The term neurodiversity was popularized in the late 1990s by Australian sociologist Judy Singer and Harvey Blume, an American journalist. Their goal was to draw attention to the fact that people's brains are different from each other, which manifests itself across the spectrum of how they experience the world and function in it. They addressed such traits and skills as information processing, sensitivity to stimuli, attention span, mood, sociability, and learning.
Singer coined the term neurodiversity to emphasize the uniqueness and diversity within the human population – often to better illustrate the term neurodiversity, she invoked the well-known term "biodiversity," which is the diversity of ecosystems, species, and genes on Earth or in a particular environment.
Human brains are different from one another, which manifests itself across the spectrum of how they experience the world and how they function in it.
"The term neurodiversity was intended by Singer also, or rather primarily, to counter the exclusion of neuroatypical people from society. In this sense, it was another category that contributed, in her view, to discrimination against minorities, the so-called "neuro-minorities. Neuroatypicality joined other familiar categories, such as gender, race, and sexual orientation. In this context, actions along Singer's lines have become known as the so-called neurodiversity movement," explains Kasia Modlińska, initiator and co-author of the study on managing the potential of neuroatypical people in the workplace at SWPS University, founder and president of “Atypika – Foundation for Neuroculture”.
Neurodiversity, then, does not just mean diversity of thought. While neurodiverse people may think differently, it is crucial to understand that differences in the structure, connectivity, and functioning of people's brains are natural. It is simply the result of different genetic conditions. The term refers to a minority, non-typical, way of perceiving the world, and therefore also the structure of the brain. To date, there has been no single definition to describe the various traits that deviate to some degree from accepted standards. Such a proposal is precisely the concept of neurodiversity.
Different, but not worse
People are infinitely diverse in terms of their mental characteristics. The concept of neurodiversity abolishes the criterion of a single, proper, and valid normality. Instead of "norm", it introduces the concept of "typicality", i.e. more frequent occurrence and greater universality.
Neurodiverse people make up 20% of the population and, despite this large representation, they face many barriers to employment. They are a very heterogeneous group. Some are outstanding individuals whose unique skills often go unused because they are overshadowed by other features of their personality.
Some struggle with difficulties that prevent them from functioning independently. There is quite a sizable group of people who do not stand out in any unusual way, but they find it difficult to function in the world of majority social or communication norms. As a result, they are often accompanied by misunderstanding or suffering.
The concept of neurodiversity emphasizes the strengths of neuroatypical people. These include such qualities, focus on details, creativity, spatial imagination, or high motivation and perseverance. It seeks to respect and value mental differences on a systemic level and to include neuroatypical people in various areas of social life.
The concept of neurodiversity is by definition broad and refers to a range of clinically defined differences. Most commonly, neurodiversity refers to:
- autism spectrum disorder (ASD),
- ADHD spectrum (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder),
- obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD),
- bipolar affective disorder (BPAD).
Given the magnitude of the prevalence of dyslexia itself, it is more than likely that there are neurodiverse people working in every company.
Challenging traditional ways of thinking
About one in five people are neurodivergent, meaning that their brains function differently from what is considered standard or typical. Neurodivergence should therefore be considered not as a disorder, deficit, or dysfunction, but as one of the naturally occurring types of cognitive mechanisms. These, in turn, have contributed to the development of culture and technology throughout human history.
"In Atypika's activities, we focus mainly on public education about demonstrating the potential, talents, and values that neuroatypical people can bring to society. To this end, we opened an internationally innovative postgraduate course at SWPS University in October 2022, 'Neurodiversity in the workplace – inclusive recruitment and management.' In it, we teach how to create conditions in workplaces where atypical people can develop and use their potential, while benefiting the organization," adds Kasia Modlińska.
Opportunity in diversity
Managing neurodiversity is not only a challenge, but more importantly a huge opportunity for many companies. Creating teams with diverse employee perspectives and skills contributes to more efficient and innovative work. This directly increases the competitiveness of the company. Neurodiversity can be a little-known superpower that allows enterprises to prosper in an ever-evolving world.
A culture based on neurodiversity is beneficial to all. It brings understanding and encourages the search for the right path to achieve ambitious goals and objectives. Today, it seems to be a concept that demonstrates the responsibility of the employer, but also the perception of a broader horizon in a changing reality. At the same time, it introduces a sense of security and provides opportunities for self-realization.
Philosopher, psychologist, graduate of psychoanalytic studies at Tavistock and Portman in London and the British Psychoanalytic Society.
She initiated and co-authored a study on managing the potential of neuroatypical people in the workplace at SWPS University. Founder and president of Atypika - Foundation for Neuroculture.
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This article is a translation of a longer article published in:
“Kariera w Finansach i Księgowości 2023/24” guide