Top ten tips for creating an autism-friendly workplace
The team at Aspect Capable and some of the adults on the spectrum that they work with, have compiled their ten top tips for creating an autism friendly workplace.
1. Staff awareness and training
Having a team that understand what autism is goes a long way to supporting someone on the spectrum, and making them feel welcomed and part of the team. While knowledge about autism is increasing every day, you’d be surprised how many myths and misconceptions are out there.
2. A person to turn to
A mentor, a colleague, a boss or just a friend, having someone to talk to, ask questions and get advice from can help everyone understand each other better, and stops the person on the spectrum from feeling isolated.
“The big thing my employer has done for me is give me someone I can turn to (my colleague James) if I am having a problem. Whenever I have a problem which would usually cause me to have a bit of a meltdown, I can simply turn to James and he helps me. It has helped me to keep stress at a really low level.”
3. Flexible/ adapted working hours
Although routine and structure are often valued highly by someone on the spectrum, the 9-5 workday might not be suitable.
“My workplace has made several adjustments to the role to help me settle in. The work schedule is slightly different, I come in and work slightly later hours, and I am working part time rather than full time.”
4. Recruitment techniques and on-boarding
Job interviews are nerve-wracking for everybody. For those on the spectrum, they can be even trickier to navigate.
“I had a group interview once. I thought I had to answer every question and comment on everything, in order to succeed. I didn’t know that this wasn’t how you are supposed to do things.”
Alternative methods, such as trial shifts or asking the interviewee if they would like to bring someone along can help. A visual timetable for induction week, so the new employee knows what to expect can also help with reducing anxiety.
5. Don't stereotype
There are two key stereotypes that often pop up when thinking about autism in the workplace.
Sometimes people think that autism = genius, while others think that it means an intellectual disability. Both of these stereotypes often lead to people on the spectrum being in an unsuitable role, either one that doesn’t meet their skills and interests, or one that they are hugely overqualified for. Making assumptions about someone causes problems. Always remember: no two people with autism are the same and, just like everybody else, feelings and behaviours can change depending on circumstances. Take time to talk to your employee on the spectrum about the accommodations and adjustments that will be most helpful for them, and remain alert to possible 'triggers' for anxiety or cognitive overload.
6. Be thoughtful around office politics and social norms
There are unspoken social norms and behaviours that are commonly understood amongst colleagues. For example, you might phrase your feedback in a certain way, so you don’t appear critical, or you don’t ask someone how much they earn. For someone on the spectrum, these unspoken norms might not be so obvious.
“In our office, we had a shared mug policy – help yourself and use any mug you want to for your morning coffee. Most people in the office are fine with this, but living on the spectrum means I usually have to have things a certain way. In this case, I have to use my mug. Once I explained this to everyone, they understood.”
7. Adjusting the workspace
People on the autism spectrum can have different sensory needs to other employees. Finding out what they need, and making a few small adjustments, such as changing the lighting or selecting the right desk space can make a huge difference to make someone feel more comfortable.
8. Listening to new ideas
Autism can allow a person to see things differently, and with a different perspective can come some brilliant innovations. Instead of a 7 step working process, they might identify a 5 step process, and massively increase efficiency and productivity. Listening to these suggestions and ideas can have great benefits for an employer.
9. Give clear instructions
Communication is key, and sometimes when giving verbal instructions, we can use implied meanings and assume that everybody understands. Following up verbal instructions with a written version can help someone on the spectrum understand exactly what is required, and gives the individual something to refer back to.
10. Ongoing support
Having a predictable review/supervision meeting with the manager every week, for example, is crucial for the employees' success within their role. It allows them the opportunity to ask questions, receive honest and concrete feedback to help them progress and discuss any changes that to be made.
Aspect Capable are now offering a free service to employers, as part of a newly funded program. To create more ‘autism-friendly’ employment options, the Aspect Capable team assists employers with all recruitment and on-boarding processes along with mentoring, training and ongoing support to potential employees on the spectrum.
For more real-life stories from adults on the spectrum:
“Shining a Light on the Autism Spectrum: Experiences and Aspirations of Adults” By Debra Costley, Susanna Baldwin, Susan Bruck, Kaaren Haas, Kerry Ritzrow, 2017 – Routledge, is out now (with a 20% discount until end of Jan) or you can check out our newsletter.