How Psychometrics Empower Neurodiverse Candidates |

For neurodiverse candidates, psychometric assessments can be intimidating. But Senior Manager of Psychology at Thomas, Stephen Cuppello, is dyslexic himself, and wrote his PhD on the psychology of intellectual disability. He is dedicated to ensuring that neurodiverse individuals aren’t disadvantaged in psychometric assessments. This article shares research on this topic undertaken by Stephen and Thomas’ Lead Specialist Psychologist Mollie Tatlow. It also presents their top tips for ensuring that your neurodiverse job applicants have a positive candidate experience.

What is neurodiversity?

The term ‘neurodiverse’ was coined in 1997 to change the narrative around autism spectrum disorder. The word ‘disorder’ has negative connotations, which were detrimental for those people to whom it was applied. The new term ‘neurodiverse’ traded the defamatory ‘disorder’ with the recognition of autism spectrum disorder as another form of diversity. Neurodiversity is characterised by thought patterns, behaviours and learning styles that deviate from the ‘neurotypical’ or normal.

Neurodiverse conditions occupy a spectrum. As with other forms of diversity, neurodiversity is unique to each individual and challenges are experienced in differing degrees. This makes it difficult to create a ‘one size fits all’ approach to adjusting psychometric assessments for neurodiverse individuals. But importantly, that doesn’t mean that it is impossible or that we shouldn't adjust for neurodiversity. Geographical regions differ in their collection of data about neurodiversity, but it is estimated that as much as 15-20% of the world’s population could be neurodiverse. But despite the prevalence of neurodiversity, statistics show that so far, society has failed to make adequate adjustments for neurodiverse individuals.

Neurodiversity in the workplace

In the United Kingdom, the unemployment rate for neurodiverse individuals is 30-40%, around ten times higher than it is for neurotypical people. Shockingly, it is ten times harder for neurodiverse individuals to find employment in the current market. What’s more, the unemployment rate for people with autism spectrum disorder is a staggering 79% in the UK, with only one in five in employment. This not only represents an unfair bias against neurodiverse candidates, but robs companies of the many benefits that neurodiversity, like other forms of diversity, affords.

From a general diversity perspective, more diverse teams are more likely to be innovative, agile and successful. JP Morgan is one of a clutch of companies investigating the impact of neurodiversity on productivity. In their research, they discovered that teams that included neurodiverse members saw a 30% uplift in productivity. Employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder were also found to make fewer errors than neurotypical employees. Contrary to received wisdom about autism, the neurodiverse individuals’ productivity also increased by 90-100% when they worked in teams.

Dyslexia: Stephen’s story

Dyslexia is common, affecting approximately 10% of people, and is characterised by difficulties in reading or spelling, rather than a lack of intelligence, motivation or skills. Dyslexia exists in every culture and has a genetic component. It is also on a spectrum, with impairments far more profound for some people than others, making binary diagnosis unhelpful. Challenges with reading and spelling stem from difficulties in decoding rather than understanding language. Dyslexia often co-occurs with other conditions like dyspraxia, dyscalculia and hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), representing a vast range of different experiences.

Listen to Thomas’ Senior Manager of Psychology, Stephen Cuppello, discuss his own experience of having dyslexia.  

Neurodiversity and assessment taking 

Data scientists use differences in mean scores for a particular population to assess how different groups of people might be impacted by an assessment. Differences in the processing of information, thought and behaviour such as those seen in neurodiversity are directly linked with assessment-taking, so Thomas’ Science team reviewed the distribution of assessment data for the neurodiverse population against the neurotypical one.

Before diving into the differences in assessment results observed for neurodiverse and neurotypical people, it is also worth noting that differing scores are not always because of neurodiversity. Test-taking anxiety can also have a negative impact on performance. An individual’s concern that their condition won’t be given fair treatment in the assessment process, or previous negative experiences can increase anxiety. Due to the barrier to employment that neurodiversity continues to be statistically, the likelihood of test anxiety is especially high in this population.

These statistics must be interpreted with caution, because as mentioned above, neurodiversity is a spectrum, and every individual is different. We found that there was no discernible impact of neurodiversity on behaviour. However, neurodiverse people scored slightly lower in ‘adjustment’, and slightly higher in ‘curiosity’ in the Personality assessment than the neurotypical cohort. Although this is a small effect, it could reflect neurodiverse people’s greater affinity for inventing coping strategies and solutions to complex problems than people who consider themselves neurotypical.

Thomas’ Science team also found that neurodiverse individuals scored slightly lower in self-control and globally in the Emotional Intelligence assessment, but also scored slightly higher in Aptitude than neurotypical participants. Given that the Aptitude assessments entails tasks related to literacy and numeracy. it might be surprising that neurodiverse people performed better at the assessment overall. This highlights the diversity in neurodiversity, and the importance of adjusting for it on a case-by-case basis.

The same is true of dyslexia, and the impact it has on someone taking an assessment. Broadly, dyslexia has very little impact on personality, behaviour or engagement assessment scores. However, dyslexia is likely to unreliably depress scores in an Aptitude assessment. However, the degree to which this is the case differs widely for people with dyslexia. Research shows that half of this effect (the depression of Aptitude scores among people with dyslexia) is attributable to higher test anxiety, which uses up cognitive resources.

Best practices for creating a positive candidate experience

Candidate experience is key in building a strong employer brand, so it’s important that candidates would re-apply to your company after going through a recruitment process. Here are some basic steps to take to ensure that neurodiverse candidates have a positive experience with your company during the recruitment process:

  • Make it clear from the outset of the recruitment process, and especially prior to an assessment, specifically what is expected of them, so that they can evaluate whether their neurodiversity will affect their performance of the task.
  • Create psychological safety by communicating with candidates in a way that allows them to feel comfortable disclosing any neurodiverse condition that may be relevant. 
  • Do not force candidates to undertake an assessment if they do not feel comfortable doing so. Do not view their application less positively because they haven’t taken the assessment.
  • Reassure candidates that neurodiversity will not adversely affect their application by providing guidance about the adjustments to the decision-making process and interview weighting should they choose not to take an assessment. For example, “Instead of this assessment, we will ask you to complete a different kind of assessment, or if that is not possible, the interview will be given greater weight in the selection process”.

For more information about how to ensure your neurodiverse applicants have a positive candidate experience, download our whitepaper, Rethinking Diversity.