In recent years, great strides have been made in how we view autism. Where, only a few years ago, some people with autism felt the need to mask its traits due to self-stigma, now we are moving forward into an era of acceptance and support. Thus, many people in the autistic spectrum are steadily gaining the confidence to claim their rights as equal members of society as well as their position in the labor market. In honor of World Autism Awareness Month, we discuss how organizations can support their employees with autism and which benefits their addition can bring to an organization.
Research has shown that many businesses avoid hiring employees on the spectrum, thus missing out on the many benefits diversity can bring to the workplace. Firstly, one could say that people with autism are an untapped pool of potential, as they often possess strong analysis, pattern recognition, organization, and processing skills. Especially at a time when STEM technologies are more sought after than ever, these skills are a definite must-have for most businesses.
But there is a lot more these employees can do for their organizations apart from bringing innovative perspectives. They create better leaders who are trained and prepared to recognize and accommodate the needs of their teams, and transform the work environment as a whole to be more open, understanding, and supportive. Another unexpected benefit of hiring diversely is the improvement of intraorganizational communication. There is no doubt that everyone benefits when leaders speak more concisely, avoiding ambiguous meanings and delivering clear messages.
So, now that you know how valuable employees on the spectrum can be for your organization, it's important to know what you can do to attract them and help them reach their maximum potential.
Often, people with autism don't check all the boxes of a good communicator, such as maintaining strong eye contact or coming off as friendly and open. For this reason, you must break away from traditional beliefs of what makes a "good candidate" and consider adjusting the interview process to collect the information you need. Ask precise questions about the candidate's skills and capabilities and try not to rely heavily on their CV. As many businesses display a lack of accommodations and acceptance towards people with disabilities, their professional background might not reflect their skill level. Moreover, make sure to be clear about the steps of the process during and after the interview.
An employee with autism must be treated just as any other employee in your company. They shouldn't be defined by this diagnosis or any other but rather appreciated for the ways they contribute to their company's success. Therefore, instead of focusing on what they can't do, focus on what they can. Discover their strong suits and assign them to a position that best makes use of their skills. For example, a repetitive task that others avoid might be perceived as pleasant work by them. And if they request any type of accommodation to better perform their job, be understanding and have an honest discussion about the options available.
And, talking about accommodation, what are the things that you could do to make your employees feel more comfortable and empower them to give their best? Not all people on the autistic spectrum experience the same sensory sensitivities, but most find the office environment too bright and loud. To prevent your employees from becoming overstimulated and thus struggling to perform their everyday tasks, provide them with noise-canceling headphones and, if possible, place their desks in a quieter spot. Better yet, if their position allows it, make a work-from-home or hybrid arrangement.
Knowing how to communicate effectively is an essential issue when it comes to supporting employees with autism. As they tend to be more literal in their perception, it's advisable to minimize the use of sarcasm and euphemisms to prevent misunderstandings. You could also discuss social etiquette rules within the workplace, as they might not always be obvious. Finally, be clear about what you want from them. Give concise instructions and convey your message directly. These tips are particularly useful when you give feedback. To ensure a positive reaction and the implementation of your remarks, remember to be honest, respectful, and to-the-point.
Just because people who have autism are usually introverts, that doesn't mean that you shouldn't include them in company social events. Regardless of whether you get a positive response or not, remember to invite them to lunch breaks, after-office drinks, or team-building activities. Even if they like keeping to themselves, they will appreciate the sentiment and feel valued by their peers, especially if you choose quieter venues as opposed to busy ones. Working in an inclusive and supportive environment will increase their productivity and make them more active members of the team.
Knowing what to expect when you get to work is comforting for all employees, but especially for those with autism. Of course, surprises and emergencies can always occur, but it's best if you have a structured routine to rely on. For example, utilize daily task lists to keep track of what needs to be done during the workweek. Some employees achieve even greater productivity by allotting specific time slots to each task. You can also create structure and stability by following rules and keeping your word. So, don't cancel meetings without notice or reinforce different standards when it comes to deadlines.
This is the final but most important tip for creating a supportive work environment for all members of your team. Make a conscious effort to understand what your employees with autism are going through, and don't forget to train the rest of your staff. Diversity, equity, and inclusion training is not only a great way to attract more talent to your organization but also the only manner of fostering a culture of genuine acceptance and understanding. Training will create more empathy among employees while helping them understand how to support their colleagues and treat them as equals.
As another World Autism Awareness Month begins, we are reminded that everyone deserves the chance to be a member of society and the labor force. As we slowly but surely move into an era of inclusion, diversity, and acceptance, we must leave discrimination behind and transform the work environment to support people of all backgrounds and different abilities. Hopefully, this article has shed some light on the benefits of hiring employees with autism and helped you better understand how to help them thrive.
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