How Neurodiversity is Gaining Mainstream Traction

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Cultural mainstream movement neurodiversity

Even a decade ago, people knew very little about neurodiversity. Many felt, and still feel, apprehensive to disclose neuroidentities such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. While the neurodistinct community still faces bias and misconception, the rise of “neuroinclusion” and understanding is leading to a cultural wave of self-advocacy and a growing number of prominent companies reforming their talent strategies in order to access neurodiverse talent. While neurodiversity is nothing new, it has certainly had a rapid rise of awareness over the last 10 years.

It is estimated that conservatively, 1 in 20 people are neurodistinct in some way, and some estimate that up to 1 in 5 may be neurodistinct in some way. Autism, dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD, and other neuroidentities are all becoming increasingly well-known and understood by the public.

Some organizations are no longer treating neurodivergence as a deficit because of this change in perception and growing awareness. Instead, they now consider them to simply be different ways of learning and processing information that should be respected. So how did neurodiversity gain mainstream traction?

Emergence of the Neurodiversity Movement

It is no surprise that the autism spectrum has taken center stage in the broader neurodiversity movement, which is bringing a new perspective to several common cognitive and neurological issues.

Neurodiversity rights advocates see the behaviors of people who are neurodistinct as normal expressions of human function rather than symptoms or disorders to be diagnosed and treated.

As proponents of neurodiversity point out, our understanding of neuroidentities isn’t all that different from our understanding of how the brain works in a neurotypical. We don’t always know why or how any of us prefer the taste of one food over another, or why we get along with some people but not others. There are countless ways in which we are all unique. Rather than attempting to alter these behaviors, advocates for neurodiversity rights hope to broaden our understanding of what is normal and acceptable behavior, and begin to be inclusive of all types of thinkers.

Neurodiversity in Popular Culture

Popular culture and media often give a flawed representation of neuroidentities. Film and television often frame them as “the odd one out” or as autistic savants, like in Rain Man (1988), or Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory.

A popular phrase among the community is, “When you’ve met one autistic person, you’ve met one autistic person.” Generalizations can be dangerous as some may assume autistic people are superhuman.

However, shows like Netflix’s Love on the Spectrum and Sesame Street are beginning to show more accurate and realistic portrayals of autism. Sesame street strikes the balance of showing some common autistic behavior, but also emphasizes that every autistic person is unique.

The Rise of Self-advocacy

At its core, self-advocacy is the ability to articulate one’s needs. Individuals who are neurodistinct, who learn and think in different ways, benefit from being effective self-advocates but can face biases and stigmas when “outing” as neurodistinct. If in a safe space to do so,  neurodistinct individuals can gain psychological safety to bring their full selves in a social or work environment.

Many more people are now openly discussing their neurodiversity. If done right, celebrities who open up about being neurodiverse can help to dispel stereotypes and give us a better understanding of what it’s like to be neurodistinct.

Greta Thunberg, a climate activist, was diagnosed with Asperger’s, OCD, and mutism. In a 2021 interview with the Guardian, she said:

“When I felt the most sad, I didn’t know that I had autism. I just thought, I don’t want to be like this. The diagnosis was almost only positive for me. It helped me get the support I needed and made me understand why I was like this.”

She also wrote in a tweet:

“I have Asperger’s and that means I’m sometimes a bit different from the norm. And–given the right circumstances- being different is a superpower.”

In the corporate world, Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) are emerging as a safer place to advocate for needs, share successes and express concerns in the workplace. IBM credits their ERGs as a source of increased wellbeing for their neurodistinct employees.

Neurodistinct Social Media Influencers

With the rise of TikTok and other social media platforms, neurodivergent individuals have been able to educate others about their cognitive abilities and lessen the social stigma associated with their neurodivergence.

Jessica McCabe is a prominent figure in the neurodiverse community. Because of her efforts, more people are aware of the challenges and opportunities of ADHD, and their families are becoming more motivated to learn more about it to support their loved ones.

She started a YouTube channel called How to ADHD, where she discusses all things ADHD-related, including how to make the most of one’s unique brain type. McCabe provides information on the many ways to treat ADHD and how people with the condition can lead fulfilling lives.

Elizabeth Corrigan, a contestant on the popular show The Bachelor, has been using her social media platform to spread awareness about mental health and neurodiversity, as well as thank all those who have shown her support since opening up about her ADHD on season 26 of the show.

ADHD-diagnosed actor Connor DeWolfe is a 21-year-old neurodiversity influencer on TikTok and YouTube. He uses various video effects and clever editing to explain what it’s like to live with this condition. His videos describe what it is like to live with a variety of comorbidities, including anxiety and Auditory Processing Disorder.

Advancing Neurodiversity at The Workplace

It’s becoming more common for companies to see the value of employing people with a wide range of unique strengths rather than focusing on their ‘disorders and deficiencies’.

For neurodiversity in the workplace to succeed, it is necessary to accept that we all think differently.

Nearly all managers are aware of the benefits that come from having a diverse workforce in terms of educational background, disciplinary training, gender, cultural background, and other characteristics. Neuroinclusion offers similar advantages.

A company’s efforts to create value may benefit from the unique perspectives provided by neurodiverse employees. At Hewlett Packard Enterprise, neurodistinct software testers noticed that one client’s projects were always in a state of crisis just before going live. So, they demanded that the company explain why it was acceptable. Eventually, the client company realized that its crisis tolerance was out of control, and with the testers’ help, it could redesign its launch process.

The need for neurodiverse hiring is even more compelling considering the increasing shortages of talent across the US. Over 69% of companies worldwide report a lack of qualified employees. With adequate neurodiversity training, companies are realizing that their talent management processes are unintentionally excluding neurodistinct talent.

The Future of Neurodiversity

Uptimize predicts that the treatment of neurodistinct people will continue to improve as society changes its understanding of how the brain works. For people with various neurodivergent tendencies who need accommodations, progress is being made in this area as well. Support for neurodiversity acceptance began with autism and its treatment, but now encompasses a wide range of neurodivergent characteristics. Accepting that people’s brains operate in different ways will help us better understand how to help them learn, function, and succeed in the workplace and society.

Interested in our webinar on the Cultural Movement of Neurodiversity? Get free access at this link.

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