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Why Autism is an Ability and Asset for Employers

When we talk about hiring a diverse workforce, our minds automatically go to checking the race, culture and perhaps even sexuality “boxes” on the typical census form. However, there is an additional field of diversity that you perhaps haven’t thought of and that could diversify a business in ways that you may have never imagined—neurodiversity.

Neurodiversity is an ongoing movement that refers to the different neurological conditions as part of being a natural part of being human instead of classifying them as a disorder that needs a cure. The term applies to people who are differently abled in the sense that they may have autism or be on the autism spectrum, Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, or other neurological differences.

Companies don’t necessarily know or think about neurodiversity because is often less visible and more often more stigmatized. This leaves these individuals as an untapped source of enormous talent, especially when it comes to individuals with autism. Up to 90 percent of adults with autism are either unemployed or underemployed, according to AutismSpeaks.org, making this the “largest untapped labor pool in the country.” Businesses can greatly benefit from expanding their workforce with neuro-diverse employees and the HR professionals at a Professional Employer Organization (PEO), are a resource to turn to for help with developing a plan for neurodiversity for your business.

Think Different
When we talk about folks with neurodiversity, often times the focus is on where they might struggle in the traditional social context. However, the flip side of that argument is that these same “quirks” can yield exceptional talent in other business-based areas. For example, the work of Mary Colley from the UK’s Developmental Adult Neurodiversity Association suggests that these people should instead be considered “specialist thinkers.” Per her observations, people on the autism spectrum excel at concentration, fine-detail processing and memory, while folks with ADHD bring creativity and hyper-focus and those with dyslexia are excellent visual thinkers with above-par spatial reasoning skills. Based on this knowledge, HR reps can tease out what talents a particular job requires and begin to line up particular job postings to target those with neurological differences that may lend themselves to the role or even just help round out an existing team that has some skills or knowledge gaps.

Appreciate the Perspective
Often times, we hire individuals because they see the world the way we do – it’s a point of commonality and these shared interests and values often contribute to the creation of strong company culture. However, when everyone has been trained to think the same way, it can mean that coming up with ideas to solve a problem or even new product lines can become a struggle, leading to stagnation in your business. By onboarding neuro-diverse folks whose diagnoses require them to approach and review a problem using different perspectives or skills, it is possible that solutions can emerge that other workers never could have come up with – and they’ll likely even have some new and innovative means to implement said plan that, again, would have been out of the reach of existing staff.

Work It Out
Fortune recently profiled the efforts of several companies, including JP Morgan Chase, Microsoft, and Ford, to hire a neurodiverse workforce. According to statistics from JP Morgan, which has hired approximately 70 workers with ASD, on average, these new hires complete 48 percent to 140 percent more work than their neuro-typical counterparts, depending on the roles. James Mahoney, executive director and head of Autism at Work at JP Morgan, attributes the increased work capacity to the fact that these workers “are highly focused and less distracted by social interactions.” To be honest, couldn’t every company benefit from workers who were more productive and spent less time getting bogged down in the social aspects of the office environment?

Open Eyes
While hiring a neurodiverse workforce can certainly boost your bottom line, an additional perk of adding these folks to your ranks is that it gives “neurotypical” individuals in your office an opportunity to work with and mentor these workers. These new hires often require additional guidance in order to perform their jobs. This may include supplemental or ongoing on-the-job training, but it could also include teaching skills using different modalities, such as more visual imagery or even exploration of the mechanism behind the job, to make the work meaningful to these individuals. In explaining the notion of the job in a different way – and coaching these new hires as they learn and become competent workers – managers and other staff (when provided the right training and support) can find this a fulfilling role that helps boost their engagement in the business and excitement within the company.

Think it might be time for you to neuro-diversify your employee search efforts? A PEO can help with all aspects of recruitment and hiring with incredible attention to detail to make the life of the average small business owner easier. The expertly trained professionals at a PEO focus on abilities and matching skills sets, not on the differences that may have previously set these workers apart.

 

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