News and Notes from The Johnson Center

Supporting People with Autism in the Workplace

JCCHD | Sat, April 02, 2016 | [Autism Treatment][Community]

As the rates of autism have gone up, so have the number of people with autism facing the transition to adulthood and employment. This has presented the need for more vocational opportunities for adults with ASD. Most people with autism would like to work; however, lifetime employment rates are low. Many companies are starting to recognize the great value in hiring employees on the autism spectrum. This includes increased workplace diversity and a sense of inclusion among both employees and customers. In turn, employees with autism can expand their potential, independence, and self-esteem.

Employees with autism have unique skill sets to contribute to the workplace, often including:

Attention to detail: Focus and attention to detail are typically areas of strength leading to efficiency and productivity.

Reliability and adherence to schedule: Many individuals with autism thrive on routine and schedule, often making them reliable team members with a strong work ethic.

Specific talents and passion: Individuals with autism often have special interests and talents that they can bring to the workplace. If a job is a good match to these interests, employees with autism can bring passion, expertise, and innovation.

Unique perspectives: Employees with autism can offer unique and creative perspective contributing to problem solving, creativity, and “out of the box” solutions.

There are many things employers can do to support people with autism in the workplace. It is important for companies to have an understanding of the strengths and challenges associated with autism. This can be learned through educational resources as well as from potential employees themselves. Important things to keep in mind are the type of work environment that provides the best fit, common social and communication difficulties associated with autism and how to navigate these, as well as certain behaviors common to autism. For example, many individuals with autism have sensory sensitivities and may work best in a quiet environment free from sensory distractions. An employee may be better able to communicate their thoughts clearly via email rather than face to face. Many individuals with autism learn well with visually presented information, so the use of pictures, visual schedules, lists, or videos may help them best learn work tasks.

All individuals with autism have some differences and challenges with how they communicate and engage, as well as with their behavior and thinking style. However, it’s important for employers to be aware that all people with autism are unique in their own way, including their interests and skills as well as challenges.

Traditional interviews can be difficult for anyone, particularly individuals with autism. Social behavior such as eye contact, poise, and communicating clearly can be areas of difficulty and hinder their ability to present well. Therefore employers should be aware of this during the interview process and consider giving individuals a trial period to see how they learn and perform the expected tasks.

Vocational rehabilitation programs can work with companies and individuals with special needs to support positive outcomes in the workplace. They offer a variety of support services from educating the workplace personnel to providing on-the-job coaching. Another good idea is to assign a mentor co-worker to help the employee transition to the job, answer questions, and provide job guidance and training. Regular communication is critical to make sure both employee and employer are on the same page, and to discuss any potential barriers to performance. For example, if a big change is coming up, giving an early “heads up” and extra support during a transition is important.

                                              computer workers

Microsoft, Walgreens, and Freddie Mac are just a few of the larger companies that are recognizing the unique benefits of hiring individuals with autism. Additionally, more programs are being developed. For example, the Autism Employment Network, developed by Autism Speaks, uses LinkedIn as a networking platform for people with autism and employers. The Southwest Autism Research and Resource Center, which offers vocational and behavioral assessment, job matching, and on-the-job supports for adults with autism.

With an inclusive and supportive job environment, individuals with autism can thrive and contribute their knowledge, talent, and efforts and be an integral part of their community.