Business owners know that diversity can lead to a dynamic work environment. Gender and racial diversity are a given today, but have you also considered neurodiversity when hiring? Incorporating the talents of individuals with neurological differences, such as autism, and having a neurodiverse workplace may benefit your business.
“Everyone is unique in the skills and qualities they can bring to a business,” says Lauren Callaghan, clinical psychologist and co-author of Pulling the Trigger: The Definitive Survival and Recovery Approach for OCD, Anxiety, Panic Attacks and Related Depression. “I would encourage businesses to welcome neurodiverse individuals and keep an open mind regarding what they can contribute.”
Potential Benefits of a Neurodiverse Workplace
As business owners who incorporate neurodiversity into the workplace discover, employees with conditions such as autism can bring new ways of thinking with them. These different perspectives can lead to innovative and creative work.
—Elaine Fogel Schneider, author
“There are a number of benefits to hiring individuals with neurological differences,” says Elaine Fogel Schneider, author of 7 Strategies for Raising Calm, Inspired & Successful Children. “Such individuals often possess valuable talents and skills, such as attention to detail and the ability to be methodical, which are highly valuable attributes when it comes to jobs that involve technology.”
Other benefits of hiring individuals with neurological differences like autism can include the fact that many such employees are driven to complete tasks, notes Fogel Schneider. “Often employees with neurological differences are dedicated to work on problems until they’re resolved. They also tend to be loyal employees.”
Challenges of Creating a Neurodiverse Workplace
But creating a neurodiverse work environment is not without its hurdles.
“Neurodiverse individuals can become overwhelmed and anxious and need encouragement to succeed,” says Fogel Schneider. “In addition, not all people on the autism spectrum have the verbal skills necessary for self-expression. Many also experience reduced intermittent eye contact and a rapid speech pattern that may be tangential to a topic—both of which affect the way interaction occurs with fellow employees and management.”
In order to have a neurodiverse workplace, experts advise that steps be taken during the interview and onboarding processes.
Tips for Interviewing Individuals With Neurological Differences
Given the nature of neurological conditions such as autism, consider making accommodations during the interview process, such as the following:
- Avoid expecting direct eye contact. “People on the spectrum may not be able to give you a direct gaze,” says Fogel Schneider. “They often report that it’s too stressful to stare directly into someone’s eyes during an interview. They may need to look at another point on the face, such as the mouth, or at their own lap.”
- Don’t ask for self-expression and social fluency. “Avoid requiring individuals with autism to talk about themselves,” says Fogel Schneider. “It may be difficult for such a person to form a response, for instance, if you ask why he or she would make a good employee.”
- Offer frequent breaks. If it becomes clear that the interviewee needs a few moments, allow for this during the interviewing schedule.
- Encourage non-verbal responses. If verbalizing is difficult, allow interviewees to show you how they work. “Ask [individuals with autism] to perform tasks or take technical tests, and you’ll discover a great deal about their social adaptations, levels of perseverance and work ethics,” says Fogel Schneider.
Creating a Supportive Environment for Neurodiversity
“A small business is like a family and thrives on the uniqueness and achievements of its employees,” says Fogel Schneider. “The idea of hiring a neurodiverse person might be overwhelming for a small-business owner and employees, who are often wary of things they don’t understand.”
To assimilate neurodivergent individuals into your business so they can be accepted and understood, consider trying the following tactics.
Educate. A little knowledge can help with increasing awareness. Consider holding training workshops on neurodivergence and offer information about autism. Inform employees about the autism spectrum, including reasons for behaviors and ways to help relieve anxiety if it crops up. Letting employees who have lived with a family member with autism share their stories and advice can also be a form of education.
Hold sensitivity trainings. “Educate employees about the thinking and behavior of neurodiverse individuals in such a way that they come to have empathy,” suggests business psychiatrist Mark Goulston, owner of the Goulston Group.
“Teach understanding and compassion by encouraging employees to share their own experiences of not fitting in for a wide variety of reasons, including gender, disability, sexuality and even personality quirks,” says Goulston. “Have the employees share how those experiences made them feel alone, frustrated and powerless, and how they would have appreciated people being helpful, kind and patient, without being patronizing.”
Assign a neurodiversity liaison. “Have someone in the company serve as the go-between in the case of any issues that may arise, including communication difficulties,” says Callaghan. “Such a person can be in charge of awareness training, and if necessary, facilitate mediation.”
For more tips on building a strong company culture, access our exclusive guide by author and leadership expert Jon Gordon: Build a Winning Organizational Culture.
Read more articles on hiring & HR.