What is neurodiversity?
Emerging in the 1990s, neurodiversity is a recognition and respect for neurological differences people experience and interact with the world around them in different ways like other differences, such as skin color or gender. In other words, no one “right” way to think, learn, or behave exists, and differences are not considered deficits. As such, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), as well as other neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD and learning disabilities, are not regarded as pathological conditions that need to be treated, but rather differences are recognized and accepted. Communities should embrace them, especially in educational and professional settings, creating environments that are flexible to the needs and strengths of all individuals rather than expecting them to conform to established norms.
Alongside the current global trends in environmental, social, and governance (ESG) and diversity, equity, and inclusion (DE&I) that significantly impact corporate value and sustainability, neurodiversity is gaining traction. In the United States, there has been a recent push to harness the potential of neurodiversity among technology (IT) companies. There are several reasons for this.
What is the potential of neurodiversity?
People with neurodiversity often approach a problem from a unique angle, bringing a new perspective that can lead to innovative problem-solving. In the tech industry, where innovation is critical, having individuals and teams with different cognitive approaches is an important asset, so having people with unique perspectives is necessary. For example, people with ADHD are known to think creatively, be risk-takers, have high energy, and be able to multi-task; people with dyslexia can often see connections that others cannot and have the ability to simplify complex tasks or products; and some people with autism spectrum disorders can bring specialized skills such as attention to detail, analytical thinking, and excellent memory, which can be very useful in roles such as coding, data analysis, and testing.
Because people with neurodiversity can draw on their own experiences to help develop products and services that appeal to a broader audience, companies that embrace neurodiversity can gain a competitive advantage in the marketplace, and by fostering neurodiversity, companies can also demonstrate social responsibility and enhance their corporate reputation. Because employees generally prefer to work for organizations that value diversity and inclusion, companies that embrace neurodiversity can ultimately retain a stable workforce and reduce costs associated with turnover.
Recognizing these benefits, U.S. companies increasingly prioritize neurodiversity in their hiring and work practices. Notable examples include Microsoft, IBM, SAP, VMware, Hewlett-Packard, and Salesforce. In addition, there is growing awareness and support for neurodiversity inclusion in the tech industry as organizations like the Autism @ Work Employer Roundtable and the Neurodiversity in Tech movement work to promote employment opportunities and support for neurodiverse individuals.