February 20, 2019

WPI researchers advocate for neurodiverse workforce

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Eleanor Loiacono, center, a professor in the Foisie Business School at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, is urging high-tech employers to hire workers who are autistic or have ADHD.

People with autism, dyslexia or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder might face struggles throughout their day that others don't. But they carry skills other workers don't have, according to a new paper from two Worcester Polytechnic Institute researchers.

Those with particularly great concentration skills, visual abilities and other skills can offer an advantage for high-tech firms and their growing workforce needs, said Eleanor Loiacono, a professor in the Foisie Business School and director of the IDEA Hub at WPI, and Huimin Ren, a doctoral student in WPI's data science program.

Loiacono and Ren published their paper in the research journal MIS Quarterly Executive.

Hiring so-called neurodiverse workers can help companies, they argue, by having a workforce with broader perspectives who can think and solve problems in various ways. Companies proactively employing neurodiverse workers can avoid the need for external agencies to impose quotas, the researchers wrote.

"I see so many talented young people being defined and limited by what others say they can't do, when in fact they have so much to offer — wonderful abilities that make them a valuable asset to businesses and society as a whole," Loiacono said.

Loiacono and Ren said their study found Fortune 500 companies mentioned supporting diversity in gender, sexual orientation, religion and other variants but not explicitly neurodiversity.

Data shows such workers are a significant and growing portion of the workforce.

One in 59 children today are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC has estimated that 6.1 million children between 2 and 17 years old had been diagnosed with ADHD.

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