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Dr. Dave Caudel

Associate Director of the Frist Center for Autism and Innovation

What is Neurodiversity?

Brain differences are normal.

Neurodiversity refers to diverse ways of thinking.

The term neurodiversity was coined In the late 1990s to describe people who demonstrate a wide range of neurological differences. 

The different categories of neurodiversity include: ADHD, Autism, Dyspraxia, Dyslexia, Tourette Sydrome… Roughly 1Bn people in the world are Neurodivergent and 80% are unemployed or underemployed.


What are the different types of neurodiversity?

1/3 of the US, and likely the world, are Neurodivergent

Dyslexia is the most common neurodivergence, and most understood, usually affecting someone’s ability to read or write accurately ~ 20% of the US population.

Dyspraxia is a learning difference that affects how the mind processes actions, usually affecting coordination and movement ~ 4%

ADD / ADHD – Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder is characterized by inattentiveness, impulsivity and hyperactivity – 10%

Autism is a spectrum condition which affects how people interact and communicate with the world ~ 2%

Other types including tourette syndrome ~ 1%



What are the top challenges they face?


When your mind works differently, your language works differently. 

For the neurodivergent (example: people on the autistic spectrum), misunderstandings and miscommunications can easily rise.

One of the biggest challenges at work is people misunderstanding them, because they can come off as blunt, direct, confrontational, or rude when in reality they are not. 

They do not have the usual reactions to emotions. It is difficult to understand the mismatch between what they perceive to be normal and what society perceives to be normal. 

Another challenge is that they may be very detail oriented and literal thinkers and can get caught in minutiae. They sometimes might end up wasting a lot of time when in reality they should have asked for help.


How to best address these challenges?

First, start by understanding what neurodiversity entails and the different types of neurodivergence.

Become familiar with the type of neurodivergent category the candidate might have.

Be careful and clear with your language: say what you mean. 

Understand that they are not trying to be blunt. Obvious things to them might not be obvious to others. With the right communication style, it is quite easy to get on with them. 

When a misunderstanding at work does occur, it is important to tackle it with an open and honest conversation.

Clarify what the person meant, share with them feedback if they said something that was inappropriate.


Best practices during the interview

Best Practices Include

  1. Trust your judgment and challenge your perspective when you come across someone who is neurodivergent.
    Listen to the candidates’ experiences, be open to see potential in this person because of his/her unique brain wiring.
  2. Do not to use vague language. Be as clear as possible. Avoid using sarcasm.
  3. To reduce their anxiety, as the interviewer, make sure to be patient and accommodating. Encourage them to relax. If the person changed topics or went off course, do not be afraid to bring him/her back on topic.
  4. Don’t get caught up in social norms. The candidate may not smile or make eye contact as readily as other candidates.  Consider whether those are critical skills for the role, and if not, don’t worry so much about those things.
  5. Allow a break in between multiple interviews, to avoid overwhelming them and to allow the candidate to have time to process information.
  6. Prep the candidate in advance by telling them what to expect: the format of the interview, who/how many people will be present, how long the interview will last, if it will include a tour of the facility, etc. This is a best practice for any candidate, but especially helpful for someone who is neurodiverse.


Don’t ask: Too broad: What is your greatest weakness? What is your greatest strength?

Do ask instead: What are your strengths? What do you think you can do that most others people can’t do?


Don’t ask: Anxiety inducing: Where will you be in 5 years?

Better: How would you like to see the next 5 years of your professional development evolve?



How to look for skill and potential

Look at backgrounds.

Consider reducing the job description. Is a degree really needed for the role, or can someone with a non-traditional background perform the work? Keeping in mind that they are not “good talkers” make sure not to judge their intelligence and ability on their ability to speak about themselves.

Evaluate the assessments that you normally use.

Personality assessment is designed for neuromajority and may not be useful for the neurodivergent.

Avoid doing: Video interview: limited use

Do instead: Tech interview, project, case study, skills assessment: clear indication of skillset. If instructions are vague, they will struggle.

While each person is unique, candidates who are neurodiverse often tend to be on task. Regular attendance and timeliness, as well as retention and loyalty are often strengths for neurodiverse candidates, and these skills and qualities are valued by employers.

Additional  Resources:
If you are ever unsure about an accommodation request, within the U.S. you can always access the Job Accommodation Network at  This is a free resource for employers and employees, where you can describe the disability and get advice and options that would meet the accommodation request.


Handling reasonable accommodations

Ask them what accommodations they might need in order to feel comfortable in the workplace and to work at optimal conditions.


  • Noise cancelling headsets because they are sensitive to noise
  • Flickering lights can be very annoying, move the person to a darker area with less lighting
  • Allow to reduce socializing (around the water cooler). Be accommodating by accepting that for some, socializing informally might be a source of stress to them.Learn more here

Best practices when onboarding

For each employee, it is a personal choice to decide whether or not to disclose a disability to their employer. Some may choose to participate in anonymous self-identification during the hiring and onboarding process, and may or may not disclose the disability.

For candidates who are neurodivergent: The experience is very different for each, and while some may disclose as part of the hiring process and ask for an accommodation during the interview, others may not immediately disclose or ask for an accommodation. Others may disclose to the recruiter or hiring manager, but may be less comfortable with that information being shared more broadly. 

Ask them what you can do to help set them up for success. Knowing that they have a leader who is open and willing to learn and to provide support is the first step in setting the employee on the path to success.


If I didn't hire them, can I still help?

If you do not hire them, make sure you give them a lot of feedback!

Feedback on their CVs, feedback on their body language, interview answers.

For you as a hiring manager, this is an opportunity to shine them up, to better prepare them for success. 

Consider mentoring them: what could they have said or done differently?

Design by Isabelle Trad
Illustrations by Sally Rumble
Production by Karen Karam

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