abilities to participate in activities like sports clubs or theater groups can help create an environment where everyone feels included and appreciated!

Final Thoughts

Being neurodivergent can be incredibly challenging, but the tide is starting to turn. More and more people are becoming aware of neuro-differences and recognizing the unique assets the differences can bring.

While those who are neurodivergent experience unique obstacles in school or in the workplace, they also possess unique talents that allow them to think outside the box and approach problem-solving differently than others would.

It’s important to remember that everyone has strengths and weaknesses—neurotypical folks included—and embracing differences can help create an inclusive environment where everyone feels welcome.

With patience, understanding, and proper accommodations, life can be fulfilling for both those who are neurotypical as well as those who are neurodivergent!


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