February 13, 2017
People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) or Asperger’s Syndrome often struggle to find work. This is slowly but surely changing, with more and more employers recognising the great skills that people with autism can bring into the workplace. While skills such as reliability, diligence, loyalty, and dedication are great assets for employees and employers alike, some adjustments in the workplace can make life and work a lot easier for people with autism and their co-workers.
Accommodations, especially regarding noise levels and communication need to be made. Companies who want to employ more people with autism need to make sure to give them a work environment in which they can flourish. When employers are aware of your sensory needs they can also help and contribute to a better work environment for you, for example by ensuring good lighting, or moving your desk away from the main door or printer so you can have some peace and quiet for your work.
Additionally, simple and informal strategies such as making sure that communication is very clear, and that co-workers are aware of the individuals social communication impairment can help. For example, not having to focus on making eye contact because your colleagues know this is difficult for you can help to free up mental resources for clever working. It can also help not to insist on high levels of social communications from the beginning. People with autism often need longer to settle and get to know their co-workers before they can start to relax and interact more with them.
Offering training before they commence working can be very helpful for people with autism. This gives them an opportunity to learn about office politics, what behaviours are acceptable at work, and to learn more about how to carry out their job. Equally important are equal chances at the application and interview stage, where many individuals with autism will find themselves rejected by employers because they struggle with figures of speech, give direct and short answers instead of elaborating on their skills, and being very honest instead of embellishing. Thankfully, more employers are gaining an understanding of this and can interpret it as honesty and efficiency instead of displaying a negative attitude.
The National Autistic Society published this workbook to help people with autism who are seeking employment or struggling at work. One of their recommendations is to show the interviewer or prospective employer how your autism has helped you to grow as a person: Since you have learned to overcome many challenges and are good a problem solving. That you are very dedicated and focused, and that not making eye contact with others is not a sign of being distracted but indeed helps you to focus better. It may also be useful to learn some social communication rules or have a look at some tips for getting along well with others at work.
As the employee, make sure that you only disclose as much as you are comfortable with to others. If you feel that it would be helpful for you, telling your boss and co-workers about your needs may lead to them being more understanding and supportive. At the same time, if you do not want to tell anyone about having ASD, that is okay, too.
The Dyscovery Centre offers workplace assessments and support to adjust your workplace to your needs. We can also offer support and counselling if you are looking for work, want to develop your skills or need general advice on how a learning difficulty can affect your working life.
This is an ongoing series of how developmental difficulties can affect working life and how to tackle them. Look out for the next article!
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