ASD Inclusion: Key to Workplace Diversity

asd autism autism spectrum disorder diversity workplace diversity
ASD Inclusion: Key to Workplace Diversity

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder. It impacts and causes difficulties in social interaction, including verbal and nonverbal communication. Those with ASD also often engage in repetitive and restrictive behavior. Whatever the symptom, difficulty, or behavior, these can and do manifest in varying degrees for each individual.

About 2% of the world’s population has ASD — 16 million people, according to the CDC. But like everyone else, when positions are well-matched to their abilities, they make excellent employees.

Despite making great additions to any company the unemployment rate is high for individuals with ASD. Estimates in the United States range from 80-90%. This is significantly higher than the general population.

Organizations aim to gain a competitive advantage by recruiting skilled individuals, but they often overlook numerous qualified employees with autism. Autism Acceptance Month is an important time to address and correct misconceptions about autism. It is a time to recognize the abilities of people with autism, and to work towards a more supportive and inclusive workplace.

Individuals with autism are diverse, each equipped with unique skills and unique needs. The process of acknowledging these individual differences and identifying the optimal job match starts with the employment interview.

Interview tips for candidates with ASD include:

Preparation: Inform your candidate with ASD about the interview process beforehand and consider providing the interview questions ahead of time. Open-ended questions or unfamiliar questions can trigger anxiety, potentially hindering their immediate cognitive responses.

Interview Format: If the interviewee has issues with social cues or social interactions, it is best to conduct one-on-one interviews. This is especially true for the initial meeting. Facing a panel of two or more interviewers can be overwhelming for individuals with ASD. Job auditions are a good strategy because they let hiring managers see how candidates do in real work situations.

Evaluation Criteria: Assess candidates with ASD using a model that focuses on their strengths, particularly on the actual job skills needed. Instead of concentrating on their limitations, focus on what skills they possess that align with company and job needs. Acknowledging that not every position demands exceptional communication skills can unveil a reservoir of qualified, skilled, and inventive individuals. Bottom line: interviewing is not indicative of one's ability to perform a job..

Conversation: People with ASD may struggle with casual chat, so it's better to skip the usual small talk at the start of an interview. Instead, use detailed follow-up questions to learn more about them. Note: if they take time to answer thoughtfully, it doesn't suggest they're slow to understand. In fact, we should see thorough and thoughtful responses as a strength.

Body Language: Remember, if someone isn't very expressive in how they speak or move, it doesn't mean they aren't engaged. People with autism might have a hard time using and understanding gestures, body language, or tone of voice. Facial expressions, movements, and gestures may not match what they are saying.

Employees with ASD also may require additional customized support in the workplace, including:

Reduce workplace stimuli: Employees with ASD can get distracted by things like itchy uniforms, loud coworkers, or bright fluorescent lights. To help, you could relax the dress code rules, use dividers to reduce noise and movement, switch to softer LED lights, or let them wear hats.

People with ASD may have difficulty with social communication and interaction. They may appear to be uninterested in social situations, or be unable to "read" the situation. They may also have difficulty initiating or maintaining relationships, or participating in group activities.

Provide an option for a separate room or cubicle to work. Favor or encourage email communication over phone calls or impromptu visits. Start with these items and continue to adjust so that your employee can transition and thrive within the organization.

Clear communication: Training for managers should include giving precise written instructions. Ensure clarity in assigning tasks to avoid any uncertainty. Clear instructions are necessary even for things that seem obvious, such as how to prioritize tasks or assess performance. Employees with autism benefit from receiving questions beforehand, and clear concise directions.

Coaching: Employees with autism may find the social and emotional behaviors of others difficult to read. A coach, either a trained coworker or an outside expert, can be helpful.

Understanding and accommodating Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) in the workplace is not only a matter of social responsibility. It is a strategic advantage for organizations seeking to tap into a diverse range of talents and perspectives.

People with ASD face challenges like high unemployment and the need for supportive interviews and workplaces. Yet, they have unique skills and strengths. Employers can tap into these by using inclusive hiring practices, clear communication, and creating a sensory-friendly work environment.

Fostering an inclusive environment is key to building a more equitable and efficient workplace. This inclusion extends beyond Autism Acceptance Month. We show our commitment to diversity and inclusion every day, to all our workers.