Companies should hire more people on the spectrum in order to not only make the hiring process more diverse, but also to allow this group to contribute in their own way. People with Autism may have a better ability to see things from all angles, have a heightened sense of awareness and may be able to work on a different schedule than the rest of the workforce. However, Autistic employees face challenges when they enter the workforce that are not experienced by non-autistic employees like communication and socializing with colleagues or sensory sensitivities to certain things like lights, noise, textures.
Here are some ideas and accommodations that employers can implement to help autistic people deal with their work in a more productive and efficient manner.
1. Email instead of Call
People with autism and special needs might have trouble with social interactions and making phone calls. Others, such as those with mental health issues, might not be able to handle difficult conversations. This doesn't mean that those people can\'t be successful, but it does mean they need accommodations to get there. Emails are a great way to keep the interaction casual and friendly. Emails also help to keep work hours formal and professional.
2. No Fluorescent Lights
At the workplace, people with autism often have trouble with fluorescent lights. They find fluorescent lights to be too intense with sensory overload and it can be hard for them to focus and work in that environment creating feelings of fear, anxiety, and frustration. It’s so important to be accommodating and try to make workplace environments accessible to them. That could mean swapping desks or changing the lighting, or allowing them to turn off an overhead light they find disturbing.
In society, people with special needs and autism are often faced with pressurized work environments. People with special needs and autism are often asked to attend lunches and drinks where multitasking and socializing is expected. As hard as it might be, people with special needs have a hard time understanding social norms and can become overwhelmed. They shouldn’t be pressured into socializing if they don’t want to. Also, make sure to have discussions about what might be a comfortable social situation for them to take part in.
4. Work from Home
Working from home is a great option for people with autism and special needs. It removes social obstacles such as office politics, long commutes, dressing up, and a feeling of isolation that most of us can't relate to. There are a few things to consider when adapting your workplace to make it more inclusive to people with disabilities. You might also find that employees on the autism spectrum actually work longer and harder at home.
5. Noise-reducing Headphones
Noise-reducing headphones, in a workplace, can be a hugely helpful tool for people with autism. In some cases, certain sounds or noises can be too loud and cause distraction from the task at hand or even worse, cause anxiety. Many people with autism also suffer from sensory overload. This may include sensitivity to sound. Noise-reducing headphones can help a person with autism tune into what they are doing and then forget about what’s going on around them.
6. No Surprise Meetings & Providing Advance Notice of Meeting Agendas
People with autism and other special needs can find it hard to process unexpected stimuli, which is something you should take into account when communicating with them. When you have surprise meetings, or change the agenda of your meetings right before they’re about to start, you’ll be disrupting their ability to process what’s happening. When an autistic person is asked to attend a meeting without any notice, they can be really stressed, and this can hurt their productivity. So let it be known to your office that people with special needs, including autism, have advance notice of agendas and meeting topics. Create a work environment that is friendly and fosters success for these individuals.
7. Clear Expectations
When a person has autism and special needs, the way they process information and the expectations of them varies. But there are certain things that should be clear to them, and a person's job at the workplace is no different. If you have a person who has autism, it's important to set clear expectations for what they need to do, and to provide the right tools to do their job. It’s important to have clear expectations for these individuals. They should be told what their tasks are and how they’re expected to complete them.
8. Avoid Eye Contact
Please avoid eye contact with a person with autism or special needs at the workplace. They do not like strangers in proximity, so making eye contact will be uncomfortable and tiresome and in fact difficult and overwhelming. Another reason they don't like to make eye contact is because they don't get what facial expressions mean, and they can be very literal. When you do meet them at the workplace, offer them a handshake and a smile, but avoid making eye contact.
9. Respecting Personal Space
When it comes to the workplace, we all work in different environments. Nevertheless, it’s important to respect personal space when working with people with autism and special needs. Make sure you’re not invading personal space and limiting social interaction when working with them. It’s also important to show them kindness and praise them verbally for a job well done to make them feel as welcomed as possible.
10. Ensure the work environment is well-structured
It's important that the workplace doesn't put undue strain on people with autism and special needs. Typically, these people are reliant on routines and don't like change. When they come into the workplace, it's important to make adjustments to their work hours, schedules, and how they complete their duties. These adjustments should not make them stressed. It's important that the work environment to be well-structured to get the best out of them.
11. Allow people to fidget and stim
A lot of people with autism or who have special needs like to fidget at work. Giving them the opportunity to do so will help increase their concentration levels as well as their performance. When they feel like they need to fidget, or they have a specific need, they can turn it into a game or a habit. Allowing them to stim or fidget is a great way to show that the workplace is inclusive and to show people with special needs that they matter.
12. Hold one-to-one meetings
A big contributor to stress at work is social clutter. People are distracted by phone calls, conversations with their co-workers, meetings, and social media platforms. This can lead to increased stress levels, which can cause interactions to become more difficult. It's important to make time for one-to-one meetings with people of different abilities to reduce social clutter and to have more meaningful conversations.
13. Get them a Mentor
Provide one-on-one mentoring sessions to people with autism and special needs, It helps these individuals increase their independence, learn new skills, and take more control over their lives. The mentor can offer helpful tips and guidance that help the new employee adapt, adjust and get the support they need to succeed in their job. An individual dedicated to them and their needs can identify their interests and abilities better and also is a fantastic way to give them a support system.
14. Evaluate Needs specific to the Job
Check the job description and evaluate the need for that specific job. Ability to make direct eye contact may not be required for a person in front end sales but may not be necessary in the accounts department. An employee capable of excelling in a structured, repetitive environment could be a significant asset for a data analysis job. Knowing the person's language and non-verbal understanding skills, their ability to work in a team or alone, specific skills sets and their motivation level can make the difference between success and failure.
15. Provide sensitive but direct feedback
It can be hard to know how to handle certain situations with people with special needs-especially when it comes to giving feedback to someone on the spectrum. But feedback-even sensitive feedback-can be a powerful tool for growth and development. The key to any feedback is to make your feelings and opinions clear without being hurtful. A great way to avoid hurtful feedback is to give constructive criticism. Providing this sensitive but direct feedback can be really valuable in helping these individuals succeed.
16. Prevent Bullying
Bullying has become a serious issue for many people, and people with autism are often the victims of this. It’s important that we educate people on the different types of disabilities so that they can be more sensitive to the person's needs. Employees should be educated about the different types of disabilities and what triggers or causes it. Employers should also try to create a safe environment. The best way to prevent bullying is to have a zero tolerance policy that addresses bullying behavior.
17. Provide reassurance in stressful situations
Providing reassurance to people with autism or special needs when they’re in a stressful situation at work can help them develop coping skills. Reassurance is a care technique that can help to alleviate their anxiety. For example, if someone has a meltdown at work and you need to remove them from the situation, the best way to do so is with reassurance and kindness. Normalizing their behavior can also help to reduce any anxiety they might be feeling.
18. Don't push them to try new things
People with Autism and Special Needs need to be given the time and freedom to test the waters before being pushed to do new things. If the tasks seem too demanding or complex for the individual, don't push them to do it. Let them practice and challenge their abilities in their own time. There is no need to place high demands of the person if they are not ready for it, as this can be stressful and anxiety-inducing. They need to feel confident and comfortable and safe.
19. Provide Sensitivity Training
With the increased need for STEM jobs to meet industry demands, there is a greater need for sensitivity towards those with autism and other special needs. It’s important for human resource and management employees to receive sensitivity training, so they’re aware of what to expect and the best way to support those who need it. They should also be sensitive towards others who might not have been educated about autism or other special needs, in order to minimize any possible awkwardness at work.
Employers need to take advantage of the diverse skills people with autism and special needs can offer. Employers need to take a long, hard look at their office and workplace, and evaluate what kind of accommodations need to be offered to people with autism and special needs. A lot of people with special needs can be extremely productive workers, and employers should take the time to make it work for them. It’s important to hire people with special needs and make them an integral part of the workforce. While this isn’t always easy, it’s worth it.
Are there any other things you can think of that employers can do to make life easier for People with Special Needs, at the workplace? Please let us know in the comments below