CO2, climate change, gender bias, AI, posthumanism, Anthropocene and – neurodiversity.
What is neurodiversity and do we need another “Zeitgeist” term and concept? The word appears in newspapers and social media... and society talks about it. In reality the concept of neurodiversity can be tracked back to the 90ies.
“Neurodiversity is a word used to explain the unique ways people´s brains work. While everyone´s brain develops similarly, no two brains function just alike. Being neurodivergent means having a brain that works differently from the average or “neurotypical” person. This may be differences in social preferences, ways of learning, ways of communicating and/or ways of perceiving the environment.”
“Neurodiversity describes the idea that people experience and interact with the world around them in many different ways; there is no one “right” way of thinking, learning, and behaving, and differences are not viewed as deficits”.
Neurodiversity is a concept and social movement that promotes the understanding and acceptance of the diverse spectrum of neurological differences in human beings. The term was first coined by the Australian sociologist Judy Singer. She transformed the way we think about human difference in 1997 when she provided a name for this movement and quietly introduced the concept to the world in 1997.
Singer explains that “Neuro” is a reference to the rise of neuroscience. Diversity is a political term; it originated with the Black American civil rights movement. As a word neurodiversity describes the whole of humanity. The neurodiversity movement is a political movement for people who want their human rights.
(Article about Judy Singer 05.07.23 in www.theguardian.com)
Autism, ADS and ADHS, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia, Dyscalculia, Tourette Syndrome, Non-Verbal Learning Disorder, Sensory Processing Differences, Executive Functioning Difficulties, Synaesthesia, bipolar disorder, and high IQ are some of the human conditions falling under neurodiversity.
Singer´s work on autism and neurodiversity became widely known as a result of her chapter “Why Can´t You be Normal for Once in Your Life?” based on her thesis which was published in the UK 1999 (Disability Discourse, Mairian Corker Ed., Ioen University Press, February 1, 1999). The year before she had already published a paper about neurodiversity.
The US writer Harvey Blume who shared Singer´s interest in autism stated in 1998: “Neurodiversity may be every bit as crucial for the human race as biodiversity is for life in general. Who can say what form of wiring will prove best at any given moment? Cybernetics and computer culture, for example, may favor a somewhat autistic cast of mind”. (The Atlantic 1998)
The concept of neurodiversity acknowledges that conditions overlap, and individuals may exhibit characteristics of more than one of the above-mentioned conditions.
Elon Musk stated to have a mild form of Asperger Syndrome. Long time before people had guessed about this as his communication style was “slightly different.” He is known for making blunt and direct statements, without regard to how they might be received by others. He is known for avoiding eye contact and was “accused” of mainly focusing on his work and his interests, a common trait in people with autism. Also, a common trait in successful managers in companies.
Where is the line not to be crossed before being considered neurodiverse as long as neurodiversity may still be somehow a drawback and as long as we still feel the urge to categorize. It is a blurred line. 15 to 20% of the global population are neurodivergent. This means their minds differ significantly from what is considered neurotypical.
In the following some key aspects of the neurodiversity concept and movement are named and briefly explained:
- Spectrum of Neurological Variations
Neurodiversity as mentioned above encompasses a wide range of neurological conditions.
- Inherent Value of Diversity
The movement sees neurodiversity as a natural and valuable form of human variation, not as a deficit or as disorders needing to be fixed.
- Individual Differences
Emphasis is placed on the unique strength, challenges, and needs of each individual, rejecting a one – size - fits – all approach to learning, working, and living.
- Acceptance and Inclusion
Neurodiversity advocates for accepting, respecting, and accommodating different neurological makeups, promoting inclusion in education, employment, and social contexts.
- Shift from Pathology to Diversity
One if not the crucial point. The movement challenges the traditional medical and psychological mode that often pathologizes neurological differences, advocating instead for a diversity model. The categorization in Psychology is limited and does not meet the criteria of a glocal, fast developing and changing world.
- Support and Accommodation
Neurodivergent individuals may face challenges. Neurodiversity as a concept encourages providing support and accommodation, to satisfy possible needs in order to thrive at maximum potential.
- Empowerment and Self-Advocacy
Neurodiversity promotes the empowerment of neurodivergent individuals, encouraging self-advocacy, the right to participate in impact decisions and the force to openly talk about difficulties without being stigmatized by people who do not understand or have experienced an according condition.
There are further key aspects of the neurodiversity concept like intersectionality and the holistic perspective on well-being that will not be discussed at that point. Instead, we will underline positive aspects, that individuality and diversity will contribute to innovation and growth in a company:
- Diverse Perspectives
Neurodiverse individuals often see the world differently, offering fresh, innovative viewpoints that can lead to creative solutions to complex problems.
- Attention to Detail
Condition like Autism Spectrum Disorder can be associated with high levels of concentration and an exceptional ability to notice details and patterns that others might miss.
- Out-of-the-Box Thinking
Neurodivergent people frequently think in non-linear, associative, or unconventional ways, which can lead to groundbreaking ideas and innovations.
- Specialized Skills
Some neurodivergent individuals have highly specialized skills or deep knowledge in specific areas, making them invaluable in those domains.
- Increased Productivity
In the right environment, neurodivergent individuals can be exceptionally focused and productive, contributing significantly to their teams and projects.
- Enhanced Problem-Solving
Unique cognitive processing styles and analytical thinking enhance new approaches and problem-solving.
- Resilience and Adaptability
Neurodivergent individuals have often developed resilience and adaptability to a world that often is not tailored to their needs.
You may wonder how a high IQ and autism, or dyslexia are all considered neurodivergent. Indeed, one usually goes with the other. People diagnosed with ADS or ADHS are often considered less intelligent and `weird` through their hyperactive behaviour or lack of focus when in reality their IQ is mostly above average.
What does this mean for them in the world of work? It means that they may not get a job as they are judged, and they do not fit in a drawer. Sometimes it is more difficult to communicate with them because they filter, they may sense more, they express themselves differently having thoughts that are less streamline.
All this can be challenges but overall, these traits are special and can definitely contribute to innovation and growth. Neurodivergent people can make great managers and employees when they meet the surrounding and condition they need. This can be as simple as a quiet room not to get distracted, a computer correcting written words, a calculator, a simple language converter, more time, and the willingness to get involved with somebody thinking out of the box and maybe communicating in a different way.
You would expect we embrace these ways of being different but reality proofs different.
People are often lazy and want to stay in their comfort zones. Talking to somebody with a high IQ is more challenging than talking to a neurotypical person. Growing, may it be personal, as a company or within a company means to get out of the comfort zone.
Neurodivergence in a company can contribute to
through innovative thinking, attention to detail, intense focus, passion and expertise.
as social interaction, sensory sensitiveness, need for routine.
- Management style and workplace adaptions
through clear communication, structured environment, accommodation diversity.
In a leadership position, a high IQ neurodivergent can leverage their unique skills to benefit their teams and projects, while also navigating and mitigating any challenges with appropriate supports and adaptions. The key to their success, as with every manager, lies in the understanding and utilizing their strengths while acknowledging and addressing areas where they may need support.
Awareness and recognition of talent are the base to make success stories happen!
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