Harvey Alter
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Building a Neurodiverse Office

Employees who have unique ways of learning and working make an office well-rounded and dynamic.

Their various strengths and abilities contribute to a “neurodiverse” workplace, a term that Forbes says is “used in the context of people who are dyslexic, ADHD, autistic, and dyspraxia.” And high-profile employers, such as JP Morgan and Deutsch Bank, have made a concerted effort to hire more of these professionals for their creativity and ability to steer clear of group think. But creating a welcoming office requires an awareness of how these exceptional workers’ surroundings adhere to their needs and preferences, which often go unrecognized. According to Interior Architects, “complementing an open, inclusive culture based on understanding with an appropriate and sensitive work environment design that uses new tools and innovative planning will enable companies to benefit from the rich capabilities inherent in neurodiversity and build strong, diverse workplace communities.”

For example, specialized technology can help employees on the autism spectrum feel comfortable at work, allowing them to make more-meaningful contributions. According to The Office of Disability Employment Policy, the approximately two percent of the population with autism “have atypical language and communication, social interaction, motor coordination and sensory processing, and executive functioning.” These differences become extra challenging in a hectic, noisy office, which is why Building Design + Construction recommends “providing better insulated spaces and allowing for manipulation of sound pressure levels” for autistic workers. Several tools exist that make discordant noise in the workplace less noticeable. “A sound masking system—along with its partner soundscaping—is a grid of speakers that is typically hidden above an acoustical tile ceiling and creates a gentle blanket of sound that mimics HVAC noise,” Building reports, “making the office a much more attractive place to escape to and get some work done.” Neurodiverse employees who have difficulty adjusting to external stimuli will find amenities like these invaluable.

ADHD is another neurodiverse classification that poses both challenges and opportunities for success for workers who have it. ADDitude Magazine explains that “Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurological disorder that impacts the parts of the brain that help us plan, focus on, and execute tasks.” Despite the issues surrounding this diagnosis, there are multiple advantages associated with it. “Research shows employees with ADHD can be more curious, creative, imaginative, innovative, and inventive,” according to Children and Adults with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (CHADD). And certain workplace tools can help employees with ADHD hit their stride in the office and capitalize on their natural talents. “Those who suffer from ADHD will benefit from free address systems that support a choice of work environments and reflect their need for frequent movement,” Interior Architects writes, “by using voice recognition systems, their files can travel with them to their work site of choice without fear of disorganization.” The flexibility that these systems offer can allow employees with ADHD to focus on the creative and analytical aspects of their jobs at which they excel.

Also, assisting neurodiverse staff with amenities like voice recognition systems and sound masking systems can benefit executives as well as employees. “With a focus on the strengths of neurodiversity, employers are empowered to feel more confident and employees to feel better supported,” People Management explains, “leadership drives inclusion, so by making senior management teams aware of the benefits of neurodiversity and the critical contribution of diversity of thought to an innovative workforce, organizations can achieve greater competitive advantage.”