How to support employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder
Autism Spectrum Disorder is defined as a range of conditions typically characterized by challenges with social skills, restricted or repetitive behaviors and speech, and sometimes nonverbal communication. Employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder will likely have a lot to offer their workplace, although due to stigmas and misconceptions about autism, they may not get as many opportunities as candidates without ASD. Employees with ASD often display great attention to detail, a strong ability to focus on what interests them, and exceptional creativity. If the appropriate considerations and accommodations are made, individuals with ASD can very often thrive in their jobs.
Here are some things to consider if you work with, employ, or are considering hiring a person with Autism Spectrum Disorder.
Strengths of employees with autism
ASD is usually defined by the challenges that may come along with the condition, but it can also be defined by certain strengths that are not as frequently considered.
One study found that participants with ASD had above-average attention to detail. The participants were asked to notice a difference in the color of letters presented on a screen, and the participants with ASD were faster than participants without. Researchers noted that many individuals with ASD may have above-average visual attention skills and be quicker to identify details in their environment.
A similar result was found in studies concerning attention to sound. Children with ASD were asked to listen to different sound pitches and identify if they were going up and down in pitch. The participants with ASD were significantly more accurate than the participants without ASD.
There are many possible strengths that people with ASD can have. Some other common strengths are memorization skills, the ability to concentrate when motivated, reliability and punctuality, and excelling in skills that do not require much social interaction (such as mathematics, engineering, and sciences).
Social interaction considerations
Social interaction can be a hurdle to employment for many individuals with ASD. People with ASD may not have a mastery of soft skills that employers often look for. Soft skills include socializing, emotional intelligence, and time management skills. It’s possible that employers will not consider or understand the underlying reasons for this, and simply write the person off as disrespectful or unprofessional because their communication style is different than expected.
People with ASD may be unaware of the emotions of people around them, take statements very literally, and struggle with changes in their environment or plans. These behaviors can cause friction with other employees if they don’t understand the underlying reasons for the individual’s behavior.
Workplaces can provide accommodations to employees with autism that can help support them in doing their job. Some possible accommodations and supportive actions include:
- Providing noise-canceling headphones
- Making adjustments to overhead lighting if it’s distracting
- Being considerate of personal space
- Avoiding touch, conveying kindness verbally instead
- Encouraging open communication and feedback
- Interacting with the employee through writing/email when possible
- Giving plenty of notice about changes in the workplace
- Giving advance notice of meeting agendas
- Allowing the employee to follow their own schedule for the workday
- Allowing the employee to work from home
- Educating other employees so they know how to best support and work with the individual with ASD
Hold regular, short meetings to let the employee know how they’re doing. Conduct these meetings in a kind tone and provide straightforward feedback. Provide clear, understandable instructions about what the employee can improve upon. As in a review with any employee, employers should treat the individual with respect. Let them know that they are appreciated and the company wants to help them grow.
Every person with ASD is different. As with any other employee, each will have differing abilities to bring to the job. Employees with autism can be a great asset to a company. The workplace should be aware of the employee’s strengths as well as what they struggle with. The company should also provide accommodations to make the employee’s work experience comfortable.