Neurodiversity in the Workplace
Neurodivergent workers bring many skills and talents to the workplace. Learn more in this toolkit.
This guide will help your organization recruit, hire, retain and advance neurodivergent workers and benefit from the advantages of neurodiversity at work. You will learn about:
- Neurodiversity and neurodivergence
- How neurodivergent workers can help your organization
- Ways to accommodate and support neurodivergent employees
Defining Neurodiversity and Neurodivergence
Neurodiversity describes the natural way that people think, learn, perceive the world, interact and process information differently. Different ways of thinking, learning, perceiving the world and interacting with others helps organizations thrive, as a workforce that includes people with a variety of perspectives, backgrounds and experiences can improve creativity, innovation and problem solving.
Neurodivergent people include autistic people; people with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and other mental health conditions; and people with learning disabilities. This group also includes people with other intellectual and developmental disabilities and a wide range of conditions that can shape thinking, learning and perceiving the world. In contrast, people whose brains and nervous systems function “typically” are known as neurotypical people. A workplace that supports all types of ways to think, learn, interact and perceive the world supports neurodiversity.
Increasingly, many people in the U.S. and around the world identify as neurodivergent. Research suggests that up to 15-20% of the U.S. population is neurodivergent. You likely know, work with and socialize with a significant number of people who are neurodivergent, including family members, coworkers, colleagues and friends. No two neurodivergent people are exactly alike. Thus, each neurodivergent person will bring a different set of skills and talents to the workplace and have different access and support needs.
Benefits of Neurodiversity in the Workplace
Efforts to increase neurodiversity can enhance the workplace in many ways. Neurodivergent workers can contribute their talents, skills and perspectives in ways that can directly benefit your organization’s mission and help support productivity and performance. More employers now recognize these benefits and have created hiring programs that focus on recruiting neurodivergent workers. In fact, under Section 503 of the Rehabilitation Act, certain federal contractors are required to take affirmative steps to hire, retain and promote people with disabilities.
Organizations of all sizes in all industries can benefit from supporting neurodiversity at work and tapping into the skills and talents of neurodivergent workers. These skills and talents may include:
- Innovation and creativity
- Technical, design and creative strengths
- New ways to solve problems
- High levels of concentration
- Keen accuracy and ability to detect errors
- Strong recall of information and detailed factual knowledge
- Reliability and persistence
- Ability to excel at work that is routine or repetitive in nature
Hiring neurodivergent workers can offer organizations a competitive edge, often bringing measurable financial and cultural benefits. To learn more about best practices for including neurodivergent employees with a variety of skills and traits, read EARN’s Neurodiversity Inclusion: Checklist for Organizational Success.
In the last decade, many organizations including Fortune 500 companies, small businesses and federal agencies in the U.S. and other countries around the world have launched or scaled up neurodiversity hiring programs. These companies have typically designed their programs to fit the talents, strengths, skills and needs of neurodivergent workers.
Adopting these programs can offer organizations the opportunity to hire talented staff and help promote greater inclusion in workplaces. Common practices include:
- Finding alternative ways to assess job candidates
- Forming partnerships with nonprofit organizations, state and local agencies and service providers
- Adopting mentorship and training programs that can provide support for neurodivergent workers
Including Neurodivergent Workers
Neurodivergent people often experience major barriers to employment before they can even begin a job. Many neurodivergent people are unemployed or under-employed as a result.
Various aspects of the recruitment and hiring process—from job descriptions to interviewing—can pose challenges that may deter neurodivergent job candidates from applying for open positions. These include social and communication barriers, understanding job requirements, and access to online systems and other software for applying to jobs and assessing job candidates. Thus, organizations are developing ways to bring their recruitment and hiring processes in line with more inclusive human relations (HR) practices.
- Finding Neurodivergent Workers: A variety of organizations, agencies and programs are available to help employers source and hire neurodivergent workers.
- Job Descriptions and Interviewing: Inclusive job descriptions and interview processes can help attract skilled candidates, including neurodivergent workers.
- Evaluation: Neurodivergent employees, just like all employees, want to build skills and advance in their careers.
- Workspace, Work Schedules and Other Accommodations: A supportive work environment can be helpful for all employees, including neurodivergent workers.
For resources about neurodiversity in the workplace, visit the Neurodiversity in the Workplace Resources page.