April is Autism Acceptance Month. Formerly known as Autism Awareness Month, the goal of the new title is to move past just being “aware” of autistic individuals, and towards a more inclusive and connected approach. Despite this, the statistics on Autism in the workplace (like many DEI statistics) continue to be disappointing. According to the National Autism Indicators Report conducted by Drexel University:
Fewer than one in six autistic adults is in full-time employment
Less than 16% of survey participants have full time paid work (a figure that has seen very little change over the past 15 years)
More than 77% of autistic adults who are unemployed say they want to work
Given the current labor shortage, we at FIG are especially concerned with the last statistic, and passionately believe that individuals who desire gainful employment should be afforded the opportunity and (more importantly) the tools to work. Here are 5 things employers, managers, and HR departments can do to create and facilitate an inclusive workplace for autistic individuals and the neurodiverse community as a whole:
Ask what works best for your employees. This sounds ridiculously simple, but truly the best thing you can do to support ALL your employees is to ask what they need to be successful. While it would be great if everyone felt comfortable making requests and providing unprompted feedback to their boss or manager, this type of culture is still new to some people and needs to be cultivated.
Edit your job descriptions for unnecessary requirements. Listing physical labor requirements for a job that doesn’t actually require physical labor is discriminatory. Eliminate degree requirements where a certification or on-the-job training would suffice.
Reevaluate what you are looking for in an interview: either eliminate or significantly reduce “culture fit” requirements that could exclude a neurodivergent individual and ultimately aren't particularly relevant to how an individual will perform their job or contribute to your team. Realize that stereotypical “good” interview traits like a strong handshake or eye contact are dated preconceptions about people and not necessarily a reflection on how they will perform their job, and that the skills an interviewee brings to the table are a much better way to consider them for a position.
Evaluate your company’s communication style, and make sure employees are given the option to communicate in the way that works best for them. Some people prefer written versus verbal instructions and others may prefer an in person meeting over a phone call.
Understand the business benefits of inclusion: if your employees feel comfortable and confident in the workplace, they will do their best work. A more inclusive workplace is more productive, retains talent, and has a much better chance of success in an ever changing economy and society.
Ultimately, clear and uniform expectations along with a willingness to accommodate individual needs goes a long way in creating a workplace where everyone, including individuals with autism, can thrive. True inclusion exists when the people who make up your company define your culture rather than the other way around.