What Is Neurodiversity, And Why Should You Include It Into Your L&D Initiatives?

What Is Neurodiversity, And Why Should You Include It Into Your L&D Initiatives?
Konstantin Chagin/Shutterstock
Summary: This article explores the relationship between neurodiversity and L&D, and why it is imperative to make L&D programs inclusive.

Inclusivity And Neurodiversity In L&D

As the world of HR transforms and evolves, new trends and priorities emerge. Today, employees and candidates are at the center of employers' objectives, concerns, and visions. Since an increasing number are looking to hire new employees but there aren't as many job hunters to meet that need, the talent market is rife. That gives more power to those looking for jobs and allows them to be pickier than before.

Moreover, employees are more organized and united in expressing higher expectations and expecting better conditions. This leverage nudges companies to go the extra mile and consider unique ways of attracting qualified job seekers. Many see Learning and Development (L&D) programs as their best chance. Upskilling and reskilling have become some of the most talked about buzzwords in the past year, but that might not be enough.

If companies expect employees to flock to their new L&D opportunities only because they exist, their intentions will likely fail. Their efforts must be genuine and prioritize people's best interests. And what's a better way of achieving that than having a completely inclusive approach, that includes neurodiversity in L&D?

What Is Neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity, also known as neurodivergence, represents the concept that cognitive differences aren't weaknesses and require no healing or cure. People think and process data differently, reflecting their response to the environment. However, these differences aren't the same as disabilities, which must also be kept in mind when creating L&D programs. Instead, they are a part of normal brain development variations.

This concept only gained more recognition in the past decades, and it's not fully established and accepted everywhere yet. Judy Singer, a sociologist with autism, started using the term "neurodivergence" in the 1990s to describe the differences in how the human brain works. Singer explains that certain developmental differences are normal, and those who have them have unique strengths, just like neurotypical individuals. For instance, people with ADHD often struggle with time management, but tend to be highly creative, passionate, and driven. Despite being impulsive, they can also express themselves boldly, and say things others wouldn't dare to. Although neurodiversity doesn't equate to a disability, neurodiverse students might need some accommodations at school or work.

Employees with ADHD may have difficulty attending extended training sessions, because sitting too long is challenging. Hence, it's recommended to break up workshops into shorter blocks and help them keep their attention active. Besides ADHD, neurodiversity includes:

  • Autism
  • Dyslexia
  • Dyspraxia
  • Dyscalculia
  • Sensory processing disorder
  • Other learning disabilities

Neurodiverse Employees

Perhaps you don't even know that you have neurodiverse employees in your workplace. After all, workers often do their best to adjust to the work environment and blend in. This means they might need to put extra effort into blocking out interferences and distractions and managing their social interactions. However, that can feel even more taxing than the work itself.

Neurodiverse employees spend so much time and energy sidelining (masking) their neurodiverse characteristics that it affects their mental health and work performance. Although that's unfair, they often refrain from asking for help or highlighting the need for greater inclusion because they fear others would think they're trying to trick the system.

Undoubtedly, modern companies must adjust their workplace conditions and environment to accommodate the needs of neurodiverse workers. This is the only way to reduce the stress they experience and remove the stigma around neurodiversity in the workplace. It is necessary to ensure these employees feel comfortable reaching out for support when needed, and do not fear their co-workers' or managers' judgment. There are many ways to make that happen, and create more welcoming work environments. Companies can help neurodiverse employees feel more comfortable by:

  • Allowing flexible work environments and schedules
  • Creating job openings for employees with neurodiverse features
  • Prioritizing a flexible workplace design regarding how, when, and where work unfolds.

But there's another efficient way to improve the work environment and increase inclusion for neurodiverse workers, and that's through L&D programs. Here's why that matters.

Why It's Essential To Include Neurodiversity In Your L&D Programs And Initiatives

Real and lasting diversity and inclusion aren't selective. These efforts are all-encompassing, covering every aspect of the workplace and including each individual. If someone is left out and feels out of place, we are not talking about genuine and efficient initiatives. L&D programs are no exception. Companies and training developers must ensure everyone benefits from their efforts and opportunities, not only those with more visible challenges and struggles.

Neurodiversity is rarely apparent, and employees with these features will often not mention it or expect employers to accommodate their needs. And they shouldn't; companies should bear in mind the array of differences when developing new programs. That is the only way everyone can enjoy the learning options and feel welcome in the workplace. That leads to a lasting positive change and drives training success.

Inclusion only has results if you provide everyone with equal opportunities and consider those with less talked about conditions and characteristics. Making neurodiversity a part of your L&D efforts is also crucial, because it guarantees compliance and helps you address relevant regulations. Finally, ensuring your neurodiverse employees have tailored training and the same chances as their neurotypical co-workers helps you maximize their potential and leverage their unique strengths. Since up to 20% of the population is neurodiverse, this is not something you can ignore.

Today's employers operate in an increasingly competitive environment and must brainstorm innovative ways to stay ahead of their competitors and attract top talent. This includes creating L&D programs that acknowledge different ways of thinking and an out-of-the-box approach. Consider what your neurodiverse employees are good at, instead of thinking of things that aren't their forte. Their unique strengths can be a top-notch source of innovation. Neurotypical people might not have these characteristics, meaning that neurodiverse workers often give access to heightened creativity and bold solutions. However, the latter might need additional support to express themselves, deliver their best performance, and use their full potential.

Still, these are not the only reasons to adjust your L&D programs. Since neurodiverse job seekers often have a more challenging time finding compatible job opportunities, you might find more available candidates in this group. It could be a gold mine for your talent pool. You can attract neurodiverse job hunters with growth and development programs that resonate with their needs, capabilities, and characteristics. But don't only include neurodiversity in your L&D opportunities to meet this criterion and stop there. Go beyond and discover how to maximize the skills and specific features of your neurodiverse employees. Ensure that your training program can help them explore their potential, adopt new abilities, and learn in a way that works best for them.

What Does It Mean To Make Your L&D Programs Welcoming For Neurodiverse Employees?

Companies often have a wrong impression of neurodiversity and feel unsure about how to include it in their L&D programs. If you're going to accommodate the needs of your neurodiverse workers, you shouldn't do it by excluding them and creating separate groups and workshops. You don't have to transform learning and processes for some people only, as that may create a sense of isolation and break the unity. Instead, think of neurodiversity as a concept that is about all of us.

Even though we refer to people with particular conditions, such as ADHD and dyslexia, when discussing neurodiversity, it all comes down to the unique ways we think, communicate, attend, interact, and move. For example, not everyone with autism struggles to maintain sharp focus for long hours, and not all neurotypical individuals can sit still for an extended time. Employees with autism can be highly successful in focusing on a topic or task of significant interest, but may struggle to stay as concentrated if you assign them something they dislike. However, the same goes for neurotypical workers. That's why neurodivergence is about all of us.

A worker might generally be a visual learner, but prefer to learn with music when exhausted. Therefore, you should prioritize universal design when ensuring your L&D program accommodates the learning needs of your neurodiverse employees. Everyone varies in the way they learn, and it depends on multiple factors and variables. That's why you should aim to address and accommodate the learning preferences and requirements of everybody. Avoid doing one thing for people with dyslexia and another for those with ADHD.

Aim to create and deliver inclusive learning programs that suit everyone's strengths, and minimize obstacles. Include employees who have hearing or visual impairments. The safest way to achieve this is to talk with all your workers and discover who they are, how they learn best, and what hinders their learning skills and productivity. Understand each employee you're talking to, which will help you comprehend their neurodiversity and how to address it. Otherwise, you risk pigeonholing workers and failing to manage their unique strengths and challenges. Make no assumptions, and feel free to ask your employees how to provide the best learning opportunities for them, as no two people are the same.


Neurodiversity might still be a concept that L&D developers don't discuss as much as they should, but including it in their efforts is necessary for fostering genuine inclusion and opening positions to top-notch talents. Thus, helping neurodiverse employees will imminently have a positive influence on the company as a whole, and improve workplace satisfaction.

eBook Release: WeLearn Learning Services
WeLearn Learning Services
We are on a mission to build better humans through learning. We are your partner for beautiful, thoughtfully designed learning experiences that are modern, relevant, engaging, and impactful.

Originally published at www.linkedin.com.