What do physicist Alber Einstein, artist Vincent Van Gogh, author F. Scott Fitzgerald, and chemist Marie Curie have in common? They were all neurodivergent, based on the evidence of their lives. In other words, their brains worked in unique ways.
We have often seen children developing in different ways. Some struggle with mathematics while others may jumble up the alphabet every time they read or write; some may struggle with a particular environment, while others may have a compulsive action for them to be efficient. This means these children have different strengths and struggles from people whose brains develop or work more typically. The term that can be used for them is “Neurodivergent”.
The Neurodivergent gives them this space of acceptance, that they are not disabled but just different. That there is nothing to ‘fix’ or ‘modify’ with their brains, but to ‘accept’ and work on their strengths, because their brains work in a different pattern.
The term Neurodivergent is basically a nonmedical term that describes people whose brains develop or work differently for some reason. Some people who are neurodivergent have medical conditions, it also happens to people where a medical condition or diagnosis hasn’t been identified.
In this feature, we bring forth an understanding of what Neurodiversity is, how can we understand it better, and how we can deal with Neurodiversity in children and that at workplaces.
What is Neurodiversity?
People view the world and react to it in a variety of ways. The functioning of each person’s brain varies. There isn’t an “incorrect” or “correct” method. These distinctions should be welcomed instead.
The term “neurodiversity” is used to describe the many ways that each person’s brain functions. Although everyone’s brain develops in a similar way, no two brains work the same. If your brain functions differently from the average or “neurotypical” person’s, you are said to be neurodivergent.
This could be due to disparities in social preferences, educational approaches, communication styles, and/or environmental perception techniques. A neurodivergent person as a result has varied problems and distinctive talents. Neurodivergent individuals can gain from education and programs that enable them to identify and capitalize on their abilities to live happy, healthy lives.
In the 1990s, the phrase “neurodiversity” was developed to combat prejudice and advance autistic acceptance. However, it also covers other ailments involving neurological variations, such as ADHD and learning disabilities like dyslexia and dyscalculia.
The neurodiversity movement
Judy Singer, an Australian sociologist who is also autistic, founded the neurodiversity movement. Singer viewed the campaign for neurodiversity as a social justice effort to advance equality for those she referred to as “neurological minorities” – those whose brains function differently than average. She identified those minorities as including those with autism, ADHD, and learning disabilities. Singer believed that these variances in how brains function should be seen as natural and even beneficial variations rather than as deficits.
The neurodiversity movement’s primary objective is to highlight the advantages of this diversity. For instance, the inventiveness that is frequently associated with learning disabilities like ADHD and dyslexia, or the hyperfocus and fresh viewpoints connected to autism.
Focusing on strengths
“Everybody has strengths, and everybody has things that they’re working on,” notes Stephanie Lee, PsyD, a clinical psychologist with extensive experience working with kids with ADHD and on the autism spectrum. “Instead of thinking of people with autism or ADHD as needing to be ‘fixed,’ we put a spotlight on things that they’re good at and help with things that they’re working on.”
In this approach, focusing on strengths becomes an important part of treatment. “Being a strength-based therapist means that I look at the strengths of the family, and of the individual,” said Dr. Lee. “And then I think, ‘How can I take this unique individual’s strengths and use them to breathe life into an evidence-based treatment?’”
Dr. Lee observes that this treatment approach also emphasizes helping kids work towards their own goals, rather than deciding the goals of treatment for individuals without including them. “If there are symptoms that are making it hard for an individual to reach their goals, that are getting in their way, that’s what we want to work on.”
Neurodiversity as identity
In addition, the concept of neurodiversity has expanded from a focus on persons who have received a formal diagnosis of autism, ADHD, or a learning problem to a larger population, many of whom self-identify as neurodiverse. This change is explained by Cynthia Martin, PsyD, Clinical Director of the Child Mind Institute’s Autism Centre.
“The term used to be used to describe people who either had a clinical diagnosis or were borderline, with symptoms that are near the clinical threshold for a diagnosis,” she explains. “More recently, what I’ve seen is broadening to include anybody who identifies with it. People who feel that they think or process outside of the box.”
Neurodiversity, she says, has become something many people, especially adolescents, are increasingly comfortable identifying with. For kids around middle school age who are struggling socially, identifying as neurodiverse can be a way to make sense of what they’re going through. The concept gives them a brain-based explanation for their difficulties — “Oh, I’m like this because my brain works differently.” It can also help create a sense of community with others who identify as neurodiverse.
To verify their experiences, some young people are increasingly diagnosing themselves with diseases that fall under the category of neurodiversity. As a result, adds Dr. Martin, parents have been bringing in their self-referral 11 to 13-year-old children for autism evaluations. A diagnosis of autism may or may not be given to these kids, but getting tested is frequently a crucial first step in assisting them to feel better and overcome difficulties.
What to do if a child feels they are neurodivergent?
Dr. Martin advises parents to be open, compassionate, and free of judgment if their child confides in them that they believe they are neurodivergent. It’s always a good idea to begin by saying something like, “I’m so glad that you’re talking to me about this.” Getting evaluated is a good next step, but it’s best to avoid promising the youngster that the evaluation would inevitably result in the diagnosis they’re looking for. The evaluation will mark the beginning of offering a remedy for the problems that trouble them.
Dr. Martin argues that even if a child doesn’t fulfill the criteria for a disease, their challenges are still very genuine. That doesn’t minimize your experience, so let’s talk about what we can do to support you or, if required, find alternative solutions. The end outcome should be a strategy that both parents and kids can trust.
Disorder vs. difference
Dr. Martin points out that even if the push to refer to “differences” rather than “disorders” offers advantages, it’s still important to concentrate on the correct diagnosis when kids have serious symptoms.
“When kids have a disorder that is significant and will impact them on a daily basis, and will show up at school, will show up in their friendships, will show up in their home life, in their adaptive skills, you do need a diagnosis from a medical perspective,” she explains. The diagnosis is the basis for understanding the child’s condition and getting much needed supports, therapies, and school services.
However, recognizing neurodiverse people as having differences rather than disadvantages might help children flourish and reach their full potential. It is much more inclusive and less stigmatizing to have the individuals you contact—your instructors, employers, friends, and family—think more in terms of neurodiversity, according to Dr. Martin. It simply acknowledges that different people will approach environments in different ways.
Some things that you can do to support someone who is Neurodivergent
There are many things people can do to be supportive of neurodivergent individuals. Some of the most important things you should keep in mind include:
- Listen. People who are neurodivergent may feel misunderstood or left out. Be willing to listen to them. Let them know you hear them and respect them and their choices.
- Communicate in ways that help them. Sometimes, people who are neurodivergent prefer written communication such as instant messaging, texting or emails over a phone call or face-to-face conversation. Give them the time and tools they need to communicate.
- Avoid value-based labels. Experts recommend against using the terms “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” to describe conditions like autism. They often assume a person’s level of function based on how much they behave like someone who’s neurotypical.
- No two neurodivergent people are the same. The personalities and preferences of neurodivergent people can be widely different, even when they have the same underlying condition.
- Don’t assume that anyone is incapable or unintelligent. People who are neurodivergent often have conditions or preferences that make them stand out or appear different.
- Treat everyone with respect. You can “normalize” and provide others with accommodations in a way that honours their human dignity.
Fostering neurodiversity in the workplace
People with neurodevelopmental disabilities may be excluded due to stigma, a lack of knowledge, and inadequate infrastructure (such as office layout or personnel structures). It can be easier to be inclusive of everyone if communities, schools, companies, and healthcare facilities recognize and value neurodiversity. We must all work to create a culture that values neurodiversity and recognizes and celebrates the unique skills and abilities that each person possesses while also supporting their differences and needs.
Many people with these diseases are more gifted than ordinary people, and studies have shown that some disorders, like dyslexia and autism, can give people specialized abilities in math, pattern recognition, or memory. However, those afflicted frequently have trouble identifying with the job-seeking personas.
Workplace accommodations and procedures to accommodate Neurodiversity
To activate or fully utilize their abilities, neurodiverse people frequently require workplace accommodations, such as headphones to minimize auditory overstimulation. They occasionally display challenging peculiarities. The difficulties and accommodations are frequently tolerable, and the potential rewards are excellent. However, to reap the rewards, most businesses would need to change their hiring, choosing, and career development procedures to reflect a broader notion of talent.
To access neurodiverse talent, an increasing number of well-known organizations have changed their HR procedures.
Managers claim that the programs are already paying off in ways that go far beyond brand enhancement, even if they are still in their infancy. SAP’s program, which has been running for the longest among major firms, is only four years old. These include boosting employee engagement levels and increasing productivity, quality, and innovative skills. No other effort in his company, according to Nick Wilson, managing director of HPE South Pacific, which has one of the largest such programs, offers advantages on so many levels.
The most unexpected effect may be that managers have started to seriously consider how to best utilize all employees’ talents by being more considerate of individual requirements. According to Silvio Bessa, senior vice president of digital business services at SAP, the program “forces you to get to know the person better, so you know how to manage them.” I’m without a doubt a better manager because of it.
Why Neurodiversity Presents Opportunities
Because we are all born and nurtured differently, everyone is to some extent differently abled (a term that many neurodiverse people prefer). Our thought processes are a combination of the “machinery” we were born with and the events that “programmed” us.
Most managers are aware of the benefits that diverse personnel backgrounds, disciplinary histories, gender, cultural origins, and other personal characteristics may bring to an organization. Neurodiversity has similar, but more immediate, advantages. A company’s efforts to generate or recognize value may benefit from the unique views that neurodiverse people can offer because they are wired differently than “neurotypical” people.
When they are working, even highly capable neurodiverse people are often underemployed.
Why Companies Don’t Tap Neurodiverse Talent
What has prevented so many businesses from hiring individuals with the skills they so desperately need? It all depends on how they identify and choose talent and choose who to hire (and promote).
HR procedures are created with a focus on widespread organization-wide implementation, particularly in large businesses. Scalability, however, conflicts with the objective of hiring neurodiverse personnel.
But they miss out on neurodiverse talent due to two significant issues.
The first involves interviewing, a procedure that practically everyone performs when using the conventional strategy. Neurodiverse individuals may be exceptional in critical areas, yet many struggle in interviews. For instance, autistic individuals frequently avoid eye contact, are prone to verbal digressions, and are sometimes extremely forthright about their shortcomings. Some people struggle with confidence because of setbacks they encountered in prior interviews. In general, neurodiverse applicants are unlikely to perform better in interviews than less skilled neurotypical candidates.
The second issue arises from the presumption that scalable operations necessitate strict adherence to standardized methods. This issue is particularly prevalent in large corporations. As previously indicated, employees in neurodiversity programs often need to be given the freedom to stray from conventional wisdom. As a result, a manager’s focus changes from standardizing processes to modifying unique work situations.
Most concessions, like changing the lighting and giving out noise-cancelling headphones, are not extremely pricey. However, they do necessitate more customization on the part of managers than would otherwise be the case.
How can employers make their workplaces more neurodiversity-friendly?
- Offer small adjustments to an employee’s workspace to accommodate any sensory needs, such as
- Sound sensitivity: Offer a quiet break space, communicate expected loud noises (like fire drills), and offer noise-cancelling headphones.
- Tactile: Allow modifications to the usual work uniform.
- Movements: Allow the use of fidget toys, allow extra movement breaks, and offer flexible seating.
- Use a clear communication style:
- Avoid sarcasm, euphemisms, and implied messages.
- Provide concise verbal and written instructions for tasks, and break tasks down into small steps.
- Inform people about workplace/social etiquette, and don’t assume someone is deliberately breaking the rules or being rude.
- Try to give advance notice if plans are changing and provide a reason for the change.
- Don’t make assumptions — ask a person’s individual preferences, needs, and goals.
- Be kind, be patient.
Help is here:
Madhuram Narayanan Centre for Exceptional Children
No. 18, Prakasam Street,
(Next to SKCL Harmony Square)
T.Nagar, Chennai – 600 017, INDIA
Phone: 9566099673 / 9840414148