How to Make your Workplace more Autism Friendly
An autism-friendly work environment is often beneficial for all employees. We have picked out three pieces of advice that will make your workplace more autism-friendly. Read more here:
Three pieces of advice on how to create an autism-friendly workplace:
Why do we need to pay special attention to the work environment of autistic people?
Autistic employees are often “the canaries in the coal mine” in a work environment. Autistic people will often be affected faster and more severely by a negative work environment than their neurotypical counterparts. But eventually, the negative work environment will sour the health and quality of work everyone. The difference in pacing comes down to autistic people generally being more sensitive to stressors, change and workplace conflicts.
The good news is that a good work environment for autistic people will benefit all employees, resulting in higher productivity, less stress-related sick leave and fewer people quitting.
In this article, we will highlight three factors that are vital to autistic people:
- 1. Disturbing sensory input
- 2. Unpredictable tasks and organisational chaos
- 3. Social communication
Reduce disturbing sensory input
Autistic people often interpret sensory input in a different way than neurotypical people do. This might make sounds, visual input, smells and touch much more intense sensory experiences. For autistic people, interpreting so much data means a bigger drain on brain power compared to neurotypical people. Which is why a “sensory diet” is often a great way of avoiding exhaustion in an autistic employee. In the following bullet points you will find a handful of good strategies for handling sensory input:
This might include:
- Headphones with active noise cancellation.
- An office space just for one or a few well-known colleagues.
- Prohibiting the use of heavy perfumes at the workplace.
- A casual dress code – many autistic people prefer comfortable clothes.
- A break room where you can have a quick power nap or just be alone for a little while.
- The option of working at home if you are feeling low on energy one day.
Unpredictable tasks and organisational chaos are a big drain on autistic people’s energy. In a way, autistic people function a bit like a large tanker ship. We might contain a lot of specialised knowledge – but it takes time, energy and concentration to turn the ship around. We can handle variation and evolution in our work environment, but we need more time than most other people to get used to change.
The more predictability, the more energy will be available to solve the tasks efficiently and at a high quality level. However, if the workplace is often marked by changing tasks and organisational chaos, our workplace performance will suffer along with our mental health.
Predictability might include:
- Alignment of expectations both before and during the execution of a task.
- Only having one or a few colleagues or managers to report back to.
- Fixed work hours, break times and a permanent desk or work station are often beneficial.
- Changes must be communicated as early and as detailed as possible.
- Meetings, trainings, team building activities etc. must be described in detail in the invitation. Preferably including pictures of the place of training, menu, a clear agenda etc.
Use a clear framework for social communication
Autistic people are socially curious just like everyone else; however, our social communication often works in a different way. Within a social context, we often tire very quickly because we put a lot of energy into decoding and understanding all the signals and sensory input that we receive from colleagues, customers, and the many other sensory inputs we get from our surroundings.
Because of this, we need the social environment at the workplace to feel safe and be as predictable as possible.
A good social work environment might include:
- That it is OK to act in an autistic way. This include acceptance of: the use of noise cancelling headphones, “stimming” (= rhythmic movements and other forms of regulating sensory input), avoiding eye contact and needing time alone or resting during the workday.
- A mentor program in which the autistic employee can speak to a friendly colleague about their challenges, both professional and private.
- Help with difficult communication. Perhaps the autistic employee needs extra support or a consultant in case of a conflict or a complex situation that needs to be solved.
- Instructions on how and when written and verbal communication takes place.
- That it is OK to leave early or decline social events if the employee has a low energy level on a given day.
- The autistic employee might benefit from having lunch with the same coworker at a set time.
A beneficial work environment that fits your specific workplace
Creating an autism-friendly workplace in your specific company is something that should be defined in co-operation with the work environment representative and the autistic employees. You might want to use this text as a jumping off point for a discussion of what your autistic employees need to have a healthy work environment.
The specific accommodations in your workplace are very dependent on the context in which the work takes place. Autistic people can be found in all types of work, be it the IT-sector, the public health sector or a warehouse.
This article was written by Eline who is a Communications Assistant at Specialisterne.
Find out how to make your workplace autism-friendly