Posted On: April 28, 2021
According to a 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control, an estimated 5.4 million Americans have some form of autism or identify as neurodiverse.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a complex disability characterized by such things as difficulty with social interactions, a need for consistency in environment and schedule, over or under reaction to sensory stimulation, unusual interest or fixation on objects or topics and repetitive actions or body movements.
The autism spectrum does not refer to a level of severity. Rather, the spectrum represents a collection of different characteristics associated with autism that someone may possess. A person may be nonverbal, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t intelligent or incapable of leading full, independent lives.
We are all the products of the inconceivably complex system of wiring we call the human brain. People with autism and other neurodiverse individuals simply approach the world differently than the average neurotypical person.
Unfortunately, lack of representation of neurodiverse people in the workplace often means hiring practices are designed only with neurotypical people in mind. This leaves neurodiverse applicants at a disadvantage from the beginning. So, in the spirit of Autism Acceptance Month, here are four things you can do to make your hiring practices more inclusive for neurodiverse candidates:
Equip your interviewers with a clear, focused and consistent interview scoring rubric, minimizing abstract questions and putting heavy emphasis on job-related skills. Assessing candidates on their social skills or personability when said skills aren’t required for the job is unfair not only to neurodiverse people, but to anyone who happens to be more introverted or gets nervous during job interviews.
If the job requires communication skills, be specific about what that means. Does the candidate need to be able to talk a customer into a sale or do they need to be able to effectively write an email to another department? These are two different types of communication.
Remember too that just because someone is comfortable talking about themselves in an interview doesn’t mean they’re going to be effective at their job. The value of behavioral interviewing is that it allows the interviewer to assess a candidate based on examples of their work.
Communicate with candidates beforehand as to how their interview will be assessed. You wouldn’t ask your employees to go into a meeting without telling them the meeting’s goals. Neurodiverse individuals will appreciate having the opportunity to prepare themselves, especially if they’re going into a situation without knowing what to expect causes them anxiety.
Asking hiring managers to conduct neurodiverse-inclusive interviews without giving them adequate training is putting them in a no-win situation. When you introduce your rubric, make sure they understand why it’s important, emphasizing that it’s not just for the benefit of neurodiverse candidates, but for the benefit of all candidates.
Give them the opportunity to meet with and learn from people representing the neurodiverse community, including people with autism, learning disabilities, processing disabilities, etc. Hiring managers can also benefit from knowing about resources like the Job Accommodations Network and the Neurodiversity Hub.
The most celebrated neurodiverse hiring programs utilized by such organizations as Microsoft and Ernst & Young emphasize skills assessment over interviewing. After all, the best way to assess how a candidate will perform on the job is to let them try it.
For software engineers, this might mean asking candidates to complete a coding project. For communications professionals, it might mean asking them for examples of their past work. Whatever assessment you decide to utilize, make sure it’s relevant to the job and accessible to people with disabilities.
Culture-fit is a popular buzz-word in the hiring industry, but more and more, we’re seeing the negative consequences of such a mentality. When most hiring managers hear “culture-fit,” they inadvertently think “people like me,” which puts neurodiverse candidates at an inherent disadvantage.
Instead, hiring managers should be encouraged to ask themselves, “What unique life experiences and world view will this candidate bring to my team?” and “How will including this person on the team help the other team members grow?”
By bringing neurodiverse candidates on-board, not only will hiring managers benefit from a new, unique outlook, but they and their other employees will gain vital new experiences that will broaden their worldview and open them up to your other diversity, equity and inclusion efforts.