[Progress News] [Progress OpenEdge ABL] Autism in the Workplace: 5 Things Employers Should Consider

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Erica McShane

Do you work with an employee with Autism Spectrum Disorder or are you considering hiring someone with ASD? Here are five things you should know.

April is Autism Acceptance Month to acknowledge the 1 in 54 children diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) and to educate those who are unfamiliar with the developmental disorder. For some of us, we live with autism everyday—through our children, families, friends and more.

I am one of those people. My 13-year-old son is on the spectrum, and I am in awe of him every day—how hard he works and how much he’s grown.

Each year, I try to do different things to show my support, for example, dying my hair blue—something my son requested when he was 7 and I still do each year. There are many posts and articles that provide educational material on ASD, most of which focus on children. But lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about adults with ASD—probably because my son is heading to high school next year and I need to start thinking about things like will he go to college, when should he get a job, etc.

Recently I saw a social media post about 19-year-old Ryan Lowry, who wrote a simple letter titled “Dear Future Employer” that described some of his challenges, but if given the chance, what a valuable employee he’d be. Inspiration struck. As someone who is actively hiring, I thought it may be helpful to share some things for managers to keep in mind that are looking to create an inclusive hiring environment for people with differing abilities, like those with ASD.

  • Don’t be put off by behavior—Atypical movements, lack of eye contact or difficulty expressing themselves verbally are all common “symptoms” of ASD that can often be uncontrollable and misunderstood. These actions are not indicative of the person’s ability to do the job.
  • Be as direct and descriptive as possible—Many people with ASD are quite literal and don’t understand nuance or sarcasm (this was a challenge for me as I can often be sarcastic and my son is consistently correcting me or looking at me like I have no idea what I’m talking about). If you use direct language in discussing what it is you want, it will be understood and well received.
  • Be open to accommodations—Whether a person has a disability or not, they may tend to perform better in certain work environments. The same is true of people with ASD. Some may have sensitivity to sound or light, so they may need to wear noise-cancelling headphones or be in an area where they don’t have a light directly over their heads. Providing simple accommodations could lead to greater productivity and timeliness of deliverables.
  • Change is a challenge—I have found that changing my son’s schedule unexpectedly can cause chaos in his mind. Not that he can’t overcome the challenge, but it sometimes takes a bit longer than expected. If you need to change the time of a meeting or shift a project before it’s complete, give as much advanced notice as possible to give the person time to adapt to the change.
  • Thriving in technical/analytical roles—Many people with ASD are extremely analytical, down to the finest detail and many organizations, especially in the tech sector are realizing the value of bringing in employees that are neurodiverse as a means to expand their inclusive work environments. These people can offer unique perspectives that can help drive innovation.

There are many, many nuances to the challenges people with ASD face each day. If you're interested in learning more about working with or welcoming a person with ASD to your team, or other people of differing emotional and social abilities, consider talking to a psychologist or other expert in that field. They can offer great guidance on how to best engage with and get the most out of your potential new hire.

And as a parent of a child with ASD, I cannot say it enough—people with ASD may learn differently, but at the end of the day, they want the same things that we all do and should be given the chance to prove themselves and succeed.

For information and resources on Autism, visit AutismAcceptance.com.

Read tips from the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM) on hiring people with disabilities.

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