Are You Supporting Neurodiversity in the Workplace

April is Autism Awareness month. More than 3.5 million Americans live with autism spectrum disorder, including about one in 45 children, according to a new U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey of parents.  Autism has been associated with intellectual disability, difficulties with motor coordination, sensory processing, attention, and sleep and gastrointestinal issues.  Many on the autism spectrum have difficulty processing everyday sensory information and can become overwhelmed, leading to stress, anxiety, and even physical pain.

Autism can be a sensitive subject and because I haven’t had much exposure, I’ve been hesitant to write about it. But as I’ve learned more, I’ve been struck by the important implications for employers. Many autistic people are uncomfortable with person-first language (such as “person with autism”) rather than identity-first language (“autistic person”). This is because autism affects who individuals are and how they see the world; they would not be the same person without it. The same goes for “high functioning” and “low functioning” labels, as function can vary based on the type of task and even throughout the day.

As employers look to diversify and be more inclusive, we’ve seen a growing number identify positions at which people on the spectrum can excel. Advocates say that placing individuals with autism alongside other team members helps to foster creativity and project innovation. Recognizing the value of neurodiversity in the workplace prompts employers to focus attention on differences, not disabilities, and in the process discover the assets of employees with ADHD, autism spectrum disorder, dyslexia, and other brain differences. Individuals with autism tend to be good at focusing on small details rather than the big picture. Where they may struggle with interpersonal relations, they are great at working with systems. Employees with ADHD will do best in roles that involve movement, novelty, frequent changes in activity level, and creative problem-solving. Individuals with dyslexia can look for opportunities that involve visualization, out-of-the-box thinking, and intuition, rather than a lot of reading and writing.

Mercer recently announced an alliance with Rethink Benefits to provide employers and their working parent workforce with tools and resources to care for children with developmental disabilities such as autism. Rethink offers members access to a comprehensive video-based treatment program, sophisticated behavior intervention planning tools, training for caregivers, individualized assessments, online skills-based activities and access to remote, clinician-led consultation for personalized treatment guidance and care.

To learn more, please join Mercer and Rethink on April 19th, from 1:00 to 1:45 PM EST for a special Autism Awareness Month themed webinar event that asks if you doing enough to support your employees who are caring for a child with special needs. It’s hosted by Rethink’s clinical expert and Board Certified Behavior Analyst Dr. Patricia Wright and Mercer’s Dr. David Kaplan, Pediatrician, Senior Partner and leader of the Mercer Health Innovation LABS.  The webinar will cover:

  • How to think about childhood developmental diseases and its impact on a company
  • The life-long impact on employees who are caring for a child with special needs
  • De-stigmatizing care and increasing awareness
  • Delivering innovative solutions to holistically supporting this growing need

Register here:

Chris Chan
by Chris Chan

Principal, Innovation LABS, Mercer

Chris is a Principal and Innovation Imagineer with Mercer’s Health Innovation LABS, where he helps build creative solutions that complement employers’ health and welfare benefits programs. He focuses on developing strategies and products through the use of human-centered design, machine learning, consumer data insights and creating customer delight. Chris graduated from the University of California with a degree in neurobiology.

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