Imagine you are the owner of a company and just hired some amazing job candidates, some neurodiverse, autism being one person represented, and you want to have a happy, balanced, and comfortable work environment that also supports the work of the autistic adults. You already know that your place of work has a supportive environment that fosters your current employees, but you want to make sure it is enough for your new employees as well.
You have started researching to make sure the work environment is supportive for your new employee. You also want to make sure that they are comfortable and know they have the option to provide meaningful feedback that can help further mold the environment for the future of the company and its employees.
You can make a difference
It is an unfortunate reality that employers don’t always look at things in this light. The reality is that autistic adults can sometimes face bullying based on preformed biases, as well as potential discrimination as stated in the article, What Life Is Like for Autistic Workers: These employees often face discrimination, bias and bullying in the workplace.
Due to some of the behaviors that can be associated with autism spectrum disorder, the article, A Self-Determination Theory Approach to Work Motivation of Autistic Adults: A Qualitative Exploratory Study, states that some behaviors that could cause barriers, either with the autistic person or neurotypical coworker, could include:
- a lack of communication methods and social skills
- repetitive behaviors and movements
- sensory issues and overload
There can also be other conditions that occur alongside autism spectrum disorder, such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety, depression, to name a few. The work environment may not be set up to provide supports and foster misunderstandings such as:
- preconceived stigma of autism spectrum disorders
- the previously stated lack of support services and modifications during both the interview process and employment
- lack of necessary accommodations
Steps to success
A good starting point would be to help promote an understanding and inviting environment that doesn’t:
Hold to preconceived stigma of autism spectrum disorder:
Talking to employees and offering information about autism and what it isn’t. It is important to have clear and up to date information.
There may be family members and people within the autism society that would be willing to come in and talk during a luncheon or special meeting. Having and allowing open conversation and time to discuss what questions and misunderstandings can help clear up stigmas and the ignorance that can surround those stigmas.
Lack of support services and modifications during the interview and employment process
This is where the knowledge of adult services and having a job coach could prove to be beneficial for the employee and employer. Job coaches are those who stay with the employee with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and teach them the job in a less stressful learning environment.
The job coach needs to have an understanding of autism and know how to best communicate with the individual in the way that they respond and understand the best. This is one of the many possible modifications and reasonable accommodations that can be provided to help build the individual up to be a great part of the team and truly feel that way.
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Lack of necessary accommodations
If there is an individual that is nonverbal or has a hard time conveying what they are saying into writing, there are tools that help with that. Providing those accommodations can make the difference of lack or success for the individual.
So, making sure to stay up to date about the technologies and what accommodations would be necessary. It may be beneficial to talk to and employ professionals that would be able to plan for and acknowledge what is needed for the individual and/or group.
The first step is always to be aware and do the research. Also, getting to know employees and coworkers is a must for any business to succeed.
Also, there are services that can help provide both the employer and employee support that could help improve the work environment. In the article, Is Vocational Therapy Effective for Autism?, I discuss what vocational therapy is and how it is beneficial for both employees and employers.
Vocational training can help provide the individual with support like:
- potential workplace modification and/or accommodations
- restoration of physical and/or mental ability
- continuing education
- additional workplace training
As an employer, it is good to know about vocational and other therapies and ways that you can offer support. Staying up to date, keeping in contact, and getting to know your employees generally helps boost morale and may help inspire everyone to really step out and talk and get to know each other.
When the teacher becomes the student
There is so much that can be gained and learned in a diverse work environment. When diversity goes beyond race and gender and expands into neurodiversity, it allows for even more ideas and collaborations to begin.
A positive work environment will help foster this and the potential of quality feedback from employees. Adults with autism may have difficulty communicating, but that is when outside of the box thinking comes into play.
There are reasonable accommodations that can be made that could make everyone feel comfortable. The following ideas are just a start, an invitation to think outside the box:
Ideas/Questions box on the door:
This is a box that could be set up outside a direct supervisor’s door, lunchroom, or other easy access area where someone could fill out a slip of paper and put it in the box. It would be a good idea to check in with these ideas so people don’t feel it’s been a waste even putting in their idea, and remember it’s easier to share ideas where you feel comfortable and accepted.
Zoom meetings have made a world of difference for many different people, from classrooms to homes to the office. It has become an area that people are becoming more comfortable using.
If someone is having a hard time communicating, there is a chat box where they can type in their ideas to be read by the other attendees. There are other tools like this that make it easier to communicate and interact in a less stressful way.
There are numerous ways to communicate without it being face to face. Applications like Rocket Chat, Voxer, etc. have helped to support companies in a multitude of ways. One of the ways they are helping autistic adults at the workplace is by being a buffer for social interactions, helping alleviate some of the social anxiety and sensory overload that can occur face to face.
These are only a few of the many tools that can be and are utilized by employers and adults with autism to support the daily routine the job has. The tools are also there to help make it a little easier to navigate different areas like social skills, time management, and calming strategies if they are feeling overloaded and need something right then.
It’s never enough, that’s the idea!
This is something that should be an ongoing goal, to get to know your employees and fellow coworkers. There are always going to be new technologies and work fads. If you have a work environment where people are accepted and receive support and praise, then I would go ahead and say that it sounds like you’re well on your way.
Try the next fun team building activity you found on that Pinterest board! It will be those fun ideas that help foster the team building spirit and keep the self esteem and morale of coworkers increasing.
There is no definitive list of meet this and do that because there are so many different people, personalities, needs, etc. That is what helps make a diverse workplace work for the best.
Do your next best thing
We have discussed ways of making workflow easier for the autistic employee and how that works with a happy, open, and inviting work environment. It’s important to remember that the relationships start during the job interviews and continue through the employment journey.
Many adults with ASD diagnosis may have specific expectations of the work environment, just as there are expectations for them as employees. Finding the synergy and flow and what tools and support would best help build up and make these expectations realities that benefit the employees and employers.
With a little bit of out of the box thinking with an ear that is ready to hear what may need to change, the work environment can be a place that is understanding and accepting of the many differences that can make up a diverse workplace. With that, the strength of the team and benefits that diversity brings can be seen in the work and well being of all the employees in the environment.
Gal, E., Golan, O., & Goldfarb, Y. (2021). A Self-Determination Theory Approach to Work Motivation of Autistic Adults: A Qualitative Exploratory Study. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10803-021-05185-4
Gonzales, M. (2022). What Life Is Like for Autistic Workers: These employees often face discrimination, bias and bullying in the workplace. https://www.shrm.org/resourcesandtools/hr-topics/behavioral-competencies/global-and-cultural-effectiveness/pages/what-life-is-like-for-autistic-workers.aspx
McPherson, D. (2022). Is Vocational Therapy Effective for Autism? . https://www.autismparentingmagazine.com/autism-vocational-therapy/