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Unveiling the Challenges and Potential of Neurodiversity in Employment

KUALA LUMPUR: Neurodiversity embodies the beautiful array of cognitive differences present in individuals, including those with conditions such as autism, ADHD, and dyslexia. This diversity enriches society with unique perspectives and abilities, yet it also presents obstacles, especially in the realm of employment.

“Neurodivergent people have immense untapped talent. When they develop an interest in specific subjects, they possess a remarkable ability to hyperfocus and achieve expertise in those areas,” said Dr Choy Sook Kuen, the founder of Oasis Place. Despite this, studies consistently reveal alarmingly low rates of employment for this population.

Dr Choy Sook Kuen, the founder of Oasis Place

Extensive research revealed troublingly high unemployment rates among neurodiverse individuals, ranging from 30% to 40%. This stands in stark contrast to lower rates observed among people with other disabilities or no impairments at all. These numbers shed light on the significant challenges neurodiverse individuals face when seeking job opportunities. 

Moreover, a survey of Fortune 500 companies reveals biases in the hiring practices of most companies. While 90% of respondents were open to hiring people with physical disabilities or hearing impairments, only 20% showed a similar willingness towards those with severe mental disabilities. This disparity in hiring highlights the pervasive stigma and discrimination encountered by neurodiverse individuals in the job market. 

Such biases not only perpetuate inequality but also prevent organisations from tapping into valuable talent and diverse perspectives.

Challenges faced by neurodivergent individuals

Widespread misunderstandings surrounding neurodiversity perpetuate harmful stigmas and biases in professional settings. These misconceptions hinder opportunities for individuals with neurodivergent traits, resulting in discrimination during recruitment and difficulties in the workplace.

Neurodivergent individuals possess a wide array of talents and skills, yet traditional employment systems often fail to recognise and utilise these strengths, leading to high rates of unemployment. Conventional recruitment practices, focused on social skills and fitting societal norms, create barriers for neurodivergent individuals during interviews, networking, and resume-building.

Employers should rethink hiring methods by using alternative assessments like skills-based evaluations, reducing reliance on social cues and interview performance. Investing in initiatives such as mentorship, vocational education, and apprenticeships can help develop neurodivergent individuals’ skills and advance their careers.

“Many workplaces struggle to accommodate people with different thinking styles, such as those with autism or ADHD. This lack of support makes them feel left out and affects how well they can do their jobs,” said Dr Hazli Zakaria, a respected psychiatrist and founder of Alaminda.

Dr Hazli Zakaria, a respected psychiatrist and founder of Alaminda.

He also said it’s not that hard to make things better, it’s as easy as setting aside a designated area for smokers. Simple changes like moving desks, adjusting lights, or creating a chill area with comfy bean bags can help a lot. And just letting these folks eat lunch alone sometimes, away from loud noises or big crowds, can help them feel more comfortable and get their work done well.

Addressing the employment gap for neurodivergent individuals requires collaborative efforts across sectors, including government, businesses, advocacy groups, and communities. By fostering inclusive workplaces, providing tailored support, and transforming recruitment practices, we can harness the strengths of neurodiversity and create a more equitable and diverse workforce for the future.


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