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Differently Wired: The Untapped Potential of Neurodiversity

The human brain is the most complex system known to science. Thanks to advanced computational methods, such as macroscopy techniques and machine learning algorithms, we can now capture its synaptic connections. Recently, Google and Lichtman Lab engineers created a browsable 3D map of the cerebral cortex. The map encompasses 50,000 cells and 130 million synapses constructed from 225 million images and a colossal 1.4 petabyte of data—just one-millionth of the total volume of the human brain.

With billions of neurons and just as many cells interconnected in various ways, it should come as no surprise that we all think, feel, and act differently from one another. The neurological and cognitive differences in how the human brain works and processes information are part of a natural variation known as neurodiversity. While neurodiversity is an umbrella term that refers to the variety of thinking styles and neurological profiles, neurodivergence describes neurocognitive functioning that is not considered typical and includes conditions such as autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or dyslexia. It is estimated that around 15-20% of the world’s population is neurodivergent, while the incidence of autism is exceptionally high in technical and engineering fields. What distinguishes neuroatypical members from the majority is that they possess distinct strengths in some areas and significant challenges in others. While historically, we have focused on deficits over capabilities, research shows that neurominorities exhibit exceptional abilities and skills that are particularly well-suited to IT.


One notable strength is the ability to concentrate on a single task or area of interest for an extended period, often to the exclusion of everything else. Hyper-focus, which is typically linked with conditions such as ADHD or Asperger syndrome, can lead to the development of extraordinary expertise in specific and frequently niche areas. In the IT sector, where specialization is highly valued, this ability results in increased creativity and better problem-solving, which proves beneficial in software testing and troubleshooting. Over the past two decades, a Danish company, Specialisterne, has collaborated with global enterprises to help them leverage the strengths of neurodiverse employees in STEM fields. As it turns out, thanks to their outstanding power of concentration and ability to enjoy routine, repetitive work, individuals on the autism spectrum can complete testing tasks without interruption and with a higher error detection rate than their neurotypical colleagues.

Pattern recognition:

It is common for some neurodivergent individuals to excel in examining complicated data and finding patterns that may elude others. Their ability to pinpoint correlations and trends in data can significantly benefit business operations, leading to informed decisions, data-driven approaches, and more optimized products. Identifying patterns is also crucial in detecting and preventing potential security threats, such as malware, phishing attacks, or unauthorized access attempts. Drawing inspiration from the achievements observed at DHS, the Australian Department of Defense has found that neurodistinct individuals exhibit higher than average analytical intelligence, which, combined with their high tolerance for repetitive, mental tasks, make them well-suited for challenging roles in cybersecurity. Those participating in their neurodiversity program leveraged their exceptional pattern-detection skills for functions such as analyzing logs and other complex data sources to detect signs of intrusion or malicious activity.

Detail orientation:

Many neurodivergent individuals, including those with Asperger´s syndrome, may show increased attention to detail. This ability is highly prized in the field of IT, where precision and meticulousness are crucial in tasks like coding, debugging, and quality assurance. Microsoft has led the way in pioneering neurodiversity hiring initiatives since 2015. Their Autism Hiring Program aims to recruit individuals on the autism spectrum for positions that require a thorough focus on details, such as software development or quality assurance. While neurodiverse individuals may dedicate more time to specific tasks, their attention span ultimately improves efficiency. Also, due to their high need for structure and repetition, people with Asperger´s syndrome are more likely to meticulously follow testing procedures, which can lead to the detection and resolution of issues before releasing products to clients or users.
There is no doubt about the value that neurodivergent thinking styles offer companies and society. However, to increase recruitment from this talent pool, we must create an environment where neuroatypical employees can thrive and meet their distinct needs and preferences. Drawing on nearly two decades of insights from pioneering companies that have embraced neurodiversity initiatives, it is clear that these adaptations should be wide-reaching, spanning from recruitment methods and communication strategies to office setup and team dynamics. Until our workplaces become genuinely inclusive of neurodiverse people, the differences between their strengths and challenges will remain stark.

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