An Approach and a Movement in a Word: Neurodiversity

Perhaps you are familiar with the concept of "neurodiversity" that has been floating around in the world of intellectual and developmental disabilities for several years. If you are, that's great, but to a good many this approach and movement is a relative mystery. Here is an opportunity to improve your basic understanding of this concept so that the next time neurodiversity comes up, you will be in the know.

John Elder Robison, a scholar in residence and a co-chair of the Neurodiversity Working Group at the College of William and Mary writes, “neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome.” Furthermore, the 2011 National Symposium on Neurodiversity at Syracuse University asserts that these neurological differences should be recognized and respected as any other type of human variation. That is where the movement component comes into play. Neurodiversity can be experienced as a social movement that advocates for viewing certain neurological conditions as variations in human wiring and not diseases.

This is a huge concept about which there has been much critical analysis and review, but one of the main reasons it comes up so frequently relates to employment. See, it probably won't surprise you to learn that people with disabilities frequently face discrimination when it comes to employment (often right from the start during the hiring process). That being the case, the Harvard Business Review recently published an article (link below) that describes neurodiversity as a "competitive advantage."

The article acknowledges that "neurodiverse people frequently need workplace accommodations, such as headphones to prevent auditory overstimulation, to activate or maximally leverage their abilities. Sometimes they exhibit challenging eccentricities. In many cases the accommodations and challenges are manageable and the potential returns are great. But to realize the benefits, most companies would have to adjust their recruitment, selection, and career development policies to reflect a broader definition of talent." That being said, the article highlights a number of companies that have made these adjustments, such as Microsoft, SAP, Hewlett Packard Enterprise, Ford and many more. A Walgreens distribution center in Anderson, S.C. made an effort and in 2008 roughly 40% of their workforce of 700 identified as having a disability.

The employment aspect is just one component of a much larger social movement. The point is that now you hopefully have a better (or brand new) understanding of neurodiversity. And, perhaps, the next time you interact with a neurodiverse individual you might perceive them differently; seeing them for their inherent abilities and skills.

The Harvard Business Review article can be found at the following website: