top of page

Empowering Neurodiverse Employees By Dr. Maureen Dunne

The Neurodiversity Edge By Dr. Maureen Dunne

Review By Dara Mormile

The job market can be a challenging landscape to navigate - even for the most skilled candidates with years of experience under their belt.

But what about the increasing population of neurodiverse individuals who are searching for the right fit in the workforce? According to author Doctor Maureen Dunne, PhD, the amazing abilities of neurodiverse people have long been overlooked - despite society’s growing understanding of unique conditions like ADHD, dyslexia, dyspraxia, hyperlexia, and sensory processing disorders - and those on the autism spectrum.

Dunne, a cognitive scientist and globally recognized neurodivergent expert, spoke with Preferred Health Magazine about her complex and compassionate book: “The Neurodivergent Edge: The Essential Guide to Embracing Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia and Other Neurological Differences for Any Organization.”

Neurodivergent - as opposed to ‘neurotypical’ - is a non-medical umbrella term for those who tend to process information differently. Many are stereotyped and mislabeled due to their unique behavior and mannerisms, leading to discrimination when entering the workforce. Dunne was inspired to write this book as her work with unemployed adults expanded.

"If there is empathy and the right training, it opens a whole new world of possibilities.”

“Organizations and companies tout the inclusivity of people with various challenges but many of them don’t have the expertise or training to effectively hire someone with ADHD, for example,” Dunne said. “We need to remove that fear so we can really include people with special needs.

"I’ve been working in this space as a CEO for two decades doing research and found a huge disproportionality between their ability to contribute their skills and genuine economic opportunities which would allow this population to fulfill their potential,” she said. “They have a lot of strengths that employers haven’t really tapped into. I know many employers are concerned about helping neurodivergent workers manage their time and organization skills, but if there is empathy and the right training, it opens a whole new world of possibilities.”

According to Dunne, 15 to 20 % of the global population falls within a neurodivergent category and an estimated 50 to 60 million Americans have special needs associated with their functioning skills. This doesn’t mean they’re incapable of holding down a job, Dunne notes and said bringing a neurodivergent worker onto the team can be beneficial to a company’s productivity.

"A lot of neurodivergent individuals tend to think outside the box,” she said. “They pay acute attention to detail, they have great pattern recognition, and studies have shown that they’re consistent with rational thinking – and they’re not bound by social scripts. They tend to not be as influenced by group thinking and some studies show that, for example, autistic individuals are very creative and less biased, which can be an advantageous trait for so many managers in different industries.”

Studies also show that neurodiverse employees can bring innovative perspectives and problem-solving approaches to big projects. Their unique intellectual wiring and reasoning skills enable them to excel at visual tasks and some can pinpoint connections of complex tasks. Whether they take on computer programming, data specialist, or a digital support role, they can succeed with the right training and environment.

Giving them special accommodations can also be crucial to their success, she added, as some may need to take breaks more often or work in a quiet place without a lot of chatter and have access to resources that help them concentrate (such as fidget toys). For example, some may be more productive in fields like the tech industry if they’re able to listen to music while taking on their complex responsibilities.

The pandemic - which debuted and encouraged remote work/work-from-home models - opened more possibilities to neurodiverse populations who have difficulty working in a traditional office.

Dunne’s book, which was published this year, connotes, “This isn’t to say that working from home will ease all the difficulties that arise from being neurodivergent in the corporate world. However, it has introduced greater flexibility and optionality.”

No matter what the future looks like for expanding companies and managers who want to welcome neurodiverse individuals, inclusion will open thousands of doors for those ready to face their next professional challenge!


DR. MAUREEN DUNNE is an author, cognitive scientist, global keynote speaker, neurodiversity expert, board director, and neurodivergent leader who has driven systems change in business, education, and public policy. She is the former President of the Illinois Community College Trustees Association, the third largest community college system in the United States, serving over 700,000 students. A Rhodes Scholar and organizational change expert with over two decades of experience, her work has been featured in Forbes, Bloomberg, MIT Sloan Management Review, Fast Company, Big Think, New York Times, Chicago Tribune, DiversityQ, UNLEASH, and Inside Higher Ed. A keynote speaker at the United Nations, Stanford University and the National Science Foundation, she was also a featured speaker at The Atlantic Festival where Neurodiversity was included as part of its Inclusion theme for the first time in history. She received a joint BA/MA from the University of Chicago, MSc from the London School of Economics, and doctorate from the University of Oxford, and is the author of national bestseller “The Neurodiversity Edge.”

bottom of page