To assist with the increasingly challenging task of finding and hiring top-notch employees, some companies are making concerted efforts to boost workplace neurodiversity and hire an untapped talent pool—employees with autism.
Working With Employees With Autism
“The benefits of hiring employees with autism are off the charts for employers," says William Schroeder, founder of the counseling practice Just Mind who specializes in autism spectrum disorder.
“People with autism tend to be honest, loyal employees, who enjoy learning and are especially efficient," says Schroeder. “They are often exceptionally bright and gifted in various areas, as well as ambitious and innovative. Their minds are often detail oriented and can focus with extreme granularity on fine details."
In addition to gaining focused, dependable workers, employers can get the added satisfaction of contributing to the greater good.
It's not always easy for people with autism to get employed. According to the United Nations, in industrialized countries such as the U.S., 50 to 70 percent of working age persons with disabilities are unemployed.
“In addition to earning money and being valued, employees with autism benefit in several other ways," says Michael Leddin. Leddin is the parent of an adult with autism; treasurer of Shady Oaks Camp, a summer camp for individuals with disabilities; and executive director of Segal McCambridge Singer & Mahoney law firm.
“Employees with autism are able to observe and learn from others how to act in the workplace, expand their social networks and have a sense of purpose by having a place to go each day and responsibility," says Leddin.
Changing the Status Quo for Employees With Autism
There are steps you can take to make hiring employees with autism a win-win for everyone.
“Employees with autism generally require modifications to the hiring process and then workplace in order to be successful," says Rob Wilson, president of Employco USA, which provides employer management and human resource outsourcing.
Steps to Hiring Employees With Autism
Pre-pave the interview. When possible, give the potential employee as much information as possible about the interview. This includes exactly who will be doing the interview and the questions that will be asked.
“This helps the interviewee to feel calm, composed and prepared for the experience," says Schroeder.
Ask for guidance. Prior to the interview, ask the prospective employee what would help make the interview process run as smoothly as possible.
“Interviews are stressful for everyone," says Schroeder. “While many people speed up when they become nervous, those with autism spectrum disorder may shut down. The interviewee can work through stressful moments if allowed to bring a comfort item, for instance."
Be specific. “Remember, individuals with autism tend to be very exact. You generally have to ask the right question to get the right answer," says Schroeder.
Steps to Onboarding Employees With Autism
Be aware of potential sensitivities. Employees with autism may have unique sensitivities to items like light and sound.
“If there is a lot of extraneous noise, such as fluorescent lights buzzing and people talking, this can lead to sensory overload," says Schroeder. Other sensitivities include to temperature and even the feel of certain materials.
Make small changes to the office environment. “Switching out bright, distracting fluorescent lights and opting for warm LED lights can go a long way in making employees with autism comfortable," says Wilson. “Similarly, consider replacing or silencing loud or disruptive music played throughout the workplace."
Establish a quiet zone. “A designated quiet place where employees can retreat during the day can do wonders for everyone's mental health, including those with developmental disorders," says Wilson.
Use care when changing company routines. “Changes in routine can be very upsetting to employees with autism," says Wilson. “Something as simple as moving a table in the break room or having an unexpected meeting can be overwhelming to them. Make sure to alert employees with autism well ahead of any changes—both large and small."
Educate and prep other employees. If the employee with autism is open to making his or her condition public, give your other workers some information about how best to work with the new employee.
“Suggest to employees that they don't try to force communication with the new hire, but instead take cues from the person as to how to best interact," suggests Leddin. “Give employees with autism space and allow them to be themselves."
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