Debunking 5 Myths About Neurodiversity in the Workplace
In recent years, there has been an increase in understanding about neurodiversity in the workplace, including why it’s important and how it benefits both employees and companies. However, there are several myths that persist in regards to employing neurodivergent people—a group that includes, but is not limited to, those with autism, ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. These myths can lead to misunderstandings and a lack of meaningful action toward building truly inclusive workplaces. Therefore, it’s important to discuss and debunk common myths about neurodivergent employees and how to best support them.
Myth 1: Neurodivergent employees aren’t a big enough population to prioritize.
An estimated 15-20% of people are neurodivergent. This statistic suggests that any given company is likely to already have neurodivergent employees in its workforce. However, employers may not be aware of this fact if the employees have not formally disclosed and requested accommodations, which many employees choose not to do due to stigma and other barriers.
In addition, many neurodivergent employees might not yet be aware that they fit this profile, as historical bias in diagnostic tools has led to large groups of the population being far less likely to be diagnosed as children. For example, 80% of autistic women remain undiagnosed at age 18, while Asian, Black, and Hispanic children are less likely to be diagnosed with ADHD than white children. Some neurodivergent adults who were not diagnosed as children may receive a later diagnosis or choose to self-identify, while others may remain unaware of their potential diagnosis.
Neurodivergent employees are not a niche, small, or uniform group, but a significant minority of the population with a wide range of backgrounds, skills, challenges, and needs. Creating a neuroinclusive workplace benefits all neurodivergent employees, whether or not they have a formal diagnosis or choose to disclose it.
Myth 2: It’s too much work to support neurodivergent employees.
Providing reasonable accommodations to neurodivergent employees is not only legally required under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), but is also beneficial for the company as a whole. According to the Job Accommodation Network, employers who implemented accommodations reported direct benefits including retention and lowered costs. They also experienced indirect benefits such as improved morale, increased productivity, and increased profitability.
Many accommodations are free or low-cost and simple to implement. As auticon recruiter Louise Stone wrote in a previous post on workplace accommodations, it’s already common for workplaces to offer certain accommodations to all employees, such as flexible schedules, custom desk setups, or providing meeting agendas and notes in writing. These common accommodations are among those most frequently requested by autistic employees at auticon.
In addition to providing specific accommodations to employees who request them, companies can benefit from building a workplace culture with built-in accommodations and flexibility to help all employees meet their needs and do their best work.
Myth 3: Neurodivergent people are mostly white men.
The most widely known portrayals of neurodivergence in films, on TV, and in books all center on white men—usually a specific archetype of autistic savant. These media portrayals continue to influence the public perception of autism and neurodivergence. In reality, the neurodivergent population is highly diverse, including people of every age, race, ethnicity, nationality, gender identity, sexual orientation, disability status, socioeconomic status, and level of education.
It's also important to understand that neurodivergent people within other minority groups often face additional barriers in the workplace. For example:
- Autistic women often camouflage, or “mask,” their autistic traits, which can result in their challenges and support needs being overlooked. Masking can also take a toll on employees’ mental health.
- Fear of racial stereotyping and discrimination may discourage Black employees with ADHD from seeking accommodations.
- Representations of successful professionals with dyslexia tend to focus on white men, which can lead to further erasure and lack of support for dyslexic people of color.
Recognizing and addressing the intersectionality of neurodiversity is crucial for fostering true inclusivity in DEI efforts. By challenging the prevailing stereotypes and expanding our understanding of neurodivergent experiences, we can create workplaces that embrace and support individuals from all backgrounds.
Myth 4: Neurodivergent employees require separate programs and jobs created for them.
A common form of employment for neurodivergent people involves companies creating separate internship or employment programs for them, instead of seeking to hire them in regular roles at the company. This concept may stem from misconceptions of neurodivergent people, particularly autistic people, as having limited skillsets and social abilities. However, there are neurodivergent employees across the workforce who are already qualified, skilled, and eager to join teams in a wide range of roles and industries.
Although separate neurodiversity employment programs are created with good intentions, they can end up reinforcing the idea that neurodivergent people are “different” or “other,” which is harmful and exclusionary. Under this model, the company also misses out on the benefits of neurodiversity on its teams. Additionally, it misses the opportunity to evolve its overall environment and culture in ways that benefit neurodivergent employees throughout its workforce.
Instead of creating separate neurodiversity employment programs, companies should seek to integrate neuroinclusion across their policies, practices, and culture. This involves committing to being a neuroinclusive company, engaging neurodiversity training and advisory services, building an inclusive recruitment process, and creating an environment where neurodivergent employees are welcomed, included, and supported at all stages of employment.
Myth 5: Companies can only support their neurodivergent employees if the employees disclose and request accommodations.
When it comes to accommodations, many companies rely on a passive model of waiting for employees to disclose their diagnosis and request accommodations on a case-by-case basis. But there are drawbacks to this approach: it often places a burden on employees to share personal information and educate their employer about their diagnosis and needs. It also puts employees at risk of experiencing further stigma and stereotyping once their diagnosis is known in the workplace.
Employers should strive to create an environment of psychological safety where neurodivergent employees can feel comfortable disclosing and requesting accommodations. At the same time, it’s crucial for employers to take a proactive, company-wide approach to neuroinclusion. When inclusion and accommodations are built into company practices across every stage of employment, meeting the needs of each employee becomes routine, simpler, and more effective.
Toward Neuroinclusion in the Workplace
It’s important to dispel the myths surrounding neurodiversity in the workplace in order to move forward with creating a more inclusive employment landscape. Research has shown that neurodivergent employees are a significant part of the population, and the benefits of accommodating and supporting them are numerous.
To best support neurodivergent employees, avoid restricting them to siloed employment programs or waiting for them to disclose and request accommodations. Instead, strive to create a neuroinclusive workplace by proactively making culture and policy changes at the company-wide level. Incorporating neurodiversity into DEI efforts and company culture will create a better work experience for all employees, including those who are neurodivergent.
For more details on how to start your company’s journey to neuroinclusion, download auticon’s free guide for employers, “Neuroinclusion in the Workplace: a 360° Approach.” The guide covers the case for neuroinclusion in the workplace, how to get leadership buy-in, and the steps to building a truly neuroinclusive company culture where neurodivergent employees—and all employees—can thrive and grow.
About the Author
Kiri Oliver is the Marketing Manager for auticon US. Working for auticon enables her to combine her passion for neurodiversity in the workplace with her marketing and communications experience in the healthcare and social service sectors.