Saturday, September 17, 2016

Doing the Spectrum Dance - Autism in the Workplace

Listen... Up!
Working with someone with autism (including Asperger syndrome), can be an interesting and challenging experience for managers, colleagues and employees.What follows are some suggestions to avoid or overcome any difficulties, in order to ensure enjoyable and effective working relationships.

It's important to understand what is going on for both parties in the interaction. Here are some ideas, collected from reputable sources, that may be helpful on both sides of the conversations;

Social Communication

People with autism have difficulty using and understanding verbal and non-verbal language, such as gestures, facial expressions and tone of voice, as well as jokes and sarcasm. Autists tend to be quite literal and may not understand analogies. They might also have very specific meanings in their personal vocabularies. They may understand what others say to them but prefer to use alternative forms of communication, like e-mail.

Social interaction

People with autism have difficulty recognizing and understanding others’s feelings and managing their own. They may, for example, stand too close to another person, prefer to be alone, behave inappropriately and may not seek comfort or help from other people. This can make it hard for them to make friends.

Social Imagination

Those with autism have difficulty understanding and predicting other people’s intentions and behavior, and imagining situations that are outside their own routine. This can mean they carry out a narrow, repetitive range of activities. A lack of social imagination should not be confused with lack of imagination. Many people with autism are very creative, but typically in a narrow range of expression.


On occasions when problems do arise  – particularly in social interactions where communication can break down, try to deal with them promptly and tactfully.
If the person seems aloof or uninterested in talking you or colleagues, or says the 'wrong' thing,
remember that this is probably unintentional and is likely to be due to the person's communication difficulties.

If the person irritates colleagues by seeming to 'muscle in' on a conversations or other's jobs, be patient, and explain the boundaries. Remember that reinforcing the boundaries may not just be necessary for the person with autism – other staff may also need reminding that their attitudes may have a strong impact on the job performance of their autistic colleague.

If the person becomes anxious try to find out what is causing the problem. One-on-one is probably the best way for doing this. You may need to think laterally. For example, the stress may not be caused by a difficulty in the job but by a colleague not being explicit in their instructions, by things not working efficiently. Trying to think around the immediate issue may help, as well as supportively asking the employee specific (though not invasive) questions to try to get to the root of the problem.


The following approaches may help companies with employees on the autism spectrum;
  • Having clear unambiguous codes of conduct, job descriptions and competency frameworks;
  • Using direct and unambiguous communications;
  • Creating documents, including agendas containing standard and specific points for discussion, and timetables.
  • A consistent schedules/shifts/manager(s);
  • A defined set of job responsibilities;
  • Use of organizers to structure jobs;
  • A reduction of idle or unstructured time;
  • Clear reminders;
  • Feedback and reassurances;
  • Working arrangements and responsibilities of Occupational Health, line managers, HR;
  • Positive behavior feedback and support.


Reasonable adjustments are a fair and robust way managing health-related performance and attendance issues in the workplace. Employers should consider any request on its individual case merits rather than worrying about setting a precedent.

      An assessment should explore:
  • Social interaction deficits;
  • Cognitive inflexibility;
  • Sensory abnormalities.
Individual Needs
  • Equipment;
  • Training;
  • Mentorship;
  • Supervision;
  • Time off or flex-time to attend a health improvement programs to improve performance performance or attendance, for example cognitive behavioural therapy;
  • Temporary redeployment or alternative work activities or promote skills or rehabilitation after an acute episode.

The process should have clearly defined objectives and success criteria to ensure that employment decisions can be made in a timely and appropriate manner.

No comments:

Post a Comment