The Power of Neurodiversity in the Workplace
Collaborating with respect and appreciation
The topic of neurodiversity has been gaining traction over recent years, particularly within the world of work. For those who are not yet familiar with the term, neurodiversity refers to variations in the human brain and cognition. These variations influence certain areas of a person’s overall functioning. From the way they learn to the way they socialise – and even in the way they perceive the world and events around them. What is most important to remember here, is that these variations are not flaws, but merely differences in our biology. Just as we are all born with different eye colours, physical abilities, and specific personal preferences – so, too, we are born with brains that work in unique and different ways.
The neurodiversity spectrum: from neurotypical to neurodivergent, and everything in between
What must be noted about neurodiversity is that the term itself refers to the full spectrum of neurological functioning – which includes us all. While the majority of people would be placed within the neurotypical group (‘typical’ here implying “most commonly occurring”), there are many and merry of us who form part of the neurodivergent demographic. Some of the most common learning differences that classify individuals as neurodivergent include ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, and Dyslexia.
Compared to neurotypical individuals, neurodivergent individuals relate to others in a unique way. This means that they may have different preferences when it comes to learning and socialising, their reactions and behaviours within certain contexts might be different to what others would expect. While these variations may have previously been viewed as obstacles or barriers in school and work-environments, there is a growing body of evidence to suggest that these cognitive differences offer significant benefits to companies and learning institutions worldwide.
In our neurodiversity lies our greatest strength, and regardless of where we lie on the spectrum, there are several ways in which we can improve the way we communicate and relate to others.
How to promote neurodiversity optimizing the way we work and interact with each other
Now that we have established the power that lies in neurodiversity, it’s time to take a look at some ways in which we can maximise the associated benefits thereof. Communication is our most valuable tool in this instance, and we should use it to express our needs, desires, and goals to those around us.
Whether we are interacting with another person on a personal or professional level, we can start by conveying our preferred language style to them, and asking about theirs. This is especially relevant within the context of neurodiversity. The two different language styles you would typically find here are person-first language (e.g., “a person who has autism”) and identity first language (e.g., “an autistic person”). If you are part of any one of the subgroups of neurodivergent individuals, be sure to express your preferred language style to those around you so that they can address you in an appropriate manner. If you are a neurotypical individual working or socialising with someone who is neurodivergent, ask them how they would like to be addressed, as this shows respect and consideration.
Although many disability advocacy organizations prefer person-first language (i.e., “a person with autism”), some research has indicated that the majority of the autistic community prefers identity-first language (i.e., “an autistic person”). Therefore, rather than making assumptions, it is best to ask the person directly about how they would like to be addressed.
Communicating our needs
Another way to use communication in the context of neurodiversity is to establish either party’s needs, which includes their physical needs, social needs, and learning/occupational needs. Find out if the other person has any health issues you should be aware of, be sensitive and cognisant of this, bearing in mind that they may require extra monitoring and treatment. This information is vital and should be communicated at home, in schools, and work environment to ensure proper care and support.
If you are a neurodivergent individual and have a heightened sensitivity to specific sounds, textures, visuals, lighting, or other stimuli, be sure to communicate this to your peers, colleagues, and supervisors so that they know to limit these stimuli in your immediate environment. This will allow you to learn and work more comfortably, which can benefit your ability to concentrate and perform tasks. If you are a neurotypical individual, ask your neurodivergent friends, family members, co-workers and peers about their particular sensitivities, and try to accommodate them in as much as is practically possible. These simple changes can help both parties relate and behave towards one another more respectfully and appropriately. It can also boost productivity and improve concentration.
It is important to remind ourselves that we should never be afraid to ask, because when it comes to communication, asking is just as important as sharing. Do not be afraid to ask for the support or assistance you need. If you find that a certain environment is hindering you from working or learning optimally, the only way to change this is to ask. Unless we clearly express our needs to others, they will never know what we are thinking. In much the same way, we should ask others about their sensitivities and possible challenges they might be facing. Another instance where it is important to ‘ask’ is when we are uncertain about another person’s needs, goals, and desires. When someone behaves in a manner that conveys uncertainty or discomfort, ask them what is troubling them so that they can explain the situation from their perspective. Ask them what you can do to help make things better for them. The more we understand one another, the more we can do to support each other.
Compassion is key
Regardless of whether we are neurotypical or neurodivergent, we are all human beings who want to be understood and treated with compassion. That is why we should offer those around us encouragement and support, not only when they’re at their lowest, but also when they’re thriving. If you are a neurotypical individual, be sure to support and encourage your neurodivergent brothers and sisters in a way that is authentic and that does not come across as demeaning or compensatory. We are all equal and should be treated as such. When collaborating with neurodivergent peers or colleagues, neurotypical individuals should always do their best to actively practise inclusive and non-judgemental language. As a neurodivergent individual, it can also be useful to point out when they are feeling excluded or discriminated against, as this raises others’ awareness and prevents it from reoccurring.
The world is a complex place, and humans even more so. We are all wildly different in the things we love, the things we enjoy, and the way we try to make sense of the world. There are many aspects about one another that we may never come to fully understand, but if there’s one thing, we all have in common it’s our ability to think and feel. Despite our differences, we remain very much the same at our core. And maybe, just maybe, this life is about finding a way to express this similarity in a language that feels right.
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