An outside idea: Why neurodiversity is good for business.
Bill Gates, Andy Warhol, Thomas Jefferson and Albert Einstein…
Do you know what they have in common?
ASD – Otherwise known as Autism Spectrum Disorder, is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive, communicate and interact with
others. There are approximately 700,000 people living with ASD in the UK, and it’s a club that our son Max has just joined.
Over the course of our journey we’ve been shocked and saddened to learn that people with Autism struggle to find jobs. Right now in the UK approximately 80% of Autistic people are out of work.
The stat doesn’t seem to make sense because people on the Autistic Spectrum have some serious superpowers and a lot to offer business.
In this blog, we’ll discuss what ASD is, and how differences in a neurodiverse brain can be good for you and your business.
So what is ASD – A sensory experience
We all know about our “5 senses” touch, taste, hearing, sight and smell. Neurotypical people experience life’s adventures within a typical range of those senses. Of course, some of us hear better than others and some of us have better sight; however people with ASD tend to overreact or under react to the 5 main senses plus an additional two: the vestibular sense which affects our balance and motor skills, and our proprioceptive sense which affects our bodies awareness and where it is in relation to other things.
This over and under reaction is either Hyper – the prefix that means excess or exaggeration, and Hypo – which means under or beneath.
Lots of people with autism have challenges processing everyday sensory information. They can be either hyper sensitive or hypo sensitive to sensory input. To further complicate things, reactions to those sensory experiences can change from day to day.
Help me relate to autism!
Imagine for a moment that your child or partner is terrified of spiders… bear with me…
Whenever they see one, they scream, shout, jump on a chair or run away. In essence, they completely lose control of their senses.
When you remove them from the place they saw the spider, they calm right down.
Now; imagine that your child or partner is the only one who can see the spider. They scream, run away and cry, but they’re unable to express to you or show you that it’s the big hairy black spider that’s bothering them.
There’s nothing there, what are they on!
Imagine it happens over and over again. You don’t see the spider, but they do.
You would struggle to understand why they are reacting this way.
Now, we know the spider isn’t there, it’s just an analogy. But this is what it feels like for someone with ASD.
They’re surrounded by overwhelming sensory input that’s invisible to everyone else. The spider for the Autistic person could be sights, sounds, smells, crowds, or any one of a number of reactions caused by an over or under stimulation of one of the 7 senses.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, meaning it represents very differently for lots of different people. Whilst some people with ASD may need round the clock care, others can appear to have no “disability” whatsoever.
Autistic people also develop coping mechanisms to help them navigate the over/under whelm. We all have coping mechanisms. If you’ve had a long week and you’re overwhelmed, you might enjoy a pj day with back to back Netflix. Maybe a long walk, or a swim.
However those on the spectrum may have to have coping mechanisms that are used day to day, hour to hour, to help them tolerate, minimise and deal with stressful situations. Things that help self regulation might be pacing, rocking, spinning, mouthing. These are ways to distract or correct the balance of sensory input, which is calming. There are a huge range of self soothing strategies that may be adopted.
ASD & Neurodiversity
Neurodiversity is the collective term for ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder) ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and other learning difficulties.
Why is employing neurodiverse people good for business?
People with ASD have their own unique strengths which are completely different from person to person, and there’s a large and rising body of evidence which shows that autism is good for business. Companies such as Google, EY and Microsoft have all got policies in place to ensure they employ autistic people to tap into these rather under-utilised superpowers.
Below we’ll identify some of the abilities that show up frequently in people with ASD and highlight why it’s good for your business.
1. Problem solving
Autistic people are up to 40% faster at problem-solving, and appear to use perceptual regions of the brain to accelerate problem-solving, according to a new study by Human Brain Mapping. In this study participants were asked to complete patterns, which measured hypothesis testing, problem solving, and learning skills. while both groups performed well and with accuracy, the autistic group responded more quickly and appeared to use perceptual regions of the brain to accelerate problem solving.
2. Powerful Memory
Autistic people can have enhanced or even savant-like memory. This is due to their greater declarative memory. It is this memory that allows them to memorise many things, including thousands of social scripts (or with Max where he hid his sweets…).
3. Detail Oriented
Autistic people can hyperfocus and Hyper Systemise. They can focus for extended periods, as well as having a high drive to analyse or construct systems. As such, they tend to be great at pattern recognition and the creation of systems, and often show talent in systemisable domains.
Research indicates that autistic people are less likely to make irrational decisions, and are less influenced by gut instincts. Consistency in pattern of choices and attention to detail helps them to avoid being swayed by their emotions. Also due to their special interests and fixations, people with autism tend to be autodidacts, and can have encyclopaedic knowledge in a particular area, combine this with their hyper-focusing superpowers and you’ve got the makings of a jedi master!
Research shows that there is a link between autistic traits and unusual and novel ideas, which occurs due to their strong ability to think outside the box. In studies autistic people were far more likely to generate creative ideas than non autistics.
“Neurodiverse people are the most resilient people out there”
Forbes have recently published an article which highlights ADHD Superpowers, which include the ability to hyperfocus for extended periods of time, they can multitask, and keep really calm under pressure. All of which are incredibly useful in most if not all workplace settings.
How to support neurodiverse people in the workplace:
So you’re thinking you could benefit from some of these skills around the office, or if you are already lucky enough to work with someone with superpowers, here’s what you need to know…
Neurodiverse people require understanding more than anything else…
The things that they do, may not always make perfect sense to you, but that’s why you need to be flexible. For example, it’s highly likely that someone with ASD may have deficits in social skills, and their ability to communicate effectively. This can often be a significant barrier for an autistic person to finding a happy working environment as their peers can find them abrupt or too direct. Support and understanding is needed here, by providing strategies and a safe space to discuss these often very personal issues, can help an autistic person really thrive at work.
2. Share your communication/ learning style
It might be necessary to explain to a neurodiverse person your communication style.
When you notice that they’re not communicating well, remind them politely your style, and don’t be too hard on them. Make communication a regular topic at work, have it in your handbooks or ethos. Identify everyone’s communication style and learning preferences, it helps everyone to communicate with every member of the team. While the person with ASD may have triggered requirement, it will benefit the whole team. Try it.
3. Challenge your biases
Perception is everything. There’s a famous quote that goes, “Easy to spot a yellow car when you are always thinking of a yellow car. Easy to spot opportunity when you are always thinking of opportunity…”
Challenge yourself to see the potential in neurodiverse people, and you’ll start to realise how special and valuable they are in the workplace. See their superpowers.
4. Play to their strengths
Another idea that’s good for business, not just autistic people – is to play to peoples strengths. By understanding everyone’s strengths and trying to build their tasks around them, you’ll find people become much more productive and enjoy the work that they do more. Understand what motivates, and drives, what people look forward to in their work.
5. Rethink open plan offices
Open plan offices have been praised for being more affordable and flexible. Even so, when hiring a neurodiverse person you may need to reconsider this.
Neurodiverse people can to be over-or under-stimulated by parts of their environment, such as noise, lighting, texture, smells and temperature. This makes background noise and bright lighting, for example, common problems. It may hinder them from working to the best of their abilities. If throwing up walls isn’t possible, look at their tasks across the week, where do they need quite hyperfocus time – perhaps that’s the time they work from home, or get to book out the meeting room.
Celebrating Autism Awareness
As we celebrate World Autism Awareness Day, there’s a few organisations that we want to shout out.
We’ve found Autism Family Support Oxfordshire to be a hugely supportive organisation.
Autism Family Support Oxfordshire is a small local charity with a big heart. They help autistic children, young people and their families to be happy, healthy, manage challenges, and achieve small wins and big successes. Their ethos is to nurture, enable and inspire the autism community. Supporting over 3,500 families across Oxfordshire, they provide:
- Information, support and advice for parents
- Training for parents
- Youth groups, holiday activities, and workshops for children & young people on the autism spectrum
- Information, training, and consultation for professionals, including joint working and development
The organisation also has an Autism at Work programme where they work with employers to create accessible job opportunities. The programme supports employers to attract, recruit and retain autistic employees. It promotes accessible roles to autistic job seekers via its networks and supports applicants through the recruitment process. Autism at Work then offers ongoing coaching support to successful candidates and to their managers, creating the best possible conditions for success. You can take a look at some case studies to find out how the programme has supported people into roles.
Onwards and upwards my friend,