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As employees, persons with ADHD, on the autism spectrum, or bipolar often prove more productive than others.
Author: Kasia Modlińska

 – Interview with Kasia Modlińska on neurodiversity in the workplace, published in Gazeta Wyborcza weekly magazine Wysokie Obcasy (interview by Łukasz Filip, 07.05.2021).

“We are committed to supporting atypical persons, including those on the autism spectrum, in the workplaces, if only by minimising sensory stimuli and preparing their colleagues for the fact that they may be working with others in their teams who behave differently from the majority,” says Kasia Modlińska, president of the a/typowi Foundation.

Łukasz Pilip: What is neurodiversity?

Kasia Modlińska: This is a new concept in the field of social diversity. In a nutshell, the concept of neurodiversity assumes that we differ not only in gender, race or sexual orientation, but also in our psychological construction. And much more so than we realize, because some of the ways of functioning which previously were thought of as disturbed or ill are not necessarily so.

Research shows something else, too. Traits which according to the current diagnostic classifications are considered dysfunctional, have often been essential for our species and civilisation to develop. Antisociality goes hand in hand with innovation. Difficulties in reading and writing go hand in hand with above‑average visual imagination. Thus, neurodiversity tries to find potential in spots where we have not noticed it before.

And who are atypical persons?

The first group is persons on the autism spectrum. At first, autism was mainly diagnosed in men. It used to be associated with stereotypical masculine traits, such as rationality, good memory or being interested in the sciences. So I am not surprised that persons diagnosed as autistic were the first to become popular and recognized. But regardless of this context, I am glad that such an approach has been initiated at all. As the concept of neurodiversity began to develop, it embraced other groups, that is highly sensitive persons, those diagnosed with dyslexia, ADHD, or bipolar.

I am particularly interested in the broad spectrum of psychotic experiences, as they elude logical thinking. In our culture, they have often been attributed to liberated, creative, and demonic women called witches (while men were more often referred to as saints and geniuses). Understanding and respect for these states of consciousness will pose a challenge but I do hope that one day this will happen. Quite likely, this will require the creation of new dictionaries. For example, Olga Tokarczuk, who is an honorary member of our programme board, has created the term of mundus adiumens which denotes a feeling that the world is one our side and that various coincidences, incidental encounters, and sudden discoveries push us in the right direction. Many people who have experienced so-called psychotic breakdowns may understand this very well, and they would not call it as a medical condition at all.

Increasingly, atypical people also include those who have a strong sense of being different from society. They are estimated to constitute up to 20 per cent of our population, but in my opinion there are many more of them.

How does the Foundation want to support them?

We have plans to develop knowledge about neurodiversity, and we want it to become part of the social and academic discourse in Poland. For this, we cooperate with the Nencki Institute and the University of Warsaw.

First and foremost, however, neurodiversity is a social movement which seeks to recognise the potential of atypical persons and create conditions for them to thrive. Although the movement has appeared in Europe only recently, we can see from our activities that it is becoming popular really quickly.

When it comes to the school education process, we would like to introduce specific ways of teaching adapted to different cognitive styles and sensitivities of students. Because some like stimulating environments, bright colours, and lively activities, while others like it more when it is peaceful and quiet. This also calls for specific architectural solutions.

And how do atypical persons function at work?

This is another area which is very important for our Foundation. Neurodiversity as a social movement involves creating inclusive workplaces. We need to start with new recruitment methods in which atypical persons could thrive as this would ensure that candidates are judged on their actual merits rather than the basis on how they talk about their skills or perform at standard job interviews, which make them feel uncomfortable.

We are also committed to supporting these individuals further down the line in their workplaces, if only by minimising sensory stimuli and preparing their colleagues for the fact that they may have someone on their team who behaves differently. Many people on the autism spectrum, but not only them, tend to avoid bright light, noise, or too many people around them. They require predictability both when it comes to the tasks which they are assigned, and to their daily routines. It is good to work with them to achieve some flexibility because it happens, for example, that persons with ADHD are most active at certain times of the day. It is also worth thinking of the work safety issues for them as some persons on the autism spectrum get so involved in their duties that they forget to take the necessary times of rest.

Corporations in the U.S. benefit enormously from hiring atypical persons as they are often ten times more productive than others. And making them aware of their own potential is also of great therapeutic value because how are they supposed to know about it when all they keep hearing is that they should get treatment?

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