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Supporting The Neurodiverse Workforce With Innovation and Understanding

Author: Peter Young, CCDP, BBPH

Published: April 2, 2024


Neurodiversity refers to the wide range of human cognitive and neurological differences. Neurodivergent individuals may experience soft skill challenges in the workplace due to their unique strengths and weaknesses. Neurodiverse populations include people who have autism spectrum disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, dyslexia, Tourette syndrome, or other diagnoses. Understanding the soft skill challenges related to these neurodivergent experiences, and developing innovative strategies to address them is crucial for creating an inclusive and productive work environment.


Challenges in the Workplace

Workplaces that employ neurodivergent workers may experience unique challenges, and overcoming them relies on several factors. An awareness of particular challenges, an ability to communicate and manage them, and a capacity for a positive environment all play a role. The following are some common challenges that a neurodiverse workforce may experience.


Communication and Social Interaction:

  • Misunderstanding social cues and nonverbal communication

  • Misinterpreting instructions or expectations

  • Difficulty forming relationships

Sensory Processing:

  • Over- or under-sensitivity to noise, light, and other stimuli

  • Difficulty regulating emotions in response to sensory stimuli

  • Physical discomfort and distraction in certain environments

Cognitive Differences:

  • Executive function issues (planning, organization, time management)

  • Problem-solving and abstract thinking difficulties

  • Memory and attention issues

  • Different learning styles and preferences

Environmental Challenges:

  • Lack of understanding and support from colleagues

  • Rigid work schedules and expectations

  • Bias and discrimination based on perceived differences

These challenges can be compounded by the following:

  • Lack of awareness and education about neurodiversity

  • Limited access to support and accommodations

  • Difficulty finding mentors or role models

  • Negative self-perception and low self-esteem


Impacts of Employment Challenges

These challenges can have significant impacts on neurodivergent individuals in the workplace, including difficulties finding or maintaining employment, problems managing stress, anxiety, and depression, social isolation, and masking. Employers also feel the effects of these challenges including increased absenteeism, and interpersonal challenges,


Tips for Employers

Creating a workplace that supports neurodiverse workers and employers is beneficial and requires employers and employees to work together. Provide training and education about neurodiversity for all employees. Offer flexible work arrangements to accommodate individual needs. Implement mentorship, training, and support programs for neurodivergent employees. Create a culture of acceptance and respect for all individuals. Challenge bias and promote diversity and inclusion.



Tips for Neurodivergent Workers

If you are not sure how your neurodiversity affects you at work, consider a psychological-vocational assessment. Advocate for your needs and request reasonable accommodations. Be patient with your employer if they are not familiar with your experiences. Seek support from mentors, colleagues, and support groups. Develop coping mechanisms and strategies to manage challenges. Build confidence and self-esteem through positive self-talk and accomplishments.


Innovative Ways to Develop Skills and Supports

Virtual reality (VR) technology offers innovative solutions that can help improve soft skills in a way that can be controlled and customized. Whether it's used by neurodivergent individuals to acquire skills or by employers who want to support their workforce to overcome challenges in the workplace, VR offers a variety of opportunities and benefits.


VR provides:

  • Immersive and engaging programs to learn soft skills

  • Safe and controlled environments to practice skills and coping strategies

  • Tailored experiences to meet individual needs


Benefits of Utilizing VR:

  • Promotes skill acquisition in hard skills and soft skills

  • Helps manage stress and anxiety of work-related challenges

  • More cost-effective and accessible than some traditional supports and training approaches

VR Support for Specific Neurodivergent Populations

Despite the impact that using virtual reality can have, it is important to note that virtual reality programs are not a replacement for professional counselling. They are a useful tool that can help build skills but should not be solely relied upon for therapeutic interventions. Below are some links to information on available VR programs, therapeutic resources, and employment-related training.


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD):

  • ProReal: non-verbal communication simulations

  • ISpeak: speech fluency and pronunciation training

  • XR Health: CBT and VR therapy with professional counsellors


Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD):

  • Oh Shape: interactive attention exercises

  • Headspace XR: mood-boosting games

  • Tripp: Relaxation and mindfulness and psychoeducation experiences


Anxiety, Depression, and OCD:


Employment-Related VR Training



Conclusion

By embracing neurodiversity through awareness, education, and communication, we can begin to find innovative ways to help support workforces better. One innovative way to facilitate this is by leveraging VR technology. Using VR technology, we can create workplaces that provide accessible, immersive, and engaging ways to develop skills, solutions, and strategies that help everyone find success and longevity at work.


References

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BrainsWay. (2024). Virtual Reality Therapy for OCD. https://www.brainsway.com/knowledge-center/virtual-reality-therapy-for-ocd/


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Centre For ADHD Awareness, Canada. (2024). About ADHD. https://caddac.ca/about-adhd/


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Dietzmann, K. (2023). Establishing Neurodivergence Inclusion in the Workplace Through Psychological Safety (Doctoral dissertation, The College of St. Scholastica). Retrieved from: https://irl.umsl.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=2412&context=dissertation


Dyslexia Canada (2024). Dyslexia Basics. https://dyslexiacanada.org/en/dyslexia-basics


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Grabarski, M. K., & Baker, M. (2024). The Influence of Neurodiversity Management on Affective Commitment and Turnover Intention: The Role of Neurodiversity Awareness. Retrieved from: https://eprints.qut.edu.au/246056/1/Manuscript_Accepted.pdf


Mayo Clinic. (2018, January 06). Autism spectrum disorder Overview. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/autism-spectrum-disorder/symptoms-causes/syc-20352928


OCD Canada. (2024). Types of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder. http://www.ocdcanada.org/on-ocd.html


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About the Author


Meet Peter, a lifelong learner driven by passion for innovation and personal growth. Positioned in the middle of seven siblings growing up, Peter comprehends the pivotal role soft skills play in maintaining relationships and finding success. From providing behavioural counselling and career counselling to hosting team-building events and activities, Peter's diverse work experiences fueled his curiosity to learn and share knowledge. Armed with a degree in behavioral psychology, real-world roles in social services, and certification in career development practice, Peter brings a unique perspective. Specializing in soft skills like communication, problem-solving, teamwork, and stress management, he employs immersive virtual reality experiences to craft dynamic, positive learning environments. As a certified Career Practitioner, Peter is dedicated to guiding individuals and organizations toward success in today’s fast-paced workplace. Join him on this exciting journey of unlocking potential through innovative and immersive learning experiences.



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