This is a promotional article for Lexxic
When US firm JPMorgan Chase established their Autism at Work programme in 2015, it included just four team members with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). Now they have hundreds of neurodiverse employees working for the company around the world in software development, engineering, and business analysis.
The company is just one of an increasing number of organisations that are recognising that employing people with neurological conditions such as autism disorder and dyslexia gives them access to a neurodiverse pool of talent that bring different perspectives and innovation to the workplace.
A key part of the success in diverse employment is recognising that every condition covered under neurodiversity has its own set of challenges such as difficulty concentrating, increased risk of stress, poor timekeeping, over-stimulation in a busy, noisy workplace as well as physical and mental health problems.
This is why the services of specialist psychological consultancies are being sought by companies to help understand the strengths neurodiverse people bring to an organisation as well as the challenges they may face.
What is neurodiversity?
The term “neurodiversity” was coined in the late 1990s by Australian sociologist Judy Singer, who is autistic herself. It is an umbrella term to describe alternative thinking styles such as dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, autism and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). Approximately one in seven individuals has a neurodiverse condition.
John Elder Robison, an adult on the autism spectrum and author of the memoir Look Me in the Eye, says neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome and refers to the different ways a person’s brain processes information.
In a blog for Psychology Today, he said: “Indeed, many individuals who embrace the concept of neurodiversity believe that people with differences do not need to be cured; they need help and accommodation instead.”1
Supporting an individual with their neurodivergence includes recognising that any difference, whether it is in the brain or in the body, can result in disability. Improving accessibility and accommodating differences will create more acceptance for people with so-called invisible disabilities.2
Employment and neurodiversity
Autistic people are among those disabled people with the lowest employment rate, according to data from the Office for National Statistics. The Outcomes for disabled people report found that just 22% of those with autism were in either full or part-time work.3
This is despite the executive director and head of Autism at Work at JPMorgan Chase saying in a Fortune article that people on the spectrum are highly focused and less distracted by social interactions.4 'Our autistic employees achieve, on average, 48% to 140% more work than their typical colleagues, depending on the roles,' he said.
At DXC Technology, HR managers said their neurodivergent hires had “actually helped sharpen up some of the thought processes amongst the teams.”5
The low employment rates could be attributed to traditional recruitment processes as some autistic people may find elements of social interaction challenging. There are also potential challenges with eye contact, tone of voice, shyness and social anxiety.6 Therefore, organisations have a duty to ensure that reasonable adjustments are made for neurodivergent candidates that could put them at a disadvantage at job interviews.
It is also important to find a manager who is willing to work with people who have the relevant neurodivergent strengths as a study conducted by the Institute of Leadership and Management, found that half of managers admitted they would be uncomfortable hiring a neurodivergent individual.7
The report revealed the highest level of bias was against employees with Tourette’s syndrome and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) – with one in three businesses (32%) saying they would be uncomfortable employing or managing someone with either of those conditions.
Diane Lightfoot, chief executive of the Business Disability Forum, said the report’s findings highlighted “the lack of awareness and even fear that can exist around recruiting and managing people with neurodiverse conditions”.
Mental health and neurodiversity
Mental illnesses such as depression and anxiety or poor wellbeing can be more common in people with neurodivergent conditions.8,9 A risk factor is masking or camouflaging their autism such as hiding or suppressing autistic traits.10
Neurodiversity can lead to secondary mental health difficulties because for many individuals, there have been large parts of their life where they have struggled to meet academic and/or social expectations, and they may have difficulties finding a career that they can excel in.11
Further support in the work setting may be beneficial for that person. This could include mental health screenings, practical based strategies, and identifying where talking therapy may be of benefit.
Deloitte, for example, offers employees with dyslexia a variety of forms of support – including access both to an occupational health colleague and a private internal network where dyslexic people can share challenges, tips, and resources. Dyslexic employees at the firm are also given access to mind-mapping software, dictation tools, and further resources to help them be comfortable at work and optimise their performance.6
According to ACAS (Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service), if an employee has a mental health issue, it’s important their employer takes it seriously. For example, it’s a good idea to talk to the employee to find out what support they might need at work.12
Practical-based strategies should be aimed at making individuals feel more in control and fostering a sense of autonomy and confidence that may have been missing. Strategies such as:
- To-do lists
- Colour coding diaries
- Categorising high priority/low priority work
It adds that tech-based support can be provided through project management software to help manage large pieces of work, or mind mapping software, to help organise thoughts before writing them down.
In addition to the above, one of the most important things you can do for a neurodiverse individual in the workplace is to communicate, listen to them, accept how they are feeling and offer the support to help them manage their neurodiversity and any mental health challenges they face. When an employer can do this, you will see them flourish.
This is an advertorial by Lexxic
- Suzanne Comberousse. A Beginner's Guide to Neurodiversity. https://www.learningdisabilitytoday.co.uk/a-beginners-guide-to-neurodiversity
- Cage E, Troxell-Whitmann Z. Understanding the Reasons, Contexts and Costs of Camouflaging for Autistic Adults 2019; 49(5): 1899-1911. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/30627892/
- Lever A, Geurts HM. Psychiatric Co-occurring Symptoms and Disorders in Young, Middle-Aged, and Older Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. J Autism Dev Disord2016; 46(6): 1916-1930. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26861713/
- Cassidy S, et al, Risk markers for suicidality in autistic adults. Molecular Autism 2018; 9(42) https://molecularautism.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/s13229-018-0226-4