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Autism in the Workplace: Embracing Autism

You’ve seen awareness campaigns, documentaries or you may even know someone on the Spectrum. Autism has certainly made a prevalence, but is it fully understood? In part two of this series for Autism Awareness Week, Chloe explores why Autism should be embraced in the workplace, and tips for managing an Autistic employee. If you would like to find out more about Autism, please check out part one, ‘Understanding Autism.’

Embracing Autism in the Workplace
Now that you know what Autism is, why should we embrace it in the workplace? Firstly, there are many positive aspects of being on the Spectrum. Being able to think differently or ‘out-of-the-box’ is great for creativity and problem-solving. In fact, studies have shown that because people with Autism focus more of their brain’s resources on visual processing, Autistic people can be found to be up to 40% faster at problem-solving. These studies were conducted by Laurent Mottron, a psychiatrist from the University of Montreal, who studied Autism for years. Some of the other advantages of hiring someone on the spectrum may include:

  1. High levels of attention and focus. Studies have shown that some people living with Autism have high levels of attention and can stay focused on a task for hours, without distraction.
  2. Passions that lead to productivity. Another common trait of being on the spectrum is having highly-focused interests, which can happen over time or be lifelong. As a result, people with Autism are extremely passionate and dedicated, which can lead to a vast increase in productivity.
  3. Reliability and dependability. As I’ve mentioned, Autistic individuals are extremely passionate and dedicated to everything they do, which can lead to increased reliability and dependability.
  4. Excellent memory and eye for detail. While short-term memory can be difficult to grasp, many people on the spectrum have an excellent memory for fine details. Rather than focusing on the bigger picture, those on the Spectrum can have a greater memory for smaller strings of information, such as remembering car number plates, with some even displaying a photographic memory. These qualities are perfect for a role that requires high attention to detail.

How to Manage An Autistic Employee
So, you’ve seen the advantages of hiring an Autistic employee, but what about catering for someone with Autism in the workplace? Firstly, managing an Autistic employee comes right down from the recruitment process to assisting them in the workplace, depending if they choose to disclose their diagnosis in an application or in the interview.

The Interview
Should someone on the Spectrum disclose their diagnosis before the interview, make sure you:

  1. Choose your location wisely. Some people with Autism are very sensitive to sight, sounds and smells. Therefore, it’s vital that you choose a quiet location and in some cases, reduce the lighting if possible. Ensuring that windows and doors are closed can also be useful for helping to reduce sound.
  2. Ask specific questions and be patient. Many people on the spectrum have difficulties processing language and may not immediately understand what is being asked of them. As a result, when asking a question, you may receive a delayed response. One way you could help this situation is to ask direct questions. For example: Instead of asking "where do you see yourself in five years," you could be more specific and ask: "where do you see your career going in five years?" On top of this, it’s also important to note that some people on the spectrum can take longer to process things. For this, patience is key, so when asking a question, allow extra time for an answer.
  3. Politely tell the candidate if they are talking too much. If you’ve asked a question and you find an answer has gone onto a bit of a tangent, politely say: ‘Thank you for your answer. You’ve told enough about this now. I’d like to ask another question.’
  4. Are aware that eye contact may be minimal or prolonged. This depends on the individual.

On the Job
When hiring an Autistic employee, make sure you:

  1. Clearly explain the expectations of the job. When explaining the expectations of a job to any employee, it’s crucial to keep the job description clear and concise. However, with someone on the spectrum, this matters even more. When going through any induction material, make sure it’s sent out beforehand, so we know what to expect. Ensure that it clearly explains where we’ll be working, what we’ll be mostly doing, any uniform requirements and when our lunch break will be etc.
  2. Ensuring the working day is well-structured. While this may not be present for everyone, some people on the spectrum experience difficulties with executive functioning. This means that planning and prioritising tasks, multi-tasking and regulating emotions, can be a struggle. As a result, if there are multiple tasks/projects going on, be sure to clearly organise them in order of priority. Project management tools can be great for this, but otherwise, using post-it notes as a way of placing tasks in order, can be another great way of prioritising tasks.
  3. Provide sensitive but concise feedback. Whether it’s client feedback for a project you’re working on or feedback on an internal job, providing sensitive but concise feedback is critical to managing an Autistic employee. For example: If a task is completed incorrectly, explain why it was wrong to complete a task in a certain way and how it could have been completed instead.
  4. Understand stimming and meltdowns. Remember what I mentioned about stimming in part one? Whether it’s rocking back and forth, hand-flapping, humming etc, stimming can help regulate our emotions, and is particularly useful at times when we’re feeling anxious, nervous or responding to sensory input from our environment. You can think about it as letting pressure off a cooker or biting your nails when you feel anxious. Unless if we look like we could be hurting ourselves in any way, stimming is harmless and is a great way of calming ourselves down. However, in some cases, stimming can happen just before or during a meltdown. This means our senses have been overloaded with too much sensory information, resulting us in becoming very anxious and overwhelmed. If this happens, it’s best to find a quiet place or to reduce noise, light and scents as much as possible.
  5. Regularly review performance. Regular performance reviews, (as opposed to ones at longer intervals) can be more beneficial as opposed to longer sessions, at less frequent intervals.
  6. Flexible working. In a lot of cases, flexible working is another great way of managing an Autistic employee. Whether it’s allowing for a working-from-home day each week or considering flexible working hours, such changes can make a significant, healthy difference to an Autistic person’s routine, also potentially allowing them to work in an environment they may feel more comfortable in.

Conclusion
People with Autism can bring a lot of great potential in the workplace. With an excellent eye for detail, being extremely passionate and reliable and with a tremendous space for problem-solving and creative thinking, there are many benefits to encouraging neurodiversity on the job.

With the right support, adjustments, and understanding, managing an Autistic employee can be a very rewarding experience. As a result, the more employers know about Autism and managing an Autistic employee, the more encouragement you’ll receive from a vast array of candidates.

If you would like to find out more about Autism, please check out these links and read part one of our two-part series, Understanding Autism.

Articles

  1. Autism and Creativity.
  2. How the Workplace Benefits From Neurodiversity. 
  3. Managing An Autistic Employee. 
  4. What is Executive Functioning?
  5. Autism's Hidden Gifts. 
  6. The Benefits of Employing Someone With Autism. 
  7. 11 People With Autism Explain What Stimming Feels Like. 

Videos

  1. The World Through Lewis' Eyes
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