Walker Dornisch

How Government Initiatives Foster Inclusivity for Neurodivergent Individuals in the Private Sector

Thanks to a generous travel award from UConn Global Affairs and the Abrahamic Programs for Academic Collaboration in the Middle East/North Africa Region, I was able to spend one week in the Middle East researching neurodiversity for my dissertation. I conducted fieldwork to better understand how government initiatives foster inclusivity for neurodivergent individuals in the private sector. Much like the UConn Abrahamic Programs, my work involved exchanging views and learning from a diverse group of stakeholders including neurodivergent employees, managers of neurodivergent employees, and coworkers of neurodivergent employees.

I was particularly fascinated by how the Middle East perceives and treats neurodivergent people. In some parts of the world, neurodivergent people exist largely in the background. Although there may be sympathy for neurodivergent people, there is a severe lack of intentional programs to bring them to the forefront and involve them in daily life. However, in the Middle East, it was common to see sensory guides in public places that inform people about the intensity of touch, taste, sound, sight, and smell. Often, I would see large signs that said, “Autism Friendly”. Likewise, many community resources such as public transportation and museums offered discounted or free tickets for neurodivergent people. Ramps and elevators were abundant for people with mobility impairments. It was inspiring to witness neurodivergent people being actively integrated into society.

When it comes to neurodiversity, the Middle East seems to follow the idea of “nothing about us, without us”. My observation is that neurodivergent people are valued and able to contribute in meaningful ways. All too often, well-meaning neurotypical academics and practitioners impose their ideas about what’s best for neurodivergent people. Consequently, the lived experiences, perspectives, and voices of neurodivergent people are ignored. Thankfully, this was not my experience in the Middle East where neurodivergent people are key contributors. I am better equipped to write my dissertation as a result of my fieldwork and I look forward to returning to the Middle East one day.