The neurodivergent as talents for IR4.0

THE Fourth Industrial Revolution (IR4.0) brings a fundamental change in the ways humans live and work. The World Economic Forum lists the critical skills for IR4.0: They are complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management, coordinating with others, emotional intelligence, judgement and decision making, service orientation, negotiation, and cognitive flexibility.

These skills fall under the social-emotional quotient (EQ) that concerns one’s ability to regulate thoughts, emotions and behaviours. Research shows that these skills play a major role in personal and professional success and well-being. EQ deals with individuals’ personal and social competences that affect the way they manage and navigate social complexities. EQ has been said to be the key that differentiates humans from robots, hence lessening the impact of technological unemployment caused by IR4.0.

Because of its significance, many parties consider social-emotional deficiency, particularly in the younger generation, a problem that needs immediate attention. Within this crux lies the “neurodivergent”, ie individuals with significant differences in brain functions, thought process, emotions and behavioural traits.

Individuals that may fall under the neurodivergent category includes those with ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder), high functioning autism, Asperger’s, dyslexia, dyspraxia, dyscalculia, and dysgraphia. Neurodivergents are traditionally placed under the umbrella of persons with disabilities and neurodivergence is regarded as a “learning disability”. Progress in recent years has seen a more encompassing view towards disability emerge whereby terms such as “differently-abled” or “diverse-abled” are replacing “disability”.

Neurodivergent individuals are typically deficient in socioemotional skills that allow them to develop relationships with others. Neuro-divergents also tend to be logical, rigid thinkers. Those in the spectrum are also found to be “mindblind”, or lacking the “theory of mind” – the ability to understand and empathise with other people’s perspectives and intentions that is crucial in social interactions.

The appeal of neurodivergent individuals as untapped talents is increasingly being recognised. A neurodiversity movement is on the rise in the technology industries in some Western countries. Some of those working in Silicon Valley today as well as famous historical personalities have been diagnosed with or are believed to have atypical neurological conditions.

The neurodivergent have strengths to offer as employees. For example, individuals with autism may have strong memorisation skills, are very detailed, persistent, conscientious, highly committed, honest and loyal.

Despite their unique thinking abilities, though, the neurodivergent often have to go through painful learning experiences. While those who are formally diagnosed will normally go through therapies to assist them, those who are not tend to suffer in silence and face a rollercoaster of social incidents throughout their lives. However, with the right interventions as well as cooperation from relevant parties, neurodivergents can be taught socioemotional skills so they will have better chances to enter the job market and lead quality lives. Given their potential, their unique ability make them particularly suited to benefiting the IR4.0 economy.


Azman Hashim International Business School, Universiti Teknologi Malaysia

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