Did you know that about 1 in 7 people are neurodiverse? They include Bill Gates, Emily Dickinson, Richard Branson, Steve Jobs, Whoopi Goldberg, Michelangelo and Charles Darwin. There are 150+ famous people with autism alone.
The neurodiversity movement is strong. This article is meant to give you a high-level understanding of its impact on work and life.
What is a neurodiverse person?
What is neurodiversity?
Neurodiversity is a relatively new term coined in 1998 by autistic, Australian sociologist Judy Singer in 1998. The neurodiversity definition began as a way to describe people on the Autistic spectrum. Neurodiversity has since broadened to include people with:
- ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Order)
- DSD (Dyspraxia)
- Tourette Syndrome
- and other neurological differences
John Elder Robison (Neurodiversity Scholar in Residence at the College of William and Mary) gives this definition of neurodiversity:
“…neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome. This represents a new and fundamentally different way of looking at conditions that were traditionally pathologized; it’s a viewpoint that is not universally accepted though it is increasingly supported by science. That science suggests conditions like autism have a stable prevalence in human society as far back as we can measure. We are realizing that autism, ADHD, and other conditions emerge through a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental interaction; they are not the result of disease or injury.”
source: What Is Neurodiversity? in Psychology Today.
A person without the neurological differences above is called “neurotypical“. Here’s a more complete definition of neurotypical:
“Neurotypical, often abbreviated as NT, means having a style of neurocognitive functioning that falls within the dominant societal standards of “normal.” Neurotypical can be used as either an adjective (“He’s neurotypical”) or a noun (“He’s a neurotypical”).”
source: Neurodiversity: Some Basic Terms and Definitions (by Dr. Nick Walker)
Some people call a neurodiverse person non-neurotypical.
Note: A few more thoughts on neurodiversity definitions from Dr. Walker: “The opposite of neurotypical is neurodivergent. Neurotypicality is the condition from which neurodivergent people diverge. Neurotypical bears the same sort of relationship to neurodivergent that straight bears to queer.”
Many folks see a “Neurodiversity Movement” going on right now.
The Neurodiversity Movement is a social justice movement that seeks civil rights, equality, respect, and full societal inclusion for the neurodivergent.
The Neurodiversity Movement began within the Autism Rights Movement but the Neurodiversity Movement and the Autism Rights Movement are now different. The main difference between the two is that the Neurodiversity Movement seeks to be inclusive of all neurominorities (not just people with autism).
The Neurodiveristy movement has gained so much strength that neurodiversity and autism now share this symbol:
What an inspiring logo, right!?
Neurodiversity in the Workplace
A neurodiverse person may be the key to solving the next big problem at work. And the hiring opportunities are enourmous. For example, 85% of autistic college graduates are unemployed (source: Forbes).
A few thoughts from experts on neurodiverse people:
“A Gift From Mother Nature”
“People with dyspraxia, ADHD and autism spectrum condition, for example, may have increased persistence when working through a challenging task, or incredible energy when other employees have grown weary, or perhaps an incredible long term memory.”
“We wouldn’t want everyone in the company to have ADHD, but my goodness it works well in sales teams.”
source: Doctory Nancy Doyle in Richard Branson Opens Door To Bigger Thinking On Neurodiversity (Forbes)
“Higher-than-average abilities” in Pattern Recognition, Math
From Robert D. Austin and Gary P. Pisano of Harvard Business Review:
“Many people with [neurodiversity] disorders have higher-than-average abilities; research shows that some conditions, including autism and dyslexia, can bestow special skills in pattern recognition, memory, or mathematics. Yet those affected often struggle to fit the profiles sought by prospective employers.”
“The 1% fellow”
“When 99 neurologically identical people fail to solve a problem, it’s often the 1% fellow who’s different who holds the key.”
source: John Elder Robison in Psychology Today’s What Is Neurodiversity?
SAP, EY and HPE Launch Neurodiverse HR Programs
SAP, which began its first neurodiversity programs in 2013 (starting with Autism at Work), now employs more than 175 people on the autism spectrum. source: Untapped Talent: How to Attract Neurodiverse Candidates
A neurodiverse SAP customer-support analyst spotted an opportunity to let customers help solve a common problem themselves; thousands of them subsequently used the resources he created. source: Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage
SAP has set a goal to have 1% of its workforce neurodiverse by the end of 2020.
“Entirely business-driven” (“This is not a philanthropy”)
At EY, Joel Rhodes is an account support associate in an EY office on Music Row in Nashville, Tenn. Rhodes finds ways to automate business processes for clients through computer system coding. He works alongside 12 other neurodiverse individuals in a role that would have seem well out of reach even a year ago. source: Nashville Tennessean: ‘This is not philanthropy’: How EY in Nashville is turning to those with autism and neurodiversity to boost innovation
The program is entirely business-driven, said Emily Edwards, the head of EY’s Nashville Neurodiversity Center of Excellence.
“This is not a philanthropy,” Edwards tells the Tennessean. “We want to innovate and be at the forefront of technology.”
EY has Center of Excellence offices in San Jose, Chicago, Dallas and Nashville, together employing 80 people.
Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) shared this story with Harvard Business Review:
At HPE, Neurodiverse software testers observed that one client’s projects always seemed to go into crisis mode before a launch. Intolerant of disorder, they strenuously questioned the company’s apparent acceptance of the chaos. This led the client company to realize that it had indeed become too tolerant of these crises and, with the help of the testers, to successfully redesign the launch process.
Microsoft has the Microsoft Autism Hiring Program which reports success hiring in technical roles such as; Software Engineer, Service Engineer, Build Engineer, Lab Engineer, Data Analyst or Data Scientist.
Dell has a dedicated Neurodiversity page which includes the Dell Autism Hiring Program. The VP of Global Talent Acquisition at Dell Brent Amundson says:
“We are excited to see Dell broaden our talent initiatives to include this program focused on qualified individuals who are neurodiverse. It aligns with our efforts to ensure that we are tapping multiple talent pipelines to broaden our overall inclusion with our incoming hires.”
Dell offers candidates on the spectrum 2 weeks of instructor-led classroom sessions. Candidates meet with hiring managers and work on real-world projects. Qualified candidates are invited to a 12-week internship and some are offered full-time employment.
Dell’s Neurodiversity/Austim program was a colse collaboration with Dell’s “True Ability” employee resource group.
According to Patrick Poljan, Global Executive Sponsor of the True Ability ERG and SVP, Global Audit and Transformation:
“I am personally thrilled and extremely optimistic about the potential for our neurodiversity program. I have great confidence that this talent pipeline will help us differentiate and win in the marketplace because of the new ideas and diverse perspectives that will foster innovation and problem solving.”
Update from Dell, Dec. 28, 2020: Dell’s Autism program is now offered virtually due to the pandemic.
Verizon Media and Ford have similar neurodiversity endeavors.
Sidenote: A new job title HR/Talent leaders asked about recently is Neurodiversity Business Analyst. This position sizes up how to transform a company by being more inclusive to neurodiverse people. I’ll udpate this article as I learn whether this is a new trend.
Example of Small Business Hiring Autistic People
A carwash in Margate, Florida built a business around the concept of hiring people with Autism. Their son is on the spectrum which is how the idea was sparked. According to Forbes, the Rising Tide Car Wash has employed over 200 individuals with Autism. Owners Donna D’Eri and John D’Eri said:
“We have about 75 employees on the autism spectrum…Which is approximately 80% of our employees on the spectrum.”
Tips for Neurodiversity in the Workplace
- Overall: Neurodiverse people do not need to be cured; they need help and accommodation instead.
- Highlight your commitment to diversity and inclusion and reduce the stigma around neurodivergence. Make staff feel safe and empowered to disclose a neurodivergence (Acas)
- Rewrite Your Job Descriptions — Mr. Kaushal point out that “Many autistic people won’t even apply for a job — even if they are highly qualified — because of the way the job description is written. Autistic people tend to be literal. Therefore, as compared with a neurotypical candidate, an autistic candidate reading a job description that is looking for a “strategy ninja,” for example, wouldn’t apply. They tend to self-select themselves out of the job if they don’t match the description exactly.”
- Interviews — Eye contact is not necessary to complete most workplace tasks and yet the absence of it would prevent many autistic people from making it through an interview process (Dr. Nancy Doyle)
- Create a flexible work environment (e.g. allow headphones and offer space in less sunlight (Ashish Kaushal); don’t require employees to still still — let workers move around (Dr. Nancy Doyle); or let employees work remotely/from home.
- Zoom/Videoconference Calls — “Those with ADHD, dyslexia and autism for instance might have different sensory needs to neurotypical staff. In this new back-to-back zoom world, they might not feel comfortable using video calls. It’s important to find out their preferred communications method and support them with this – particularly if this is audio only.” (Ali Hanan, Chief Executive Officer, Creative Equals in How companies can support neurodiverse talent during days of remote-working
- Start a Neurodiversity Center of Excellence (like EY) or Employee Resource Group (like Verizon Media and Dell)
- Create a D&I Report (see Microsoft D&I Report for example)
- Partner with schools/organizations that are leaders in neurodiversity (Ashish Kaushal recommends University of Cornell, Stanford, Duke
- Partner with Neurodiversity groups like Genius Within (The Organisational Science of Neurodiversity), Autism Speaks and Best Buddies.
Neurodiversity in the Classroom
Neurodiversity, like most things, starts with education.
“The “unusual” 1st, 5th, or 10th grader in your classroom may not yet seem like the brilliant scientist or business owner who they might very well become, growing into a role that allows them to work closely with partners who complement their unique abilities. — Valuing differences: Neurodiversity in the classroom (the team of Barb Rentenbach, Lois Prislovsky, and Rachael Gabriel)
Team Barb/Lois and Rachael, in the same article, have some awesome best practices for undestanding neurodiverse students including:
- Presume competence even when you don’t see or hear it yet (autism)
- Make room for nonverbal communication (autism)
- Don’t make unrealistic restrictions on movement (ADHD)
- Create routines (ADHD)
- Make print (reading) worth it but if it can’t then explore audio/video (Dyslexia)
There’s a well-reviewed book called Neurodiversity in the Classroom (4.4 stars out of 5 with 36 reviews (on Amazon). In it, author Thomas Armstrong shares such insights as:
- Acclaimed neurodiverse adults who have excelled in their chosen fields,
- Computer programs and applications that allow neurodiverse students with special needs to overcome obstacles and achieve success,
- Rich networks of human resources both inside and outside of school that educators can draw upon to support the social and emotional lives of neurodiverse students,
- Innovative learning strategies that are tailored to each neurodiverse student’s unique strengths,
- Future career paths for which a neurodiverse student’s particular gifts might be a good fit,
- Modifications in the school environment that allow for seamless inclusion of neurodiverse students in the regular classroom, and
[June 1, 2020 — here’s an update from my friend Laura Hauben Psy.D. who helps children and parents with issues related to ADHD and autistic spectrum disorders, evaluation of emotional distress and trauma, anxiety, depression, and relationship problems. She wrote me this after reading the article:
“With regard to neurodiversity, there’s so much amazing research informing my field right now. It’s an important, and historically neglected, topic amongst educators. The educators who integrate an understanding of neurodiversity can have a huge impact. Are you familiar with the concept of 2e (twice exceptional)? I imagine it applies to many of the folks with autism you mentioned. What is Twice Exceptional? I think a good part of Silicon Valley leaders fall into that category.
One book that has helped me and my patients and some friends to understand the ups and downs of being gifted is called Living with Intensity If you haven’t seen it, I highly recommend it. Be well, Rob!! All the best, Laura
There are a number of great resources for working better with neurodiverse people. They include:
- Programs in college for Autism, Asperger, ADHD, LD .
- 25 Best Colleges for Students With Autism in 2020
- Best Colleges for Students with Autism
- The Best (and Worst) Colleges for Students with Dyslexia
The neurodiversity movement is so strong that there is a thirst for people to discover if they are neurodiverse vs neurotypical.
Last month, 1,000+ people per month searched Google for phrases like “Am I neurotypical?”, “Neurodiversity Test” and “Neurotypical test” (source: ahrefs).
Neurotypical vs. Neurodiverse tests include:
- Autism-Spectrum Quotient (AQ Test) (50-question test from Psychologist Simon Baron-Cohen and his colleagues at Cambridge’s Autism Research CentreWired Magazine)
- Aspie Quiz (150-question test offers insight into the many different areas affected by Asperger’s syndrome — gives both a Neurotypical Score and Neurodiverse Score)
- Dyslexia Checklist (41 questions)
- Dyspraxia Test (designed for parents)
A more complete list of Neurodiversity tests can be found at LifeOnTheSpectrum.net
Famous Neurodiverse People
There are a number of famous neurodiverse people (either confirmed or reported). They include:
Famous people with Autism
- Roseanne Barr
- Albert Einstein
- Charles Darwin
- Bill Gates
- Steve Jobs
- Jerry Seinfeld
Check out Famous People with Autism [150+ Athletes, Actors, Musicians & More!] for a more complete list!
Famous people with Asperger’s Syndrome
- Dan Aykroyd (pronouned “Ackroyd”)
- Susan Boyle
- David Byrne
- Daryl Hannah
- Sir Anthony Hopkins
- Courtney Love
- Andy Warhol
Check out Famous People with Aspergers for more great examples!
Famous people with ADHD
- Simone Biles
- Paris Hilton
- Howie Mandel
- Michael Phelps
- Justin Timberlake
Famous people with Dyslexia
- Jennifer Aniston
- Richard Branson
- Tom Cruise
- Albert Einstein
- Pablo Picasso
- Steven Spielberg
Check out Famous People with Dyslexia [A List of 175+ Actors, Athletes, Musicians & Scientists] to see more.
Thank you, you Neurodiversity Pros!
Thanks to all of these folks for providing valuable content to help me research neurodiversity. Please explore them more!
- What Is Neurodiversity? in Psychology Today by John Elder Robison (a scholar in residence and a cochair of the Neurodiversity Working Group at the College of William & Mary)
- Neurodiversity as a Competitive Advantage by Harvard Business Review (Robert D. Austin and Gary P. Pisano).
- Untapped Talent: How to Attract Neurodiverse Candidates (Forbes by Ashish Kaushal,
Founder of Consciously Unbiased, an organization helping companies meet their diversity and inclusion goals.)
- Richard Branson Opens Door To Bigger Thinking On Neurodiversity by Doctor Nancy Doyle in (Forbes)
- ‘This is not philanthropy’: How EY in Nashville is turning to those with autism and neurodiversity to boost innovation by Jamie McGee in the Nashville Tennessean.
- Neurodiversity in the Workplace (Acas)
- Famous People with Autism (Psycom)
- History’s 30 Most Inspiring People on the Autism Spectrum (Applied Behavioral Analysis)
- 9 Celebrities with ADHD (Healthline)
- 7 Famous People You Didn’t Know Have Asperger’s Syndrome (Everyday Health)
- How One Company Is Providing Jobs For Those With Autism (by Jennifer “Jay” Palumbo)
Why I wrote this?
Ongig is on a mission to eliminate boring and biased job descriptions. As part of this, we try to share best practices on all aspects of diversity. For example, Ongig’s Text Analyzer helps you avoid words that are exclusionary to neurodiverse people. Please visit Ongig if you’d like to learn more.