Creating an Autism-Friendly Workplace and Culture

Many adults with autism have a difficult time achieving employment. According to the 2015 census, in Australia the unemployment rate for people with autism spectrum disorders was 31.6%, more than three times the rate for people with disability (10.0%) and almost six times the rate of people without disability (5.3%).

April marks the beginning of Autism Acceptance Month. While it’s always important to practice awareness, this month offers the perfect opportunity to reflect on what can be done to create an Autism-Friendly workplace and culture.

Understanding, embracing and celebrating different ways of thinking is important for every organisation. Encouraging and supporting neurodiversity isn't just beneficial for your employees, it also helps add valuable skills and perspectives to your business.

Below we’ve outlined eight strategies that can assist you to create an autism-friendly working environment and culture:

1. Workplace Flexibility

While those on the spectrum do often thrive on routine and structure, what works in your environment may not suit them. Implement changes that allow your organisation to be flexible and consider options for tailoring work schedules to fit the needs of individuals.

2. Employee Awareness and Training

Creating a workplace where employees are aware of autism can assist in supporting those on the spectrum and make them feel welcomed.

Implementing educational sessions may also assist in creating an inclusive culture. Provide some approaches to handling situations where employees may not know the most appropriate way to react.

3. Make adjustments to the workspace

Employees with autism may experience different sensory needs to other employees. It is therefore vital to consider how to create an inclusive environment for these employees.

For example, a couple of small adjustments such as choosing the right desk space or changing the lighting can assist in making employees with autism feel more comfortable and supported at work.

4. Structured Support

Having ongoing support and guidance is another way to help. Try to keep consistency and not have sudden or confusing changes. Try to implement weekly meetings and check-ins to see how they are doing.

5. Give clear instructions

Being clear about what you require is essential. Sometimes you think that you have communicated something that you haven’t or given a verbal instruction that was taken the wrong way — following up verbal instructions with written ones is a good way to avoid miscommunication.

6. Don't stereotype

Stereotypes often arise when discussing autism in the workplace. It’s therefore important to keep in mind that no two people with autism are the same and, just like other employees, they might have different behaviours and feeling based on the situation they’re facing.

It is vital to talk to employees on the spectrum about accommodations and adjustments that may assist them. Educate employees on the importance of not having preconceived notions and ideas about employees with autism.

7. Channel their strengths

While everyone experiences autism differently, many people that have autism display personality traits such as being highly focused,  highly creative, great at following routine, detail-oriented and extremely loyal.

Knowing how to harness these abilities and channel them in the correct direction is highly valuable and can significantly help them to flourish and grow in the work environment.

8. Change the interview process

Most employees find interviews a stressful experience. This can be particularly true for employees with autism.

To help people with autism navigate the interview process, it may be helpful to consider alternative methods. For example, many people that have autism do better when writing down their thoughts and feelings. Offering the opportunity to take a written interview may allow them to communicate better, and show the areas they excel in.

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