Accessibility, Life Care Plan, Medical Consultation, Vocational Rehabilitation

Celebrating Neurodiversity

 August 23, 2017

By  Deborah L Weiner Katz, OTR/L, CCM, CLCP

In May of 2015, Microsoft announced a special pilot jobs program created specifically for the purpose of hiring people on the autism spectrum. By doing so, the software giant increased the likelihood of recruiting employees who think differently, retain large amounts of information and excel in math or code. You would think that anyone with that list of job qualifications would have an easy time securing a job. Yet, the reality is that some of today’s high-paid software engineers may never have had that opportunity due to difficulty making eye contact or frustration with strange environments.

Fortunately, Microsoft decided that its workforce needed to reflect a form of human diversity known as neurodiversity.

What is neurodiversity?

It hardly takes a genius like Bill Gates to recognize that the idea of there being just one “normal” type of brain is no more valid than there being just one “normal” ethnicity, gender or culture. Understanding neurodiversity implies understanding of social power inequalities. Embracing neurodiversity can lead to maximizing creative potential.

Microsoft assigned each employee in the program to assist with reading social cues and decoding interactions with co-workers. Even managers received training in order to gain valuable perspective. Today, these efforts represent a larger movement.

What is the Neurodiversity Movement?

Those of us who seek social justice for the neurodivergent are part of the Neurodiversity Movement. We are a civil rights movement comprised of individuals and groups alike, with no specific leader. Our origins lie within the Autism Rights Movement but we have evolved into an entity that aims to include all neurominorities, not just Autistics. We have our own diverse viewpoints, methods of activism and interpretations of the neurodiversity paradigm.

What are the advantages of neurodiversity?

Talent managers and human resources professionals are beginning to realize that the differently abled population may be an untapped resource. Championing diversity in gender and culture has already netted positive results. Why not look closer at neurodiversity?

Many neurodiverse people have impressive credentials but the majority of them are unemployed, or underemployed. Programs similar to Microsoft’s pilot program, such as SAP’s Autism at Work program, included applicants with master’s degrees in electrical engineering, biostatistics and anthropology. Others had bachelor’s degrees in computer science, applied mathematics and engineering physics. Individuals with dual degrees, who graduated with honors, were discovered.

Many non-profit organizations help people with autism find employment. As advocates for individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders, we also take an active interest in the subject. With culture leaders like Microsoft taking such an interest in neurodiversity, there is now a real national conversation when it comes to accommodating those on the spectrum.

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