10 things employers can do to make life easy for their employees with Autism and Special Needs

September 16, 2020

10 things employers can do to make life easy for their employees with Autism and Special Needs

10 things employers can do to make life easy for their employees with Autism and Special Needs

In an ideal world, every person on the planet would be able to live their life fully, authentically, and equally. However the unemployment rate for people with Autism and Special Needs has constantly hovered at or above 70 percent. Unfortunately, employers often refuse to hire Special Needs individuals, simply because they believe they are not capable of doing the job, or because they are unaware about the many adaptive techniques and devices that are available and allow these differently able people to work.

Employers need to realize that hiring and working with Autistic employees can be a very enriching experience. They bring many special skills to the table which helps them thrive in workplaces. For example, they are very dedicated, observant, stick to schedules and do not get distracted very easily, all of which are essential skills to have in order to work well.  But it isn’t all good and dandy for them. A lot of them have great difficulty when it comes to social communication, trying to understand people and with sensory overload. Employers need to understand and support their Autistic employees and alter the workplace to suit them. Here are a few things every employer should keep in mind when they have people on the spectrum as their employees.

First and foremost

  1. Hire them: A lot of employers are hesitant to hire employees who are on the spectrum because they are worried about how they may react to the work environment. They are worried that they won’t be able to get along with other employees or they may have a sensory overload and won’t be able to handle all the pressure. Mostly employers don’t want to hire people on the spectrum because they think that it is a disease. But it is important to realise that none of this is true. Autistic people are very good and hard-working employees; they have their own sets of strengths and can work really well in the fields that they are interested in most. All they need is a chance.
  2. Fluorescent Lighting: It is a known fact that people on the spectrum have external sensitivity, meaning that a lot of things like sound, smell, light etc. bother them and cause them to have a sensory overload. Certain types of lighting, especially fluorescent lighting has a negative impact on autistic people. Thus as an employer it is better to either change the light fixtures to make it autism friendly or to let your autistic employees wear light  blocking glasses so that they can work better.
  3. Do not expect them to socialise after work: A lot of employers take their employees out for dinner or drinks as a way to communicate and boost morale. But when you have Autistic employees it is important to realise that, not all of them are social creatures and when they refuse to socialise after work it is not because they are being rude but because they find it difficult to do so or simply because they don’t like it. So do not pressurise them to bond with other employees after work.  
  4. Do not have long meetings: People on the spectrum have a short attention span. Meaning after a particular time period they become restless and lose focus. Thus when companies hold meetings that go on for more than an hour, autistic people are lost. Hence it is always better to keep the meetings short and detailed so that they can grasp everything that they need to and don’t get lost in all the details.
  5. Always write down the instructions: Autistic people aren’t always good at remembering things. Thus it is always better to write down instructions for them or make sure that they write down the instructions they are told so that the workflow goes smoothly. Also they do not understand a lot of things like people who are not on the spectrum do, so always be patient with them. For example if you run a café and a customer has dropped a coffee, you cannot expect your autistic employee to clean it up just because it’s the right thing to do. You have to understand that they don’t understand situations like people who are not on the spectrum do. Instead it would be better if you either write down what you want them to do or explain to them very patiently that they are supposed to wipe the coffee that the customer spilt.
  6. Allow headphones: A lot of work spaces like cafés and restaurants etc. are always busy and are filled with a cacophony of loud noises and these noises can sometimes bother the autistic employees. People on the spectrum are sensitive to loud noises and working in busy environments can trigger their sensory overload. Thus it would help your autistic employees a lot if you let them wear headphones while they are working.
  7. Let them take extra breaks: A lot of autistic employees need to take extra breaks so that they can calm themselves down. Allow them to. We don’t understand what might trigger them, so instead of letting them have a breakdown or a sensory overload let them take a break, even if it just for 5 minutes. They can work much better once they have their nerves under control.
  8. Do not keep changing their schedule: As we know Autistic people are creatures of habit, meaning they stick to their routines strictly. They plan their days well in advance and don’t like having to change it. They like predictability and an employer needs to understand that. As an employer it is always better to let your autistic employee stick to his work schedule and work hours.  If you are going to change their schedule it is better to let them know well in advance and not last minute.
  9. Don’t force them to make eye contact: Understand that a lot of Autistic people do not understand human emotions just by making eye contact like people who are not on the spectrum do. In fact a lot of autistic people find it difficult or just “yucky” to make eye contact with other people. So if you are talking to your autistic employee, do not get offended when they don’t make eye contact with you. And if they are working in a café or restaurant, although it may seem impolite, do not force them to exchange pleasantries or shake hands with customers, as not all autistic people like human contact or social communication. Let them work how they feel most comfortable.
  10. Give them space: Make sure you give them a secluded cubicle or a quite area so that they don’t get overwhelmed by loud noises or people trying to interact with them. Autistic people are very dedicated and can get a lot of work done when they are not distracted or overwhelmed by external stimulies. So when you hire an autistic employee make sure you make the workplace as comfortable as you can for them. 

Inclusive leadership and work culture directly enhance performance, and during uncertain times hiring people with Autism and Special Needs, a key part of inclusion, is more important than ever. A diverse team and a truly inclusive company culture will make the company stronger and smarter in the months to come

 Please let us know if there is anything else employers can do to make life easier for the employees with Special Needs and Autism


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