How can your company welcome employees with ASD?
Monday, February 22, 2016
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1 in 68 U.S. children has an autism spectrum disorder (ASD). There is not a physical aspect that sets these individuals apart from others, but they may communicate, interact, behave and learn in different ways. The spectrum of severity is broad, so the principles of learning, thinking and problem-solving for these individuals vary.
Diagnosis rates have increased significantly over recent years, but there's still a large shortage in the number of employment opportunities for adults with ASD. Those within ASD have many talents and ideas that can contribute effectively and successfully to projects — especially in the workplace.
Yet, according to the National Longitudinal Transition Study 2, only 58 percent of young adults with autism are employed. Is this because many employers aren't sure of how to create an environment where an employee with ASD can thrive?
In 2012, the U.S. Department of Labor announced the availability of about $20 million in "grants to fund cooperative agreements that will improve educational, training and employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities." Similarly, Autism Speaks and Rangam Consultants Inc. collaborated and created a program for inclusive employment of the autism community by connecting employers and employees on the spectrum.
Being one of the fastest-growing developmental disorders in the U.S. it's a necessity that workplaces are compliant with needs from individuals with ASD, so they can thrive and see real results as an employee. But how do you do so?
In order to understand how an individual with ASD operates and how you can accommodate them within the workplace, here are a few key elements to get you started in the right direction.
1. Note different communication techniques
Your employee may avoid eye contact when speaking to you and co-workers. They may also not know how to express themselves if there's a problem. If this should happen, it's best to allow them alone time in order to reflect on what is bothering them before they can effectively communicate it with you.
2. Write things down instead of discussing
Persons with ASD learn better visually, through images and written words rather than verbally. Having your employee write down his thoughts will allow him to showcase his talents, thoughts and expressions in the best possible manner.
3. Notice social cues and local distractions
You may notice your employee react different in social situations. For example, if she is speaking with a co-worker and the co-worker's phone rings, she might not know she needs to end the conversation early.
Heightened senses is a key attribute in persons with ASD. Your employee could be distracted by the light, printer sounds and light conversation among co-workers. It's best to provide a dimmer light and some sort of escape room in order to get away for quiet alone time (breaks). This may make you think they are anti-social, but that's false. The company of others and socialization with co-workers is something your employee with ASD finds equally important.
4. Be clear and concise
Make sure to be specific in instructions for your employee. Explanation of every procedure — step by step — is a must. Provide clear and concise instructions in written form, as well, so they are able to refer back to them when needed.
This is also a great way to express other workplace rules — again being specific. Insinuations in language will be hard for your employee to understand. For example, instead of saying "Don't be late to work," it's better to be specific and say, "Be at your desk and ready to work at 8 a.m."
5. Focus on routine
Your employee will be highly focused on his work. It's been shown that ASD shares common genes with creativity, meaning an individual can continue with a topic for several years without being distracted. In addition to this, an attribute that persons with ASD thrive on is routine and structure.
You will probably find your employee planning out his days in advance. Having any minor interruption — specialty luncheons or staying late — could upset him. Provide advance notice of any foreseen interruptions, so your employee can work them within his schedule.
6. Know you have a loyal employee
And last, but certainly not least, persons with ASD can be incredibly loyal employees and extremely passionate about their jobs, according to Patty Pacelli, the author of "Six Word Lessons for Autism Friendly Workplaces." With their unique attributes, they will be able to stick to precise guidelines provided by their employer and being deadline driven.
Accommodating the attributes and needs of an employee with ASD could be beneficial to a workplace. They might even be the most reliable and productive employee you will ever find.
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