Did you know that 20% of today’s population is neurodivergent?
That means as an organizational learning and development professional, you may be reaching only 80% of your intended audience. Even though 20% may not seem like a terrible margin, it can be a major inefficiency if not addressed, Understanding how neurodiversity impacts individuals can not only create more efficient training, but can also lead to breakthroughs in the way that your team works together - and celebrates the talents that each employee brings to the organization.
In this blog, we’ll unpack what neurodiversity means, how it impacts teams, and what learning and development professionals should consider in their DEI efforts.
What is neurodiversity?
Diversity is moving beyond the basic recognition of differences of the “Big Three”- gender, race, and orientation. Diversity is expanding to identify the invisible differences between individuals, for example, Neurodiversity refers to the diversity of brain functions and behaviors that result from differences in the way the brain processes information. Neurodiversity, a term defined by researcher Judy Singer, includes conditions such as dyslexia, ADHD, and autism, among others.
Neurodiversity should not be confused for or with mental illness. They are two separate topics. Additional information can be found at the Neurodiversity Hub. There are a variety of accommodations that individuals with neurodiverse conditions in the workplace may request. These may include things like flexible work schedules, modifications to the physical environment (such as the use of noise-canceling headphones), or assistive technology (such as speech-to-text software).
There is evidence to suggest that neurodiversity is becoming more recognized and accommodated in the workplace. This may be due in part to increased awareness of neurodiversity and the unique strengths and abilities that individuals with neurodiverse conditions can bring to the workplace.
Understanding neurodiversity and the ADA
Under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), employers are required to provide reasonable accommodations to employees with disabilities, unless doing so would cause undue hardship. This means that employers are required to make changes to the workplace, or the way work is done to help individuals with disabilities to perform their jobs. Employers are also required to engage in the interactive process with employees to determine appropriate accommodations.
What does an employee need to provide as neurodiverse to qualify for ADA reasonable accommodations?
To qualify for reasonable accommodations under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), an employee must have a disability as defined by the ADA. A disability is a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities.
If an employee believes that they have a disability and need reasonable accommodations, they should inform their employer of their need for accommodations. The employee does not necessarily need to disclose the specific nature of their disability, but they may need to provide some information about their functional limitations and the accommodations that they are requesting.
The employer and employee should then engage in an interactive process to determine appropriate accommodations. This may involve discussing the specific limitations that the employee experiences and how those limitations impact their job performance, as well as the specific accommodations that the employee is requesting.
It is important to note that not all neurodiverse conditions will qualify as disabilities under the ADA. For example, dyslexia or ADHD may qualify as disabilities if they substantially limit a major life activity such as reading or paying attention. However, an employee may still be able to request accommodations even if their condition does not qualify as a disability under the ADA. Employers are encouraged to consider all requests for accommodations on a case-by-case basis.
Neurodiversity considerations for L&D professionals
Learning and organizational development professionals need to consider a variety of factors when working with neurodiverse populations, such as individuals with autism, dyslexia, or ADHD, in the workplace. Here are a few examples:
- Communication: Many individuals with neurodiverse conditions may have difficulty with verbal or written communication. It is important for learning and organization professionals to be aware of this and to use clear, concise, and straightforward language when communicating with these individuals. It may also be helpful to use visual aids or other forms of nonverbal communication to supplement verbal communication.
- Flexibility: Many individuals with neurodiverse conditions may benefit from a flexible work environment that allows them to work at their own pace or to take breaks as needed. Learning and organization professionals should be open to making reasonable accommodations to support the needs of these individuals.
- Training: Some individuals with neurodiverse conditions may benefit from specialized training or support to help them learn new skills or perform their jobs effectively. Learning and organization professionals should be prepared to provide this support as needed and to be patient and understanding as these individuals learn and adapt.
- Inclusivity: It is important for learning and organization professionals to create an inclusive and welcoming environment for individuals with neurodiverse conditions. This may involve providing accommodations, such as assistive technology or quiet workspaces, and being open and supportive of the unique needs and challenges faced by these individuals.
L&D call to action: be the change
Beyond business, addressing neurodiversity in the workplace through learning and development interventions is one way we can truly live allyship. By embracing neurodiversity, organizations can tap into the unique strengths and perspectives of neurodiverse individuals, leading to a more innovative and productive workforce. Learning and development professionals play a vital role in this process by designing and delivering inclusive training programs, creating a culture of acceptance, and providing support and resources for neurodiverse employees. It's time to break down the barriers and create a more inclusive and equitable workplace for all. Let's take action, embrace neurodiversity, and work towards a more inclusive future for all.