In 1998, sociologist Judy Singer coined the term “neurodiversity” defining it as the range of differences in individual brain function and behavioral traits, regarded as part of normal variation in the human population. This definition is used especially in the context of autism spectrum disorders but it can also be applied to learning differences such as ADHD and dyslexia. In the 23 years since then, neurodiversity awareness has made great strides, but there is still a long way to go. In order to create a better world for ne u rodive rgent people where they can reach their full potential, we need to go beyond being aware of neurodiversity. We need to embrace it.
Disclaimer: While there are certain habits and mannerisms that are often seen in neurodivergent people as a whole, no two neurodivergent people are alike and the characteristics and personalities of one neurodivergent person can be completely different than another. Any descriptions of the habits of neurodivergent people made in this article are by no means meant to be a blanket statement of the neurodivergent community as a whole.
Embracing neurodiversity can look like many different things. It can be reading up on things like sensory overload and sensitivity to certain foods and other struggles that neurodivergent people tend to face. It can be choosing to watch a movie at home with your friend who is neurodivergent and does not like how loud movie theatres get can. It can be creating a space in your future office or classroom for people to use when they get overwhelmed. It can be reforming your company’s human resources policies and processes to allow neurodivergent coworkers to reach their full potential.
Several well-known companies such as Microsoft, Ford and Dell technologies have done this. According to the Harvard Business Review, many managers have noticed many positive changes in the office since these policies were put in place, such as increased productivity, boosts in innovative capabilities and an overall increase in employee engagement. A managing director for the company HPE South Pacific stated that no other initiative in his company delivers benefits at so many levels than the initiative created to assist neurodiversity.
Another way to embrace neurodiversity is to have a sense of understanding and patience for people. Being understanding and patient can be difficult from time to time, especially when you are trying to teach someone a new skill or concept and they just can’t seem to “get it” no matter how many times you have explained it to them. However, when difficulties like this arise, put yourself in their shoes and think about how they feel. If you’re getting frustrated with someone because they don’t get it, imagine how frustrated they are with themselves for not getting it.
As important as it is to have patience and understanding for neurodivergent people, it’s important that you don’t coddle them or treat them like you would a small child. Neurodivergent people may need a little more help or accommodations on certain things, but they are by no means unable to complete the task at hand. Neurodivergent people are e x t r e m e l y capable, smart, and passionate, and one way we can help them reach their maximum potential is by embracing neurodiversity.