submitted by Sandy Slade, Registered Social Worker, Employment Support Worker with the Canadian Mental Health Association, PEI Division, and the Founding Executive Director of ADHD PEI.
I have Generalized Anxiety, Dysgraphia, ADHD, and I am in my seventh year of recovery from a gambling addiction. What just went through your head while reading that? Would you hire me?
I am a Neurodiverse employee. No matter who you are, you work on a daily basis with neurodivergent employees, managers, customers, and clients. Perhaps you yourself are neurodivergent. I have succeeded thus far in my field, despite and because of my neurodiversity.
In this ongoing column, I will be diving into what neurodiversity is, what it isn’t, the barriers of stigma and fear that stand as obstacles to creating a more neurodiverse workplace, and how including, accommodating, and embracing neurodiverse employees can create more profitable, productive, and empowering companies.
I will tackle practical challenges to implementation, the theories behind the movement, and the stories of lives that have been changed by finding jobs in neurodiverse work settings. I look forward to this employment journey with you into neurodiversity in the workplace.
Now, let’s break this word down, shall we? Neurodiversity sounds kind of academic and a bit buzzy, but there is an important concept behind it.
Many people in society have what are called Neurodevelopmental conditions. Neuro has to do with the brain, and developmental means they had it from birth, but traits develop in childhood and adolescence.
These conditions include ADHD, Autism, Learning Disabilities, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Dyscalculia, Dysgraphia, and Tourette\’s syndrome. “Neurodiversity” is the viewpoint that people with these conditions are more than broken brains, but rather experience and engage with the world in unique ways. These different perspectives, far from being a deficit, can actually provide added value to individuals, organizations, and society.
The term Neurodiversity was first used by Sociologist Judy Singer in the 1990s. She rejected the belief that people with Autism in particular were disabled, and that they needed to be “cured”. The concept and term was adopted by activists as they advocated for themselves within systems such as healthcare, education, and employment.
To bring this down to a tangible local example of the progress that has been made on behalf of people with disabilities including neurodiverse conditions, the PEI Human Rights Commission website says the following:
“A disability is a previous or existing intellectual, mental or physical condition that may result from an injury, illness, or birth defect. Temporary illnesses such as a cold or flu are not covered. Drug and alcohol addiction are covered under disability.
“If you live with a disability, you should have access to the same services and employment opportunities as those without disabilities. Changes may need to be made by employers or service providers to allow you to have equal and meaningful access to a job or service.”
This is an important right that disability activists fought a long time to achieve: the right to not be terminated based on something one can’t control. But this definition still comes from a framework of lack and deficit.
It is not my intention to say that employees with intellectual and mental health issues do not face any difficulties or do not create potential challenges to employers. It is, however, my hope to begin to reframe the narrative to show how recruiting, training, and promoting neurodiverse employees creates an advantage to employers as they become stronger and better able to adapt to change.
When companies and managers embrace Neurodiversity in the workplace, they get access to different perspectives and skill sets. This puts them at a competitive advantage, while also creating a more accepting and understanding world.
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