Managing neurodiverse employees
Neurodiverse people are individuals who display neurologically atypical behavior, thought, or patterns, such as people with autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or dyslexia. And there are a lot of neurodiverse people in our country. According to Austin and Pisano in their article “Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage” for the Harvard Business Review, autism spectrum disorder affects one in 42 males and one in 189 females in the U.S. In addition, approximately 11 percent of American adults have been diagnosed with attention deficit disorder — ADD or ADHD — according to ADDitude in its article “ADHD Statistics.” And as many as 43.5 million American children and adults may have dyslexia, according to the LD Online article “Dyslexia: What Brain Research Reveals About Reading” by the Society for Neuroscience.
The interesting thing is that while neurodiverse people have typically been at a disadvantage in the workplace, a growing number of companies are now recognizing that these individuals frequently have above average skills — particularly in fields such as memory, pattern recognition, creativity, mathematics, and logical reasoning. As such, increasingly more organizations are actively recruiting them. Yet recruiting and managing neurodiverse employees requires you to use different management techniques than managing neurotypical workers — people who don’t have autism spectrum disorder, ADHD or dyslexia. Keep the following pointers in mind:
- Leverage skills tests during the interview process. As Jared Lindzon reports in the Fast Company article “75% of staff at this successful IT company are on the autism spectrum,” neurodiverse candidates often find Q&A interviews challenging. Focusing on skills tests instead can give you better insight into their true capabilities — especially since neurodiverse employees might not have a lot of work experience and therefore may not have extensive résumés.
- Ask how you can best provide support. Since neurodiverse people all have their own unique strengths and find different things challenging, it’s advisable to simply ask them what kind of support they need from you. Many may find teamwork and communication challenging and will ask you to focus on their strengths instead. Others might need you to help them build confidence by starting out working in a small team before moving on to larger projects.
- Provide them with a quiet work environment. Many neurodiverse employees find open plan offices distracting and challenging. As much as possible, try to provide individual offices or otherwise secluded spaces for them to work.
In addition to knowing how to manage neurodiverse employees, it’s also imperative to educate your neurotypical employees on how best to communicate and collaborate in a diverse setting. By creating a work environment where both neurodiverse and neurotypical employees can thrive, you stand a better chance of building an innovative and productive team.
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