Autistic in the workplace

The super lovely Alaina Leary (A Boston-based “Swiss army knife” of publishing and digital media skills) tweeted a few weeks back asking her followers how could employers help support autistic employees in the workplace. I reached out and below are the questions I answered on the topic. Read the full article here.

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What does inclusiveness and accessibility mean to you in the workplace?

  • It means being understood as a valued team member / employee but having my difficulties and accessibility needs taken into consideration so that I am on the same level playing field as everyone else. I want to be able to work as time-efficiently and effectively as everyone else but I just need a few accommodations in place to help me do this well.

What are some of the challenges facing autistic people who are in traditional workplaces, particularly due to a lack of accommodations or accessibility?

  • Less awareness or willingness to learn more about people with autism and their difficulties
  • Less likely to understand how the work environment affects us and how simple accommodations can really help

What can employers, coworkers, hiring managers, HR departments, etc. do to better support autistic employees?

  • Give autistic employees more time to process things for example: more time to read through and sign forms.
  • A quiet place/room/environment to work from. Open plan offices can be difficult as they can be quite noisy and distracting places to work in.
  • Maybe provide mentors for weekly or bi-weekly catch-ups as just having someone to chat to about work and what you need more help with can be very helpful.

What stereotypes or myths have you come across about autistic people that affect how autistic people are treated in the workplace?

  • Stereotypes of being very slow to understand and complete tasks sometimes.

Can you give me a specific example of different things that help you succeed in the workplace? Have you ever been in a situation where you’ve had to ask for your workplace to be made more accessible to you?

  • Wearing noise cancelling headphones or earphones.
  • Asking people to remove their fluorescent bike jackets from desk hooks around the office as sensory-wise these are super bright and distracting to me!
  • Everyone wears in-earphones and listens to their own music rather then have one loud office radio on which works well.

Are there any common workplace trends that you feel employers need to re-think in order to make the workplace/office more inclusive? (For example, Skype interviews or open office plans)

  • Open plan offices can be very distracting and noisy – quiet break-away rooms could be a great step forward – just to get away from the loud environment if you need to concentrate on work properly.
  • Skype interviews or over the phone interviews can be difficult as it’s hard to understand facial expressions, tone of voice, long questions (which I always need to hear repeated again). Although a face-to-face interview is very intimidating I feel more comfortable asking for questions to be repeated and being able to hear and see the interviewer properly.

Have you ever worked remotely, or do you have anything to say about the benefits of working remotely or flexible working hours for autistic employees? 

  • I have worked remotely / have flexible working hours which does help to split up my time / days between different environments. I do miss out on team discussions and meetings if I am not in which can be difficult to catch up on as I wasn’t in the room at the time!
  • Benefits however are: I can choose my hours so I can work earlier or later in the day to suit me / how I feel.

Thanks to Alaina Leary and do go check her out on Twitter!

Also check out my previous blog post on ’10 things I wish my employer understood about Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD)’

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