Canadian employers have taken important steps forward on a range of diversity, equity and inclusion matters.

That work continues, particularly in the context of neurodiversity, which applies to an estimated 15 per cent to 20 per cent of the global population.

Neurodiversity is a broad category that includes autism, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, dyslexia, Tourette’s syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder and a range of other challenges. Simply put, no two brains function the same way, so understanding the workplace through this lens is important.

Read: How KPMG is recruiting, supporting employees with disabilities, neurodiversity

The opportunity for group benefit plan sponsors is twofold. First, they need to understand the needs of their workforce and meet them in ways that support maximum employee health and productivity. Second, plan sponsors must recognize that neurodivergent workers can bring unique capabilities to an organization and as such, they deserve unique consideration in the company’s talent attraction and retention strategy.

Fundamentally, the value of diversity in the workplace is that it enables organizations to leverage multiple working styles, strengths and perspectives. By assigning employees work that they can excel at, it will engage these workers and deliver improved results.

Many Canadians don’t identify as neurodiverse or choose not to disclose that aspect of their identity, so employers’ abilities to accommodate specific needs can be limited. It’s best that employers assume a range of challenges exist — or will at some point in the future — and formalize accommodations to address them.

Read: 68% of U.S. employees say they’re unfamiliar with concept of neurodiversity

Here are nine best practices:

1. Review psychology benefits coverage.

Employers can provide access to different modalities and practitioners and test their plan coverage’s adequacy to ensure it doesn’t create obstacles to supports for neurodivergent colleagues. For example, testing the annual maximum for psychological services to ensure the entire maximum isn’t used up by expensive psychometric testing.

2. Cover neurodiversity coaching.

This is especially important for employers that rely solely on outside providers.

3. Consciously build a neurodiverse workforce.

This goes beyond the legal duty to accommodate disabilities. It’s important for employers to identify tasks or streams of work that exist in the organization and consider neurodiversity in their talent attraction and retention efforts. Again, employers can match unique strengths with the tasks at hand.

4. Celebrate neurodiversity.

Just as it’s important to celebrate other forms of diversity, workers will welcome messaging about a commitment to neurodiversity in the workplace. It will help an employer attract and retain talent and it’s good for the employer’s brand.

Read: How employers can help employees with ADHD be engaged, productive

5. Support an inclusive onboarding process.

Employers can encourage new hires who are neurodivergent to feel comfortable identifying as such by using nonjudgmental, inclusive messaging. It will add to positive first impressions and identify opportunities to match people with work they can excel at.

6. Build a mentoring program that supports neurodivergent employees.

This doesn’t need to be labelled as such, but where possible, employers can make this part of how they match new and/or young employees with more experienced mentors.

7. Be flexible.

Many neurodivergent workers are more productive working remotely, particularly those who struggle with distractions. It’s also a good idea for employers to offer noise-cancelling headphones, quiet break spaces, adjustable lighting and other onsite workplace modifications.

Read: 45% of Canadian autistic employees feel they have to mask autistic traits at work: survey

8. Communicate clearly.

Whether it’s instructions on a specific task or more broadly focused employee messages, plain-language best practices will go a long way toward making all workers more comfortable and productive. Neurodivergent employees consume and process information differently. For example, they may need unique support when asked to select flexible benefits plan and retirement investment options. Communicating change management to these employees also requires careful consideration.

9. Review rules and policies about how employees should treat colleagues.

Workers need to know that their employer values diversity and has protections in place to ensure that all employees feel safe. All workers have strengths and opportunities for improvement and they all deserve support.

The uptick in the number of people who are neurodiverse is likely the result of both environmental factors and a greater willingness among people to speak openly about their cognitive health as well as their strengths. While the impact on the Canadian workplace is at a relatively early stage, it’s important that employers are equipped to provide coaching and direction to leaders of neurodiverse team members to ensure they’re facilitating inclusion and awareness.

Read: BNP Paribas expanding talent pool by hiring, supporting neurodiverse employees