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In support of neurodivergent individuals

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We need to acknowledge and embrace the unique talents of neurodivergent individuals at workplace (Brooke Cagle - Unsplash)

By: Dr. Safiah Omar

In our ongoing quest for a more inclusive and diverse workforce, it is important that we acknowledge and embrace the unique talents of neurodivergent individuals. This diverse group encompasses individuals with conditions such as autism spectrum disorder (ASD), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and various other neurological differences. According to data from worldpopulationreview.com, Malaysia has an estimated 325 individuals diagnosed with Autism (ASD) per 100,000 population, alongside approximately 432 diagnoses of ADHD per 100,000 population. These statistics do not yet encompass the full spectrum of neurodivergent conditions, such as dyslexia, among others.

Dr. Safiah Omar

Many neurodivergent individuals are already part of the adult workforce, and there will undoubtedly be an increasing number joining our ranks in the future. Hence, in order to champion diversity and foster inclusivity in our workplaces, we require comprehensive policies that cater to the specific needs of neurodivergent employees. Such policies should encompass various key perspectives, including awareness and education, recruitment and hiring practices, workplace accommodations, support networks, career development and retention, as well as leadership commitment.

To begin with, organizations must invest in educating their neurotypical employees and managers about neurodiversity. By gaining an understanding of the unique strengths and challenges of neurodivergent individuals, workplaces can cultivate a more supportive and empathetic environment. This proactive approach not only raises awareness but also helps to diminish stigma surrounding neurodiversity. Moreover, it is essential to craft job descriptions that prioritize the skills and competencies of neurodivergent employees over rigid qualifications. Recognizing that alternative career pathways for this group may not neatly align with traditional criteria is paramount in fostering inclusivity.

Expanding the coverage of these policies to include awareness and education, recruitment and hiring practices, workplace accommodations, support networks, career development and retention, as well as leadership commitment, will undoubtedly contribute to creating a more inclusive and equitable workplace environment for all employees, regardless of neurodiversity.

Acknowledging that neurodivergent individuals may excel in different work environments, it is advantageous to provide flexibility regarding work hours, remote work options, and even sensory-friendly spaces to optimize their productivity. Clear and transparent communication channels are crucial to ensure information is easily understood. Tailoring career paths based on their unique strengths and interests can be highly beneficial, with organizations offering opportunities for skill development and advancement. Ensuring protection and safety is prioritized is equally important within these policies.

The policy framework should also encompass an evaluation of performance that considers holistic contributions, incorporating both quantitative metrics and qualitative aspects. Recognizing the diverse ways in which neurodivergent individuals contribute to the organization is vital for fostering an inclusive culture. This recognition should be embraced by all levels of the leadership team, including top management, middle management, executives, and peers throughout the organization.

By implementing such policies, we can effectively support neurodivergent individuals and unlock their potential to drive innovation, creativity, and various other forms of performance that significantly contribute to organizational success. These individuals deserve the opportunity to achieve financial independence and autonomy, akin to their neurotypical counterparts.

As the new generations continue to grow and prepare to enter the workforce, there is no better time than now to initiate these inclusive practices.

The author is a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Business and Economics, Universiti Malaya, and may be reached at safiah@um.edu.my

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