Neurodiversity Celebration Week began on March 13 and will end on March 19. It is a worldwide initiative that challenges stereotypes and misconceptions about neurological differences. It aims to transform how neurodivergent individuals are perceived and supported by allowing schools, universities, and organizations to recognize the many talents and advantages of being neurodivergent while creating more inclusive and equitable cultures that celebrate differences and empower every individual.
“I founded Neurodiversity Celebration Week (NCW) in 2018 because I wanted to change the way learning differences are perceived,” said Siena Castellon, the founder of NCW. “As a teenager who is autistic and has ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia, my experience has been that people often focus on the challenges of neurological diversity. I wanted to change the narrative and create a balanced view that focuses equally on our talents and strengths.”
A study recently published in the journal Pediatrics found that autism rates have tripled over the last 16 years. In addition, new research suggests that up to 15-20% of the US population is neurodivergent.
Despite these growing numbers, there are still many misconceptions about neurodivergent people that hinder progress toward not just acceptance but recognizing diverse viewpoints and life experiences.
What Opportunity Neurodiversity Celebration Week Provides
“Neurodiversity Celebration Week is special to me because it honors people for all that they are – celebrating our differences, especially those many try to keep hidden,” said Sarah Danzl, VP of client marketing and communications at Degreed. Ms. Danzl is a neurodiverse leader who works on collecting insights about the numerous benefits neurodiversity brings to the workplace. “For many years, I tried to hide my ADD or minimize some of its outward expressions. Now, I consider it one of my superpowers.”
Marissa “Missy” Pittard, Co-founder at Beaming Health, feels NCW is about celebrating different neurotypes. “It’s also about challenging the preconceptions of the limits of what neurodivergent individuals can achieve,” Pittard adds. “Our neurological differences are not problems to be cured, but natural variations in brain function. My favorite analogy: a Mac computer doesn’t run on Windows, but that doesn’t mean it’s broken. It’s just different.”
Ms. Pittard also believes this week is a chance to encourage real change, which she acknowledged, can take time.
“Fifty years passed between when homosexuality was removed from the DSM and when the federal government legalized gay marriage,” she said. “Many neurodivergent adults are diagnosed with a disability but lose their government benefits when they marry or work. I predict that a similar shift will occur for the neurodivergent community, albeit not as fast-paced as many of us would hope for.”
Part of effecting change is educating the public on common myths. Ms. Danzyl explained that when it comes to misconceptions, two immediately come to mind: Neurodiverse people aren’t as capable and need extra or unreasonable accommodations, and because the disability isn’t visible, the individual doesn’t have additional challenges or need support. “We need to focus more attention on how to make workplaces fit for everyone,” shared Danzyl. “Too many neurodiverse, perfectly capable, and skilled individuals are unemployed due to employers’ lack of accommodations and understanding.”
Creating A Strong Diversity And Inclusion Strategy
While the employment rate for Americans with disabilities hit a new record last year, according to government data, high levels of bias and discrimination have long kept unemployment levels high for the demographic.
There has been a greater initiative to inform companies of the many benefits of hiring those who are neurodivergent. For example, an in-depth analysis by Josh Bersin in 2016 tracked the business performance of 450 companies alongside 128 talent management. The study proved “that companies with great diversity outperform their peers by a significant margin.”
In addition, a study done by Accenture, AAPD, and Disability found of the companies they researched that hired those on the spectrum, they achieved, on average, 28% higher revenue, twice the net income, and 30% higher economic profit margins compared with other companies in the same sample.
“Neurodiverse brains can be especially creative, detail focused and often carried on-average higher artistic, creative and mathematical skills,” Danzyl said. “All areas of high demand in today’s businesses will only rise as workplaces become more automated and data-driven.
As a starting point to accomplish this, Ms. Danzyl suggests workplaces create spaces that welcome everyone, where people can be themselves and have autonomy over their work. This includes providing opportunities that enable people to set up their schedules around how they work best, such as shorter-term projects where they can remain inspired and challenged and having more open conversations with team members on what they need to be successful.
Ms. Pittard also recommends that companies interested in creating better support for neurodivergent employees read a post from Mentra called Top 10 Accommodations for Neurodivergent Employees
Neurodiversity In The Future
We’re improving at speaking about neurodiversity, but there’s still a long way to go. “Most of the neurodiversity represented today tends to be people with Aspergers,” Danzyl states. “But there are many different types of neurodiversity to celebrate – from ADHD to dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome, and dyspraxia.”
Ultimately, Ms. Danzyl shared a sentiment that best fits what NCW stands for and what the future holds. She said, “We shouldn’t treat neurodiversity as a disability. Instead, we must support and harness the strengths and abilities of neurodiverse talent. The possibilities are powerful.”