People with autism are still under-represented in employment, with many adults on the autism spectrum identifying as unemployed. It would be only safe to say that autism touches the lives of over 2.8 million people every single day.
While some individuals with autism might have exceptional talents to prove as invaluable assets to a business, there continues to remain a stigma against employing individuals with Autism. Businesses have much to gain by understanding that, making their workplaces autism friendly is more than just ticking boxes or meeting equal opportunity objectives, it is about looking beyond the disability and tapping into individual talent potentials to do remarkable jobs.
Many employers aren’t aware that people with autism, including those with Asperger syndrome, can be extremely well-skilled, highly qualified and employable individuals. While autism affects all individuals to varying degrees, it’s extremely common for these individuals to possess exceptional and unique skills that enable them to thrive in many everyday roles, from computer programmers and statisticians to journalists and writers, Incluzy states.
Here are top 10 tips to create autism friendly workplaces:
Having a team that understands autism, goes a long way towards supporting someone on the spectrum, and making them feel welcomed and part of the team. While knowledge about autism is increasing every day, you’d be surprised how many myths and misconceptions are out there.
A mentor, a colleague, a boss or just a friend, having someone to talk to, ask questions and get advice from, can help everyone understand each other better, and stop the person on the spectrum from feeling isolated.
“The big thing my employer has done for me is given me someone I can turn to (my colleague James) if I am having a problem. Whenever I have a problem which would usually cause me to have a bit of a meltdown, I can simply turn to James and he helps me. It has helped me to keep stress at really low levels.”
Although routine and structure are often valued highly by someone on the spectrum, the nine-to-five workday might not be suitable.
“My workplace has made several adjustments to the role to help me settle in. The work schedule is slightly different, I come in and work slightly later hours, and I am working part time rather than full time.”
See: Etiquette lessons for staff with colleagues with disabilities
Job interviews are nerve-wracking for everybody. For those on the spectrum, they can be even trickier to navigate.
Alternative methods, such as trial shifts or asking the interviewee if they would like to bring someone along can help. A visual timetable for induction week, such that the new employee knows what to expect can also help in reducing anxiety.
There are two key stereotypes that often pop up when thinking about autism in the workplace. Sometimes people think that autism is equal to genius, while others think that it means an intellectual disability.
Both of these stereotypes often lead to people on the spectrum being in an unsuitable role, either one that doesn’t meet their skills and interests, or one that they are hugely overqualified for. Making assumptions about someone causes problems.
Always remember: No two people with autism are the same and, just like everybody else, feelings and behaviours can change depending on circumstances. Take time to talk to your employee on the spectrum about the accommodations and adjustments that will be most helpful for them, and remain alert to possible ‘triggers’ for anxiety or cognitive overload.
There are unspoken social norms and behaviours that are commonly understood amongst colleagues. For example, you might phrase your feedback in a certain way, so you don’t appear critical, or you don’t ask someone how much they earn. For someone on the spectrum, these unspoken norms might not be so obvious.
People on the autism spectrum can have different sensory needs as in comparison to other employees. Finding out what they need, and making few small adjustments, such as changing the lighting or selecting the right desk space can make a huge difference to help someone feel more comfortable.
Autism can allow a person to see things differently, and with a different perspective, sometimes they can come up with brilliant innovations. Instead of a 7-step working process, they might identify a 5-step process, and massively increase efficiency and productivity. Listening to these suggestions and ideas can have great benefits for an employer.
Communication is the key, and sometimes when providing verbal instructions, you can use implied meanings and assume that everybody understands. Following up verbal instructions with a written version can help someone on the spectrum understand exactly what is required, while giving the individual something to refer back to.
Having a predictable review/supervision meeting with the manager every week is crucial for the employee’s success within their role. It allows them the opportunity to ask questions, receive honest and concrete feedback to help them progress and discuss any changes that have to be made.
Also read: Hong Kong Labour Department Strengthens Employment Support for Job Seekers with Disabilities