STRONGER TOGETHER: Recognising and Valuing Neurodiversity in the Workplace

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Last updated: 04/03/2024

"STRONGER TOGETHER" is a weekly column where Tanya explores key issues. This week Tanya discusses the challenges neurodivergent individuals face in the workplace due to a lack of understanding and accommodation, and how employers can create inclusive environments to unlock their full potential.

By IMPACT Community Services Managing Director Tanya O'Shea

Tanya O'Shea, IMPACT Community Services Managing Director

Imagine walking into a job interview. Your heart is racing. You've prepared thoroughly, you're well-suited for the position, and you're confident you can succeed. But as the interview progresses, you notice the interviewer's puzzled expression, their unease with the extended pauses as you strive to articulate coherent ideas, and their bewilderment at how you match all their criteria on paper. The unfamiliar setting is overwhelming, and you're grappling with sensory overload. Despite your qualifications, you leave the interview feeling disheartened, and like you've already lost the job.

This scenario is all too familiar for many neurodivergent individuals.

Despite increasing recognition of neurodiversity in the workplace, many employers are unaware of the challenges neurodivergent individuals face or how to support them effectively. This lack of awareness perpetuates the cycle of exclusion and underemployment.

Neurodiversity is a concept that recognises and values the diversity of human brains and minds. It encompasses a range of neurological differences, such as autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, and dyspraxia. These differences can present unique challenges and invisible barriers in navigating everyday life and the workplace.

One of the most significant barriers is the lack of understanding and accommodation in the workplace. Neurodivergent individuals may struggle with tasks that require focus, organisation, communication, social skills, or sensory sensitivities, which can affect their performance and well-being. Without proper support and accommodations, they may feel overwhelmed, misunderstood, and excluded.

Employers, however, can play a crucial role in breaking down these barriers, starting with the recruitment stage.

Let’s revisit the interview hypothetical. Now, the interviewer is understanding and empathetic. They recognise that interviews can be overwhelming for some candidates (irrespective of if the candidate is neurodiverse) and suggest alternative methods of assessing your suitability for the role, such as a practical demonstration of your skills or a written assignment.

The interviewer also offers to conduct the interview in a quieter, more comfortable setting to minimise distractions. They reassure you that they are more interested in your abilities and potential than your performance in a high-pressure interview environment.

This approach allows you to showcase your skills and talents in a way that is more comfortable and conducive to your success. You leave the interview feeling valued and hopeful, knowing that you have been given a fair chance to demonstrate your capabilities.

By creating inclusive environments and implementing reasonable accommodations, employers can unlock the full potential of all employees, but especially neurodivergent individuals. Simple adjustments, such as flexible work schedules, quiet workspaces, assistive technologies, clear communication, or even alternatives to the ‘traditional’ interview, can make a world of difference.

Neurodivergent individuals bring a unique set of skills and perspectives that can greatly benefit organisations. For instance, individuals with autism often possess a remarkable attention to detail and an ability to focus on complex tasks for extended periods. This can be invaluable in industries such as software development, quality assurance, and data analysis, where precision and thoroughness are critical.

Similarly, individuals with ADHD may excel in roles where they can use their ability to think outside the box and approach problems from unconventional angles, which can lead to innovative solutions and new approaches to challenges.

Moreover, neurodivergent individuals often exhibit a high level of resilience, having navigated a world that may not always be accommodating to their needs. This resilience can translate into a strong work ethic, adaptability, and the ability to thrive in dynamic and fast-paced environments.

Neurodiversity in the workplace is not a challenge to overcome but an opportunity to embrace. By creating a more inclusive and productive work environment for neurodivergent people, we can enrich our teams, organisations, and communities with diverse and valuable human potential.

Please note: This website may contain references to, or feature images, videos, and voices of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples who have passed away.

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