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Neurodiversity in the Workplace

7/27/16 by Grant Watkins

Do you know what neurodiversity is or have you heard the term neurodiverse condition? Dyslexia and attention deficit disorder are examples of neurodiverse conditions. Neurodiversity is a concept where neurological differences are to be recognized and respected as any other human variation. These differences can include those labeled with Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Dyscalculia, Autistic Spectrum, Tourette Syndrome, and others.

My name is Grant Watkins and I manage the volunteer program at the Wilder Community Center for Aging. I am passionate about the importance of developing a resilient spirit and empathy for others living with silent disabilities who may be isolated, ignored or discriminated against. As a gay person living with a significant hearing impairment, dyslexia and attention deficit disorder, I know firsthand what it feels like to be marginalized and minimized.

Neurodiversity often goes unrecognized in workplaces. Because people living with neurodiverse conditions look just like you and me, it’s difficult to identify who has or doesn’t have a different learning style.

Building Support for Neurodiversity

I am working to build awareness and support for employees with neurodiverse conditions. I helped create the Wilder Neurodiversity Group (WNDG), an employee affinity group intended to provide a forum and source of support, information exchange, membership, and career enhancement for employees impacted by neurodiverse conditions. 

In 2015 I was awarded a Kingston Fellowship and worked with a Wilder Research scientist to create a short online survey that helped us learn about the experiences of 437 employees with neurodiverse conditions and employers who supervise employees with neurodiverse conditions. We also wanted to know about other employees' understanding of neurodiversity.

Among our findings:

  • Most employees surveyed “agreed” or “strongly agreed” their workplace is inclusive or supportive and they are encouraged to be themselves at work and are treated equally and fairly.

  • Twenty-two percent felt their employer actively recruits and hires individuals with neurodiverse conditions.

  • Sixty-two percent of respondents with neurodiverse conditions had not told their current employer about the condition. Most commonly, they did not disclose because they did not believe the condition impacted their ability to do their job (53 percent).

  • Nearly half – 46 percent – of respondents with neurodiverse conditions felt they had experienced discrimination, harassment or workplace bullying because of their neurodiverse condition.

Creating a Healthy Working Environment

If you have a neurodiverse condition, you can begin to heal by finding the courage to ask for help. You may find renewal and rejuvenation by learning about the unique gifts your neurodiverse condition gives you. Prior to reading the book Dyslexic Advantage, I was unware of my own mind strengths.

If you supervise or manage an employee with neurodiverse conditions, you can provide support by focusing on the employee’s strengths and interests. You can learn about neurodiverse conditions yourself and teach your employees the importance of developing a resilient spirit and having empathy for others living with silent disabilities who may be isolated, ignored or discriminated against. Working together creates a healthy working environment where everyone can succeed and will help move all of society forward.

Grant Watkins is the Volunteer Coordinator at Wilder’s Community Center for Aging.