Neurodiversity as a Super Power
March 07, 2023
By: Cynthia Coupé
Categories: Message, Self-Advocacy
“The world needs different kinds of minds to work together.” – Temple Grandin
That’s right…I said it: Neurodiversity is a superpower. In this article, I explore the incredible strengths autistic and other neurodivergent* individuals bring to the workforce, why these strengths are important for employers, and what neurodivergent employees should look for in a potential employer.
Results from JPMorgan Chase have found that neurodivergent individuals bring incredible benefits to the workplace, and in the right environment, autistic people can be from 90 to 140% more productive than their neurotypical peers. Preliminary results from a Hewlett Packard program in Australia employing neurodivergent people found that neurodivergent employees are 30% more productive overall.
In my experience, those benefits are a result of the strengths neurodivergent people bring to their work, like high levels of creativity, innovation, focus, and loyalty. We are often tenacious about finding solutions even under tough circumstances.
Many neurodivergents do not recognize their innate talents, making it difficult for us to see what we can offer a potential employer. Some of those strengths are:
Every item on that list is much needed in today’s workplaces. If you are autistic and reading this, you can probably add even more of your own specific strengths to the list or ask friends and family what they are. For example, I am good at doing logistic tasks at work, and I love calendars and schedules.
Being neurodivergent does have its challenges, as you probably know. An estimated 30 to 40% of people who are neurodivergent are unemployed, according to The Center for Neurodiversity & Employment Innovation and 85% of autistic college graduates are unemployed, as noted in a 2019 article on the Marketwatch website. Not only that, but neurodivergent individuals often do not get promoted and face other workplace challenges. A handbook published by Universal Music UK about embracing neurodiversity noted that 40% of neurodivergent tech workers hide their status.
When an environment doesn’t support your learning style, communication style, or sensory needs (to name a few), you might have difficulty using your key talents to your maximum potential. To put those strengths to work, you need the right environment, one that provides supports tailored to your needs, whether that is having a helper to ask for specific accommodations or an environment that will enable you to thrive.
When neurodivergent individuals are in a workplace that doesn’t support our learning style or skill sets, we may have difficulty with:
It is necessary to understand your specific weaknesses so you can address them with your employer. For example, I need a quiet environment and the ability to work on my own time.
Many neurotypical employers may not know neurodivergent or autistic adults and may have misconceptions. Being able to address those directly can help your employer help you get the right supports. It is empowering to let people know what you can do, what you need support with, and how that will enable you to do a great job.
Although your challenges may be inherent to a particular diagnosis, it does not mean that you cannot properly perform a job, but it might mean that you need workplace supports to help you perform your job well.
A workplace that actively engages, supports, and hires neurodivergent employees creates a culture where all employees feel they can be themselves. This fosters a healthier and more supportive workplace environment for all people. JPMorgan Chase, for example, has an Office of Disability and Inclusion, with an initiative called Autism at Work focused on supporting autistic people to do their jobs well and educating co-workers about what autism is and how to work with autistic colleagues. IBM and Yahoo have diversity and inclusion practices that include neurodiversity, and some smaller organizations are also beginning to follow these best practices.
Remember: when you are looking for a career, you need one that suits you and the organization in equal measure…it’s not just about if they want you, but also about if you want them.
*I use the term autistic and neurodivergent interchangeably in this article, meaning that if I use the term neurodivergent, it also applies to autism. In this article, I am including autism, ADHD, dyslexia, tic disorders, and other dysgraphic/dyscalculic/etc. differences when I use the term neurodivergent.
A self-diagnosed neurodivergent, Cynthia Coupé is a speech language pathologist and diversity, equity, and inclusion specialist committed to transforming traditional systems to better serve people with special needs. She is also mother to a neurodivergent daughter, TEDx speaker, blogger, and change agent. Her life mission is to build empathy, understanding, and appreciation between the neurodivergent and neurotypical worlds. She firmly believes this begins with curiosity and the willingness to connect through open and honest conversations. You can find and follow her at www.cynthiacoupe.com or on LinkedIn.