National security organizations need highly skilled and intellectually creative individuals who are eager to apply their talents to address the nation's most pressing challenges. Government officials and industry representatives have described the high stakes of the national security threats facing the United States; the demand for a STEM-skilled[1] and technology-savvy workforce; and the need to fill jobs that require enormous attention to detail, precision, and a low tolerance for errors. In public and private discussions, many officials and experts have addressed the need for neurodiversity in the national security community. They describe missions that are too important and too difficult to be left solely to the portion of the population who think in typical ways.[2]

Key Findings

  • Neurodiversity can strengthen a national security organization.
  • Fundamental strengths that are common among members of the neurodivergent population include problem-solving, pattern recognition, visualization, and other skills that benefit many national security fields.
  • Workplace practices in national security organizations can serve as barriers to the hiring and retention of neurodivergent individuals. Within the U.S. government, neurodivergence is treated as a disability, which means that employees must declare themselves disabled in order to thrive in workplaces designed for neurotypical workforces.
  • The size of the neurodivergent population in U.S. national security organizations is unknown. This can lead to two unproven assumptions: (1) that neurodivergence is not prevalent in the national security workforce and (2) that this lack of visible prevalence is not due to any systemic discrimination.
  • Several aspects of the recruitment and hiring process, including unclear or confusing job descriptions, complex application processes, and job interviews that focus on social and behavioral norms, can pose barriers to a neurodiverse workforce.
  • Once on board, neurodivergent employees can face challenges navigating careers in workplaces that are not designed for them.
  • Keys to creating a neurodiverse national security workplace include adopting design principles that benefit everyone in the workplace, focusing hiring procedures on the job itself, and preparing the workplace to support neurodiversity.

Read the full article about neurodiversity for national security by Cortney Weinbaum, Omair Khan, Teresa D. Thomas, and Bradley D. Stein at RAND Corporation.