We could fill this report only with testimonies of ‘neurodivergent’ people (that is, with brains that function differently from the conventional way) who have ended up convinced that their uniqueness has given them an advantage. An almost inescapable example is Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teenager who symbolizes the fight against climate change, diagnosed with Asperger syndrome: “That means that sometimes I am a little different from the norm. And, in certain circumstances, being different is a superpower ”, has said. There are many more cases, in the most diverse disciplines. Vice Admiral Nick Hine, who for many years was the commander of a nuclear submarine in the British Royal Navy, recently stated that autism has made him a “better officer” by making him feel “naturally comfortable” in tense situations that required focus in very complex operations. Brazilian Marina Amaral, world star of digital coloring of old photographs (her wonderful work can be seen in the book ‘El color del tiempo’), understood many things when she was diagnosed with autism as an adult: «My brain works in a way that, when I work, Maybe it will allow me to see details and to be involved in the process in a way that I did not even think possible. And, finally, there is the tycoon Richard Branson, who has no doubt that his dyslexia led to the “creative thinking” that led him to succeed in various businesses.
The pending issue, of course, is convincing others that these traits can be tremendously valuable in some jobs. The labor market, like society as a whole, is still obsessed with the outdated concept of ‘normality’ and wants job applicants to fit into a predetermined mold: many times, the requirements of human resources departments take into account aspects that neither They will even be applied later in the daily work, but they satisfy the stereotype of the good employee. Neurodivergent people (with autism spectrum disorders –TEA–, with dyslexia, with hyperactivity, with social anxiety disorder …) They tend to fall very early in the selection processes due to their difficulties in interacting with other people, so notorious in job interviews, and that happens even when their characteristics make them ideal candidates for the position. Of course, some sectors are already well aware of this. The GCHQ, one of the UK’s intelligence services, specifically targets these people because their ability to identify patterns amid vast amounts of data makes them an invaluable weapon for cybersecurity. Y firms such as SAP, Microsoft, Ford, Fujitsu or IBM have implemented neurodiversity programs They are not considered as altruistic works of charity, but as the ‘interested’ use of very useful profiles for their business purposes.
What are non-neurodiversity employers missing? «They lose a new source of talent that brings results, a different and enriching point of view and multiple advantages for the company. And they miss out on the opportunity to learn how to better integrate a very large percentage of the population into their teams, around 15% if we take into account all the conditions that are usually considered part of neurodiversity “, answers Francesc Sistach, general manager for Spain , Italy and Latin America from Specialisterne, a social company born in Denmark that seeks to “enhance” the characteristics of people with autism. We are talking about a spectrum, so the diversity within the collective is enormous, but often people with these disorders have a high capacity for concentration, strong visual skills, attention to detail, mathematical or technological skills, the ability to carry out repetitive activities without being distracted and an excellent long-term memory, in addition to behaving honestly and do not transgress the rules. “Many of these people shine in software testing, data analysis, or software development. In many other areas, a Miami car cleaning company takes advantage of that attention to detail to deliver exceptional service. And at the Casa Batlló in Barcelona there are currently more than twenty neurodivergent people performing multiple tasks, which include some more social ones such as attending to visitors ”, Sistach reviews.
“In general, we are more competent in repetitive tasks”
Marc is one of the Specialisterne consultants (he has been with them for “five years and four months,” he explains) and works on document management and quality control projects. Do you think that some trait linked to your neurodivergence helps you in these tasks? “I have a great tolerance for database revision and supplementation tasks, which can be very monotonous for many people, but in my case a repetitive task that does not require being too versatile is preferable. I also have the facility to detect errors and anomalous details among the information. People with ASD, in general, are more competent in repetitive tasks that require a high degree of detail ”, he responds. The fact of having a permanent contract has allowed him to improve his skills “both at a technical and socio-occupational level”, although he points out that in the latter there are many prejudices: “Within the TEA, according to my own experience, there is a spectrum of personalities and skills that broad as in neurotypical people. It is usually thought that one of the most difficult points is the treatment and coexistence, but in that there is also a huge variety.
Many companies have positions in which these characteristics are listed high, but even so, people with ASD are around 85% unemployment in Europe. Fear is often imposed, fueled by clichés, that such a worker will end up becoming a problem, a source of conflict, an impossible piece to fit into the team. Francesc Sistach explains that “A small initial effort to improve communication” is necessary, which basically consists of seeking clarity and banishing ambiguities: if you want the worker to do something, you tell him; if he does something wrong, too, with education but without understandings that can escape him. Sistach says that, in the end, the entire team benefits from this transparency: “Many tell us that we have changed the way they communicate with everyone.”
Clichés about autism tend to focus on two extremes: the dazzling genius to which television series have accustomed us (and indeed the proportion of geniuses is higher in this group) and people with insurmountable difficulties or with added disabilities, who cannot lead an independent life. But, as a specter that it is, It is a continuum with a large intermediate layer: probably, in our own company we have neurodivergent colleagues, diagnosed or not, and also many who are located near that more or less arbitrary border. “I come from the field of computing, and there I don’t even tell you,” says Francesc Sistach, who became involved in these issues as a result of having a daughter with autism. Getting into this world has made me understand certain people better, even interact better with some friends.
“Not too long ago, in our creative industry, women had no choice. How much time and how many opportunities wasted by that stupid prejudice! Now, saving a lot of the obvious distances and without falling into parallels, we cannot fall into similar errors. Working with a Finn who only speaks Finnish must also be difficult, but we don’t have to give up his talent for that. Having brains that think differently is the greatness of the team and the pure essence of creativity “, sums up José María Batalla, founder of La Casa de Carlota, a communication company with offices in five countries that is characterized by signing creatives with autism and Down’s Syndrome. Seven years ago, Batalla said he was nuts to get into this mess, but his initiative has prospered and has even received recognition from the UN.
We are talking about a man who has published a book entitled ‘Run Your Business Like Down Syndrome’, so in his speech you cannot expect parochial verbiage. “More or less,” he explains, “I can foresee how an Argentine or a Danish or an 18-year-old can approach a creative solution. Based on this, I can direct the project and focus it on a specific group of thinkers depending on the result I need to obtain. But, In the case of our creatives with Down syndrome and autism, the solution they can come up with is very difficult to foresee, partly due to their absence of vices and stereotypes and partly because it is impossible to think like them if you were not born like them. . Having them on the team is an unexpected source of continuous inspiration. Of course, it is not as simple as it seems and it is all part of a methodology that has taken us years to implement: you have to know how to work with them ».
José María Batalla assures that neurodiversity in his company has not only provided him with original approaches to offer his clients, but has also taught him a few important things: «First, of course, to accept your own neurodiversity, wherever it comes from. Come on, as a factor that helps us to be less equal, less boring and less predictable. But It has also taught me to be humble, because they are: they have a job and want to contribute so that the end result is the best. They never hang medals or consider any authorship that does not go through the team. And besides, I have learned to be happy at work, which is something the creative industry should never lose. “
“With the series, we can think that they are all geniuses, and it is not like that”
For some time now, autism has become a highly regarded element of television series scriptwriters, with characters who, sometimes with the corresponding diagnosis and sometimes without it, fit into the spectrum. From precedents like ‘Monk’ to more recent products like ‘The Big Bang Theory’, ‘Bright Minds’, ‘The Good Doctor’, ‘The Bridge’ or even ‘House’, we have become accustomed to those profiles that tend to combine difficulties in sociability with brilliance in the performance of some task. To what extent do they respond to reality? “The character of Sheldon in ‘The Big Bang Theory’ – answers Francesc Sistach – shows, in a very funny way, a very bright autism or Asperger profile. Perhaps that leads to overthinking the idea of ’geniuses’ being ‘funny’. Also ‘The Good Doctor’ shows an extraordinarily bright profile, although it also reflects certain social difficulties. You watch these series, you remember the movie ‘Rain Man’ and you may get the idea that all people with autism are geniuses. It is not like this”.
Which one are we left with, then? «The series ‘Atypical’ shows a teenager who is not a genius, has curious interests and shows everyday social situations that he has to deal with. In this sense, it is perhaps a better reflection of an autism profile with more social difficulties, although it must be remembered that the autism spectrum is very broad and includes ‘non-verbal’ people who communicate with signs and pictograms.