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Success Can Be Its Own Adversity

  • Posted on June 11, 2012 at 8:00 AM

One of the common threads in discussing autism, Asperger’s and associated neurological differences is the challenge of discrimination and the lack of opportunity.  One of the threads that seems less common, if not entirely ignored, is the adversity of success.

With success brings the expectation—often overwhelming—to perform successfully.  This is emboldening when that performance is accessible, but it can be extremely disheartening when that success is out of reach.  As many of us know, ability is variable.  Some days we can do more than we can on most days.  Some days we can do less that we can on most days.  What we can do any given day, even a normal day, isn’t the same from day to day.  Add the stress to perform and that variability can increase exponentially.  Now this is, to a degree, true for everyone.  With autism, this variance is heightened and enunciated in a way that seems dramatic, even odd.  It makes the normal level of unpredictability seem predictable in comparison.

What makes this especially unfortunate is the days that we must perform are not always the days that we can perform.  I see this in my children and in myself.  These are the days when our successes come back to bite us.  We are expected to do, so we try, but we can’t and the frustration mounts, making it even harder to do and even harder to explain why we can’t, because everyone already knows we can or, rather, that we could without seeing the difference between the two.

How do you deal with success?  How do your children deal with success?  Do you give yourself or your children permission not to succeed even when you know, on another day, at another time you or your children could do what they can’t do at the moment?  It’s hard to do so, but it’s necessary.  Some days we can.  Some days we can’t.  Even when we usually can, there are still some days when we simply can’t, try as we might, as much as we want to, it’s just simply inevitably and unalterably out of reach.

The Neurodiverse Workforce

  • Posted on January 18, 2011 at 7:58 AM

The first proposed chapter for my book, tentatively entitled “Neurodiversity at Work: A Manager’s Guide,” is designed to introduce the concept of neurodiversity in a business-friendly context.

Most of what is written about neurodiversity is from a social justice perspective.  While there are very real reasons for this, a consequence is that information about neurodiversity is not presented in the language most business people speak.  So this first chapter will ground the relevance of the social justice issue to the business world by translating the social justice language to the business language.

What does it mean to be neurologically diverse or neurodiverse?

As used in this book, neurologically diverse and neurodiverse are two different terms.  Understanding both is important to understanding how neurodiversity impacts the workplace.

Neurologically references the structures and mechanisms of the nervous system, including the brain, and the effects the nervous system has on how people experience life.  Diversity references the fact that there is no one neurological state.  We all are neurologically diverse.

Neurodiverse, on the other hand, represents a sense of identity.  Someone is neurodiverse, in this sense, rather than being neurotypical.  Societies tend to prefer a certain set of neurological traits; this set of preferred traits is perceived as neurotypical.  In some societies, including the United States, traits that deviate from this preferred “norm” are perceived as damaged or insufficient.  This creates stigma and an environment of prejudice against anyone who demonstrates neurodiverse traits.  This prejudice can be extreme, such as the prejudice faced by people with so-called low functioning autism, which is considered an extreme deviation from the norm.  This prejudice can also be relatively mild, such as the prejudice faced by people with depression, which is considered a less extreme deviation from the norm.

So, what does it mean to be neurologically diverse?  It’s means you’re a human being.  Humanity is neurologically diverse.  What does it mean to be neurodiverse?  It means you are part of a perceived “undesirable minority” and will face stigma and prejudice as a member of the workforce.  This prejudice and stigma will continue unless managers learn to manage a neurologically diverse workforce or you learn to hide your undesirable differences.  It also means you may carry a label of mental disorder, as your neurotype may have been medicalized due to its undesirability. 

At least an estimated 26.2% of the American adult population could identify as neurodiverse, or one in four adults.  According to the 2004 census, that’s an estimated 57.7 million people in America alone.  This minority is too large and too important to ignore, but the business world often ignores the needs of this population.

What is neurodiversity?

Neurodiversity is about the confluence of two distinct beliefs:

1) People are naturally and normally neurologically different.  Some of these natural, normal differences are labeled “abnormal,” “disorders,” “syndromes,” or other value-laden labels that interferes with our ability to understand the different subsets of human neurology.

2) Human beings are valuable, in all their diversity, in and of themselves.

As such, neurodiversity is a social justice movement that is affiliated with the disability rights arm of the civil rights movement.  Neurodiversity is also strongly tied to autistic advocates, who advocate for acceptance and accommodations for autism, so they can better interact with societies that devalue the autistic ways of being.  As used in this text, neurodiversity is not exclusive to autistics, but encompasses the wide set of neurodiverse individuals who participate in the workforce.  This includes individuals with autism, mood disorders, attention deficit disorders, and other neurotypes that may or may not involve a medical diagnosis.

How does this social concept apply to the business environment?

Consumers are neurologically diverse.  Workers are neurologically diverse.  Business is, by extension, an interaction of neurologically diverse individuals for profit.

Understanding, respecting, and accommodating neurological diversity is an important business survival strategy as the world changes in the face of social pressures from neurodiversity advocates.  Businesses have long struggled with issues stemming from a neurologically diverse workforce, but have yet to come to terms with these issues.

The time is now; because, as pressure mounts, if businesses cannot or will not respond, consumer and legislative pressure will force businesses to respond in ways that suit bureaucratic form rather than the flexible business environment and the needs of your workers.