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Posted 30 Mar 2019

Is Greta Thunberg ‘Disabled’ Or A Superhero? Two Sides To Neurodiversity

Greta Thunberg has not referred to herself as disabled.

She wants the world to know that Asperger’s is her superpower and that in times of crisis we need people who can think outside of the box. She describes how being neurodiverse helps her stay focused and brush off criticism. She appears as our fearless leader, speaking up where for too long we have been silent, and inspiring a generation. 

Yet most developed economies have adopted the United Nations Convention on Disability Rights. FTSE-listed companies are subject to disability legislation, which obliges reasonable adjustments or accommodations for autism (such as Asperger’s), dyspraxia, dyslexia, ADHD and other conditions that are referred to as “invisible disabilities.” In the eyes of the law, those with Asperger’s diagnoses could be considered disabled and what’s more, in many job roles may need adjustments to work at their best.

So, which of these approaches is most helpful, psychologically and for diverse team performance? Perhaps businesses can draw lessons from both?

Difference versus disability

Revealing the positive aspects of neurodiversity is rapidly promoting acceptance and inclusion. The strengths are real, popular and beneficial to society, as many business leaders agree. For individuals who have been given negative assessments of their skills throughout life, having the opportunity to discover strengths can be life changing.

However, for some people the superpower idea is experienced as harmful, as it puts pressure on them to perform and not everyone is a “Rain Man” type. Around 50% of the prison population is dyslexic and I’ve had incarcerated clients say to me “not everyone can be Richard Branson, you know.” They have a point. Expectations without the right support can be crushing.

Also, if we’re in this, we need to be in it for ALL, not just top slicing the geniuses, as inspirational as they may be. The reality is that in all forms, neurominorities are less likely to be in work, less represented in power and more likely to be in prison or to die prematurely. MORE FOR YOUWhat’s Next For Disability Policy? Here Are Four First StepsThe Salvation Army Wants You To Believe They’ve ChangedJob Applicants Under Age 24 And Over 55 Most Impacted By Age Bias: These Five Tips Can Help

Yes, you read that right, die prematurely

This is systemic exclusion and it isn’t just based on unfulfilled strengths, it is based on unaccommodated difficulties. We are reliant on literacy and sustained concentration/communication in our societal structures, like healthcare, criminal justice and education. With battles for basic access and inclusion, career achievement might become a distant dream, hence the untapped talent pool.

The way we’re currently set up, anyone who diverges significantly from the norm is going to be disabled. In this way, disablement comes from context, not conditions.   

Two Sides Of The Same Coin

Of course, both approaches are relevant and we do not have to pick a side in order to move forward with our Diversity and Inclusion agendas. I have clients who experience one side more than the other, or flip between the two, depending on their context and general well-being.

Many of the employers I work with are genuinely trying to get on board with disability inclusion and develop neurodiversity as part of a talent strategy, which I wholly endorse. Taking care of the obstacles, as the legislation requires, means that employers are well-placed to flip the narrative for their staff, providing a conducive environment perhaps for the first time.

There are tried, tested and evidence-based solutions for making it work on a practical level. Performance coaching, assistive technology, positive assessments all help with individual struggles. Having an environmental audit, an HR process review and implementing flex-time helps businesses learn how to create a welcoming context. 

Providing adjustments might take a bit of time and effort and they might challenge some aspects of your company culture. But they inspire loyalty, unleash top performers and cost less than rehiring!

Inclusion is an act. If you want the rewards you must take a few risks.