“We are loyal to those who support and nurture us . . . It frustrates me that I am expected to follow the same trajectory as all the others, while my positive traits are down played. If my employer could only help me to be my best, they’d get the best employee ever.” Apprentice Truck Mechanic, Australia
“I have an inability to stay very long in a job. I’ll start off really well then get lost along the way and don’t know how to fix things as I don’t want to look as if I don’t understand what is going on. In short office politics.“ unemployed, Australia
“I’m not absent because . . . I don’t want to work for my money. I’m not lazy or expect something for nothing . . . I just can’t understand the world around me on that day . . . There is something telling me it’s okay just stay in, or stay in bed . . . no one can hurt you where you feel safest.” In search of part time work, UK
“Autistics are very capable of performing multiple tasks and we are very passionate and dedicated workers. Though autistics process information and social situations differently, it would be beneficial for a business leader to know that autistics require different means of support than neurotypicals, but that doesn’t make autistics less capable when it comes to employment and carrying out various tasks.” Editorial Cartoonist, USA
“The way we work might not fit the mold, but we find a way to work that makes sense to us. Please don’t try to micro-manage us or force us to do things how someone else does.” Crisis Worker, USA
I have written vast amounts on the subject of autism as it relates to the workplace, including Autistic Power On the Job, the dilemma with disclosing, and other topics. Much of the renderings are part of my manuscript, Autism in a Briefcase; a book project my publisher and I agreed to share publicly, before fine-tuning and bringing to print. It is our hope to raise awareness and understanding about autistics in relationship to employment, and to move beyond the aim of merely highlighting autistics’ common strengths and getting autistics through the workplace door.
Ask An Autistic
Autism spectrum conditions and (the formerly-named) Asperger’s Syndrome are commonly recognized as ‘invisible social disabilities’ and the majority of individuals who are autistic (or have Aspergers) have considerable challenges that affect daily living. Some individuals on the autism spectrum are physically disabled and face considerable hardships. When considering autistics, it’s never just one thing that poses a challenge; it’s a combination of many elements. Some days are better than others. Some days are worse. But there isn’t one day that’s easy, in my experience. Sometimes it’s sensory overload that is the main inhibitor to a sense of wellbeing; other times it’s social nuances, over-thinking, a lack of ability to concentrate, or impairment in working memory. As an unemployed autistic with a doctorate degree shared, “It’s really not just one thing, or one major thing . . . like sensory needs, like processing delays, like not being able to do meetings with yak yaks, like needing things in writing, like no real short term memory, like fluorescent lights, like too much noise . . . It’s all the things.”
When I surveyed random adult autistics worldwide, out of 100+ employed autistics, only 9 out of the lot cited not having a challenge at their current job. Recognizing autistics have challenges in the workplace is essential when implementing autistic and neurodiversity hiring initiatives. Too often, business leaders skip straight to the diversity initiative of hiring autistics, whilst leaving behind the much needed inclusion measures.
When examining commonplace challenges for adults on the autism spectrum, it’s important to hear from the autistics themselves and not to rely on outside reports from non-autistics of what it’s like to be autistic. “Ask the autistic employee how they experience the world, and work with them to support them,” advices an autistic who works as a teaching assistant, (an individual with a master’s degree, who is earning well below her earning potential, with her main barrier stated as anxiety). Valuable insights can be gained from listening and noting what actual autistics are experiencing. Take for example the Senior Project Manager at a Pharmaceutical Technology company in the UK, who shared: “I experience enormous stress and exhaustion when starting a new job. So much so that I can only absorb information for about five minutes at a time and then need to rest for an hour! This results in me taking longer to learn a new role than most and almost getting fired for being too slow to learn . . . an employer should get their information regarding our needs from us directly and not media based literature or standard stereotypes.”
10 Considerations Concerning the Autistic Workforce
Challenges autistics experience on the job are dependent upon several factors, such as level of self-awareness, support mechanisms, workplace culture, anxiety-levels, physical and mental health, learning disabilities, skillset, educational background, and prior work and volunteer experience. As most of us know, no two autistics are alike. Please keep in mind, though the following words are an aspect of autism, they don’t represent each unique individual on the spectrum. Moreover, the overview serves to provide general insight into the autistic experience. Below I present ten considerations concerning the autistic workforce, based on my personal experience, 1000s of hours of study, and numerous correspondences with autistic individuals around the world. By no means is this an all-encompassing list of considerations. In a future posting, I will share with you the 10 Keys to Universal Inclusion to address each consideration mentioned below.
10 Considerations for the Autistic Workforce
- Sensory Processing
- Misunderstood and Misinterpretations
- Knowing What to Expect and Order
- Over Work/Under Work
- Silence and Alone Time
- Processing Spoken and Written Information
It’s essential to understand that the majority of autistics experience anxiety every day of their lives. We aren’t typical in our experience with stress and anxiety, and ought not be compared to the everyday worker. Out of 1000s of autistic adults, I have yet to come across a single one who does not have some degree of debilitating anxiety—meaning the emotional angst directly affects an aspect of daily living and/or that the anxiety needs to be managed with medication or diet. Autistics, like all people, walk their own path in discovering coping mechanisms for anxiety. For some, the process of creation—an in-depth project, art, musical/literature piece, etc.—helps to alleviate stress. Being immersed in the zone of creativity (or intense concentration) enables an autistic person to temporarily escape from their feelings of discomfort. Here is a sampling of what some autistics/Aspergers wrote about anxiety:
“I’m a writer. And when I have meetings with people who like my work, I have never not had a panic attack before the meeting. I’m afraid they will see through my mask which I find is harder to keep on the older I get.” Delivery Driver, Writer, Consultation, and Assistant (with Master’s Degree), in search of part-time work, USA
“I was always really good at every job I did. Tech Support was fantastic… except for the interpersonal stuff. And eventually the anxiety and stress of masking all the time would land me in hospital with a crashed immune system. Sometimes it wouldn’t even get that far because of interpersonal issues understanding difficult people who just didn’t like me even though I worked hard for them. If I could hold a job without ending up in the hospital, I would.” Unemployed, on government assistance, Canada
“When I’ve had part time jobs in the past my anxiety and sensory processing issues caused a lot of struggles, I’ve never held a job more than a year, other than babysitting.” Unemployed, USA
“ I have paralyzing anxiety meeting and working with new people.” Self-employed, USA
Multitudes of adults on the autism spectrum have normal to advanced IQ levels and can learn communication rules. It’s not that autistics don’t understand communication norms—it’s that autistics have an arduous time processing communication etiquette, retaining communication norms, and fitting in. Demonstrating what is expected in conversation—vocal patterns, inflections, appropriate body language, proximity of body, pace of conversation, eye contact, and feedback—doesn’t ever come naturally. Understanding basic communication norms is not rocket science for autistics, but putting the norms into conversation might feel like piloting a rocket ship. The communication world to some autistic folks is akin to learning a foreign language. With enough exposure, autistics can infer the ins and outs of communication protocols, but no matter the amount of practice, our minds are still autistic. Autism is our primary/home language. In other words: We think in autism. Maneuvering the social world in a successful way requires continual and intentional (oftentimes exhausting) effort. On a second-by-second basis, the autistic person is internalizing the unspoken social guidelines and norms of any given situation. Within a social context, due to the nonstop maneuvering of communication constructs, we are on extreme alert of the elements of conversation, actively pulling from prior knowledge to remind self of how to be . . . talk . . . stand . . . answer . . . offer . . . ask . . . move . . . and so forth. This intense state of being, in the ready and alert—being constantly on—is almost always at the expense of physical and mental wellbeing. Those that are capable of blending in (through attire, mannerisms, colloquialisms, and abiding by cultural trends and workplace norms) have, through purposeful studies and practice of best social reciprocities and niceties, taught themselves how to pass as acceptable. Regardless, despite the amount of practice, even as social constructs can be learned and adapted into daily living, they are never fully assimilated. Common barriers to everyday communication include: a) not responding to subtle cues such as inferences, tone of voice, and facial expressions, b) misinterpreting ambiguous language such as sarcasm, idioms, or metaphor, c) exhibiting out of the norm body language, d) acting in unexpected and unique ways, e) not grasping what is inferred or insinuated, and f) processing the spoken language.
3. Sensory Processing Challenges
Sensory processing challenges refer to an atypical reaction to common sensory stimuli. Sensory Processing Disorder (SPD) is largely a coexisting condition with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD). Sensory challenges can range from minuscule to extreme. Autistics are ordinarily hypersensitive to their surrounding environment, including basic stimuli taken in through the five sensory faculties (e.g., sight, hearing, smell, taste, and touch). It is standard for autistics to experience both external sensory overload from the five faculties (e.g., repetitive noise, hard surfaces, abrasive clothing) and internal sensory overload from the physical body (e.g., tingling on skin, body temperature). Understanding where a body is in a given space might prove challenging (proprioception) and one’s sense of motion and balance (vestibular) may be askew. Sensory processing challenges alone can prove debilitating.
Social interactions are one of the leading challenges individuals on the autism spectrum encounter; the act of socializing has a strong potential to cause anxiety and exhaustion. Autistics frequently experience what is called anticipatory anxiety about upcoming engagements or outings that involve leaving the house. The anticipatory anxiety can occur weeks before a planned event and over something as ‘minor’ as having to go to the bathroom, attend a work meeting, or visit the ‘water cooler.’ At the heart of workplace anxiety is the social aspects of interacting with colleagues, upper management, superiors, vendors, and clients. For some on the spectrum, there’s a lot of carry over, from downright painful encounters in school and work settings. The majority of autistics I know are still haunted by past times of bullying; many suffer from some form of trauma, including PTSD. It’s hard enough being autistic in a world where most people don’t understand where you are coming from, and even harder facing the very real possibility of being treated unfairly as a grown adult entering the job force. Bullying doesn’t end in the school yard. And this is a serious fact we need to face, especially considering autistics are at a higher risk for mood disorders and suicidal thoughts, and might also be part of another minority, such as LGBTQ. Being autistic equates to having challenges with social interactions. It’s a given. And not an obstacle that goes away, even with huge amounts of exposure and years of lived experiences. At age 50, I still find myself just as confused by some aspects of socializing, as I was 20 years ago; only now I have more support tools and resources. Unsolicited advice does not change an autistic’s brain neurology, nor does social skills training, mandatory eye contact, teasing, shaming, or correcting. Here is what autistics or those that identify with having Aspergers, had to say about socializing:
“I’ve had people not understanding that I’m not some sort of anti-social creature who doesn’t want to like anyone . . . I think it’s hard to fit in when we are constantly shunned or misjudged for our differences. Why would I want to try, if you are going to be of that mind to begin with?” QA Analyst, LMFT, and Doctorate Student, USA
“ . . . Things that should be obvious to us, at our age, are in fact not. The social aspect is a written part of life that everyone else seems to understand, but for us it’s hard, exhausting and never comes easy.” Unemployed, USA
“I don’t transmit the correct social cues and it makes people suspicious of me. I take things very literally and even when I follow instructions to the letter I don’t realize I have missed something contextual and make my bosses and coworkers frustrated and myself confused and sad.” Unemployed, Attending Computer Programming Bootcamp, USA
“ . . . My former manager told my new manager that my ‘behaviour is appalling’ because I disagreed with their opinion once and rarely said ‘Good Morning’ to them when they arrived at work each day.” Autism Advocate, Australia
“I never could present myself positively as competent and qualified, even if I did believe that I was. I tend to settle for less than what I qualify for. I don’t communicate my needs or questions or concerns very well.” Licensed Mental Health Therapist, USA
“High social anxiety obtained early in my life has made it hard for me to even consider applying to certain jobs and attending interviews because of fearing social rejection or making unintentional false impressions. Though we may seem ‘off’ or ‘awkward’ or ‘not all there,’ we are extremely dedicated people who only want to do our possible best.” Animal Care Technician, USA
“The strong social component of a job—and the constant reinforcement of what is an arbitrary social standard—is a key source of discrimination against autistics, where the discrimination is most often not noticed at all by non-autistic people.” Unemployed, Master’s Degree, Canada
“Don’t judge our overall competency based on our social skills.” Substitute Teacher, In Search of Full time Work, USA
“I have spent my entire life being under valued. Despite gaining two science degrees, I am still at the bottom of my career ladder. Why? Because I am not able to function sociably, not a people person, not able to develop people skills, always being out of sync. I question everything. I am too honest about how I am feeling and I talk about subjects that frighten people, like the state of the planet and the apocalypse. I see the big picture. Being a ecologist, I see how humans are destroying this beautiful planet. I see climate change running away, pollution increasing, resources declining, human population increasing. There is no hope for humanity.” Environment and Monitoring Assistant, UK
“I am having an incredibly difficult time . . . I feel invisible and isolated . . . I have been in 19 years, so it’s not like I am new at this . . . I go down to the mess hall to eat; I sit down they get up. It’s very elementary and immature. What shall I do? What would you do? Recently they relocated my office to a rather small broom closet. I am moving to this tiny desk with no room. I hate this place. It is tough feeling invisible. What is it about me they hate so much? The chiefs draw pictures of me and make songs about me . . . ” An anonymous man who identifies with having Asperger’s Syndrome
Some social challenges autistic have include:
- Believing a personal point of view has been discounted—thinking their thoughts were accurately expressed, when they were not
- Difficult times speaking up for self when unrealistic expectations have been given or when the individual has been wronged
- Second-guessing their own point of view and perception
- Not distinguishing the difference between friendly teasing and malicious teasing
- Missing a point in conversation without noticing anything is awry
- An aversion to conflict and debate
- Nervous laughter or telling an off-topic or inappropriate joke
- Elaborating on topics that are not necessarily of interest to others
- Talking a lot when nervous or going silent
- Not participating in social niceties
- Reporting when rules are broken or something seems illogical
- Struggling with interpersonal boundaries
- Asking intrusive or personal questions
- Not appreciating small talk and sharing personal stories that others might find uncomfortable
- Having selective mutism or an inability to speak aloud
- Challenges or inability to express themselves through spoken language
- Bringing the conversation back to self (to better empathize and relate)
- Body movements or sounds that are uncommon
5. Misunderstood and Misinterpretations
“Our issues are neurological in nature and are not character deficits.” Unemployed, USA
“I am not without feelings, as people might think. I just have a different way of imprinting and expressing them.” Autistic Adult, Sweden
“People think I am confident, but I am usually doubting myself. I talk more when I’m nervous.” Graphic Artist, USA
It’s not uncommon to hear from folks, after a recent mental health evaluation, that a professional deemed them non-autistic based on misnomers, such as the client could make eye contact, dress well, hold down a job or long term relationship (and therefore, in summation, could not be on the autism spectrum). Someone recently shared a professional was publicly claiming on LinkedIn that autistics typically have less anxiety during an interview because autistics have fewer emotions . . . When professionals are quick to make assumptions about autism, it is no wonder that the average citizen is misinformed about how autism presents. And it is no wonder that autistics dread the assumptions another might make, based solely on the mention of the word ‘autism.’
Some ways in which individuals perceive, label, or define a person with autism are:
- Not genuine, harboring hidden motives
- Challenging authority, stubborn, obstinate rigid-thinker, inflexible, controlling
- Overreacts, self-centered
- Over-sensitive, over-emotional
- Complainer, pessimist, critical
- Arrogant, talking with an attitude of superiority, a know-it-all, blunt, rude
- A chatterbox
- Trying to show colleagues up, trying to get in good with the boss
- Impersonal, evasive, selfish, inconsiderate
- Nerdy, awkward, odd
- Weak, insecure
- A procrastinator
- Insensitive or uncaring about others’ feelings, incapable of empathy
- Incapable of social networking, maneuvering work politics, or handling the demands of leadership or supervisory roles
6. Knowing What to Expect, Predictability, and Order
For the most part, those on the autism spectrum have a highly attuned anything-can-happen-mentality, because they readily recognize the world is an unpredictable place. In many cases, the fight or flight mentality is heightened for biological reasons, e.g., autonomic condition, amygdala. Implementing routine and familiarity through daily habits and rituals (e.g., same meal, same schedule, same surroundings) is a safe haven for many spectrum folks. The restrictiveness is like a life jacket: a means of survival in untamed waters. Without proper workplace routines, guidelines, rules, and procedures, and with the absence of consistent managerial support and approaches, an autistic will have a hard time navigating the work environment.
“We are honest, hard working and eager to please. But we need support and understanding . . . I need extra time to feel comfortable in knowing exactly what is needed from me to do an excellent job. But I always give 100%.” Self-Employed Clothes Ironer, UK
Most on the spectrum do best when they know what to expect and life is predictable. Some don’t like surprises of any sort. Not even well planned potentially ‘happy’ surprises. Autistics typically need time to thoroughly consider and visually walk through what will feasibly transpire. Without ample time to process, confusion will follow. An alteration in plans or schedule might cause whirlwind of what ifs. With the sudden coming of change, some autistics feel a surging panic and might react in a number of ways: make biting remarks, fully recede in thought, asking a series of well meaning (but sometimes “annoying”) questions, or escaping the scene. An immediate change of plans equates to an immediate sense of unknowing and a foreboding unease. When there is change, it is best presented in a gradual and logical manner. It is beneficial to have the reasons behind the news explained—and sometimes the reasons behind the reasons.
7. Over Work/Under Work
“Unevenness. I never know when I am going to be 500% productive or -100% productive.” Professor with Doctorate Degree, USA
“I’m going to have my good days where I’m 150% productive and efficient; please keep that in mind before berating me for being 25% occasionally. I work hard to balance it out.” Student Conference Assistant, USA
“(Some experience) exhaustion from being overcommitted. We will give our all, even to our detriment. Sufficient support will reduce the risk of burnout.” Migration Consultant, Australia
“I can do the work, it’s just my path from A to C looks a little different, but I got it.” Social Worker, USA
“Those on the spectrum need to have a work environment that does not require a team effort 100% of the time, the understanding that a person on the spectrum is not a machine and can not always be able to work everyday, 8 or 10 hours a day. We think different, we process different, we have a different understanding of the world.” Relief Milker, USA
Some autistics are known to go above and beyond the call of duty. Sometimes a person who is highly sensitive to being seen as disabled, or who feels judged, or who has past workplace trauma, might try to compensate for a perceived deficit. There might be an overriding sense of having to exceed expectations in hopes of being perceived as adequate. Some want to put their best foot forward and give it their all. Autistics are well known to have a powerful ability to concentrate for long periods of time and routinely experience challenges pulling away from a task or project. They have a tendency toward mastery and completion of a project at the expense of self-care. One autistic worker shared, I feel challenged “to do every-day chores, eat regularly, maintain social connections, etc., because the job takes all my focus and I can’t disengage from it very easily.” Other autistics are known for their loyalty and dedication to their employer, and the drive to give everything they have for the betterment of an agency. In some cases, employers take advantage of an autistic’s natural giving nature, not compensating or recognizing extreme efforts, marking down performance levels based on minute mistakes, not asking the employee to reduce their workload, and not promoting the autistic, despite exemplary effort and dedication. Unfortunately, autistics often lack the confidence, esteem, or know-how to ask for what they need and deserve, or to set boundaries, without experiencing a high degree of anxiety, confusion, and self-doubt. It is not uncommon for an autistic to blame themselves, instead of seeing themselves as the victim.
8. Silence, Stillness, and Alone Time
“I think we do much better if we can work alone. And we do better without being harassed to go faster. We are meticulous, and it’s better to do a thing right then to do it fast and then have to do it again to fix the mistakes.” Unemployed, USA
“I usually eat lunch alone in a classroom or similarly isolate to avoid interactions but also to take space and catch a break.” Special Education Director, USA
“I am an asset to them. We can be really good employees, if we are given support and downtime when necessary.” Unemployed, UK
“Sensory input and anxiety can be overwhelming. Breaks and quiet areas are necessary.” Members Service Representative, USA
Although business meetings, conferences, conventions, luncheons, after work get-togethers, or team projects are more often business norms than not (and a means of collaboration and personal connection), group settings are not always ideal for autistics. This includes the open office-space concept. Wherein some on the spectrum can thrive in group environments, lead meetings, and serve as a central team contributor, by and large autistics require time to recoup and refuel. Without respite, autistics cannot perform at optimal levels or sustain functional working relationships. It’s crucial to remember autistics have neurological divergences that include challenges with cognitive processing, sensory processing, communication, and socializing, and therefore cannot always be engaged and present, even when they want to be.
“We need consistent feedback on performance, especially positive when things are going well. Only negative feedback will create more anxiety, which will result on poorer performance. When we do something well, tell us. Don’t assume we know.” Teacher, USA
“When we are doing work that we are good at and suited for, we will probably end up being your best employee. Give us tasks that interest and challenge us, and we will shine brightest. Do not micromanage. Looking over my shoulder and constantly checking in will make me nervous and may lead to errors in my work. Let me know precisely what is expected, and when it is needed, and then leave me to do it, in my way, in my own time. I may not approach it the same way you would but the result will be accurate and elegant and on time, if not early. However, regular feedback is still crucial – If I am doing a good job, or there is something you would like me to change or improve, let me know. Lack of feedback can affect my confidence and lead to motivation and quality issues.” Former Public Accountant, USA
Most autistics work best in a work environment where there are clear expectations from day one and consistent job performance feedback. An annual performance review is not enough. Those on the spectrum are known to focus on fine details and logically decipher discrepancies—an attribute that frequently comes in handy on the job. Unfortunately, that same tenacity for high focus often leads to over-analysis of job performance, including mulling over what might have gone wrong. It is not uncommon for an autistic employee to have ongoing concerns about their level of work performance and to wonder if efforts are up to par. With the absence of explicit and frequent feedback, an employee may not know where they stand in the eyes of the supervisor. When there isn’t enough direct feedback, an autistic’s second-guessing can lead to the point of distraction, loss in work productivity, and unnecessary worry. An autistic often has challenges with object permanence and/or object constancy—the ability to understand things exist independently to one’s observation. For example, knowing that once a person leaves a room or an object is shut in a drawer that the person or object still exists, even though it/the person is no longer visible to the observer. Object permanence might affect an employee’s ability to believe that what a supervisor said one day still holds true the next day. Until verbally told, an autistic employee may not know if a supervisor is pleased or not. And once told, the individual will often have a hard time holding onto the feedback, perhaps pondering: That was yesterday, but what about today?
10. Processing Spoken and Written Information
“We are different and we process things differently, that doesn’t make us less effective, but more often times than not, more effective employees, if they’ll just open their minds a bit.” QA Analyst, LMFT, and Doctorate Student, USA
“Processing spoken information can be difficult. Not rushing verbal instruction and providing visual/written information can be very helpful. We care about doing a good job and doing things correctly. We can often do jobs better than others and even improve on procedures if we’re given adequate training and information to start with.” Full time Teacher, UK
“It may take a little longer to get there, but we can be amazing.” Hospital Linens Department, USA
“We can do jobs but it needs to be more relaxed than regular employment and we may need extra time to adjust.” Caretaker, UK
“My processing speed leads employers to believe that I am just lazy and I get fired, if given a chance at all. We are all individuals. We all have strengths and weaknesses. Sometimes we may not get the most work done, but the quality of the work is impeccable. I have given up on finding suitable employment . . .” Never has had a full time job, unemployed, USA
Autistics typically require time to process new information. This is due to a number of factors including, but not limited to, the way the brain is wired, learning style, coexisting conditions (dyslexia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia), sensory integration, and a unique approach to taking in data. (See Bottom Up Thinking.) An employee on the spectrum will sometimes require extra think time to decipher what aspects of new information are important, dissect how the information fits in with prior learning, determine what to do with the data, recognize which action steps take precedence over another, and ponder what aspects are essential to retain and apply. Some autistics are visual learners, and think in pictures, a trait that can prove challenging when trying to comprehend information a coworker has spoken aloud or mentioned quickly. Some have auditory processing disorders and have difficulty hearing the sounds of certain consonants or vowels or experience trouble distinguishing what is being said from background noise and other sensory input. Some on the spectrum have synesthesia, a neurological phenomenon in which senses fuse together; for example, with color-graphemic synesthesia, a person might perceive colors for specific numbers. Others have a delayed response to processing emotions, and the emotional confusion can lead to delays in grasping new information and data.
Knowledge of the actual autistic experience brings with it insights to reduce incidents of workplace anxiety, bullying, alienation, misunderstanding, unclear expectations, and confusion. Once challenges are identified, a foundation can be developed in which to build support systems upon and methods for universal inclusion that benefit the whole of an agency. As has been cited in numerous documents, creating a workplace environment conducive to supporting autistics, and those with similar neurological profiles, is typically not costly. On a similar note, implementing strategies to foster an inclusive workplace culture for one at-risk population, instills procedures and processes that enhance the workplace experience for all employees.
If we truly want to lower the underemployment rates and unemployment rates of autistics, and provide suitable environments for individuals with ‘different brains,’ then examining common workplace challenges autistics face ought not be an option, but mandatory. When we take the time to consider life from the autistic perspective, we are one step closer to building the foundation of true workplace inclusion.
There is no use tapping into a pool of talented job seekers, without also providing strategies for them to succeed.
I have no doubt, when given the right workplace culture and environment, many an autistic has the capacity to go far beyond expectations and contribute greatly to the world! Still, too many key players, from small to big business, are not taking the time to consider the impact of putting an autistic workforce to work without adequate support measures. Part of the issue is not readily recognizing what adequate support measures entail, and thinking limited approaches will do the job. When in actuality, bandaid measures, such as an off site job coach for the first 90-days, do very little, to nothing, to augment the workplace culture and environment. Half-measures might satisfy company leaders and the finance department, but such limited forethought and action will more than likely lead an autistic employee to experience isolation, segregation, discrimination, depression, or worse.
Like this article? Check out more on this blog. Connect with Marcelle Ciampi on Linkedin or Samantha Craft on Twitter or myspectrumsuite.com. Also, see Spectrum Suite LLC on Linkedin.
Samantha Craft’s Autistics Traits List
Bio: Marcelle Ciampi, M.Ed. (aka Samantha Craft)
Marcelle Ciampi (aka Samatha Craft) is a respected autistic author and community advocate, is best known for her writings found in the well-received book Everyday Aspergers. A professional educator, she has been featured in various literature, including peer-reviewed journals, ND GiFTS Project, Autism Parenting Magazine, The Mighty, Project Aspie, Art of Autism, and Different Brains. Marcelle works as the Recruitment Manager and Outreach Specialist at Ultranauts Inc., an engineering firm with a neurodiversity-hiring initiative, and is a consultant for Uptimize and Spectrum Fusion. A contributing author of Spectrum Women: Walking to the Beat of Autism, Marcelle speaks globally on the topic of neurodiversity. She also serves as the founder of Spectrum Suite LLC, the co-founder of the Spectrum Lights Inclusion Summit, co-executive of LifeGuides for Autistics (neuroguides.org), and a contributor and advisor to autism organizations and conferences, internationally. Some of her works, especially The Ten Traits, have been translated into multiple languages and been shared in counseling offices around the world. She resides in the Pacific Northwest U.S.A. with her sons and life partner.
“Everyday Aspergers is an unusual and powerful exploration of one woman’s marvelously lived life. Reminiscent of the best of Anne Lamott, Everyday Aspergers jumps back and forth in time through a series of interlocking vignettes that give insight and context to her lived experience as an autistic woman. The humor and light touch is disarming, because underneath light observations and quirky moments are buried deep truths about the human experience and about her own work as an autistic woman discerning how to live her best life. From learning how to make eye contact to finding ways to communicate her needs to being a dyslexic cheerleader and a fraught mother of also-autistic son, Samantha Craft gives us a marvelous spectrum of experiences. Highly recommended for everyone to read — especially those who love people who are just a little different.”
~ Ned Hayes, bestselling author of The Eagle Tree
15 thoughts on “Ask an Autistic: 10 Considerations You Should Know Now (Not Tomorrow)”
nice in depth explanations. I felt the majority of the issues discussed applied directly to me. Thank you on behalf of autistic folks who struggle to work for a living.
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thank you for taking the time to comment. All the best to you and yours
Can you explain more about object permanence please ?
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Not sure how to explain more than is there. It means that once something is out of site, part of autistic brain might doubt it still exists. For me, it is part of my executive functioning challenge — it effects me by creating fear about opening envelopes, wondering if clothes are still in the drawer.. I hope that helps a bit!
Really interesting. Well written. I see something of me, too.
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This is a very helpful resource for those of us who have autistic friends.
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Most eye opening, educational reading on this topic I’ve read.
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Great article! Excellent content that covers a lot of ground.
I would say however it needs to be read in conjunction with an in-depth article on all the communication challenges, misunderstandings, and social games that plague non-autistic communication and collaboration. I say this from my autistic perspective, and from my professional perspective as a “knowledge archaeologist”, where I capture the knowledge flow of domains experts to co-create (a) neurodiversity friendly team environments, (b) visual languages for representing domain specific knowledge, and (c) collaboration protocols that minimise misunderstandings and attempts of deception.
At a fundamental level, the ability to communication is limited by the factors outlined in this article https://jornbettin.com/2011/04/24/the-impossibility-of-communicating-desired-intent/.
Developing shared understanding is hard work. Always. For all people https://ciic.s23m.com/2017/09/28/the-language-of-thought-is-underrated/.
Autistic forms of communication within a neurodiverse team and within a psychologically safe environment actually imparts a collaborative advantage to the entire team https://autcollab.org/2018/04/05/what-society-can-learn-from-autistic-culture/.
The fact that most (all?) autistic people are incapable of holding a hidden agenda and don’t play social games minimises / eliminates large and small sources of deception that afflict all traditional hierarchical organisational structures https://autcollab.org/2018/04/09/autistic-cognition-decoded-for-earthlings/.
Non-autistic communication protocols make life bearable from a non-autistic perspective by injecting plenty of culturally expected pleasantries (exaggerations and small deceptions) and social cues into conversations, and thereby make it very hard to identify the larger deceptions that a minority of people weave into their social game. Resulting mismatches in expectations are easily explained away as unintended misunderstandings.
Non-autistic people seem ill equipped to recognise how all the little exaggerations they use on a regular basis, such as “you look great” (when you look and feel sick), and small deceptions such as “sorry, I have an important meeting to attend to” (when someone prefers not to help you and hoards information for personal advantage) or “I helped develop a great product” (when the person was not involved and only got to know the finished product and never contributed any feedback to the development team) over time add up to a non-collaborative and potentially toxic culture.
The difference between non-autistic and autistic collaboration boiled down to one observation https://autcollab.org/2017/09/30/social/. The result is depressing, not only for autistic people https://ciic.s23m.com/2018/06/03/drop-the-mask-to-create-collaborative-edges/. It is time to recognise the key role of autistic and otherwise neurodivergent people in cultural evolution and in recovery from collective insanity https://ciic.s23m.com/2018/11/26/a-theory-of-cultural-evolution/.
Over the next few days I will post a more comprehensive overview on the Autistic Collaboration website https://autcollab.org/about/, including a reference to your excellent article. It pains me to live in a broken “civilisation”. I am working on educating people about the thinking tools at our disposal that can assist in minimising suffering and in paving the path into a more humane social world https://jornbettin.com/2019/04/27/experiencing-the-beauty-of-collaboration-at-human-scale/.
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thank you for sharing! Amazing work.
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Take a look at https://autcollab.org/2019/06/28/organising-for-neurodivergent-collaboration/ for my perspective on the bigger picture. Nothing beats autistic collaboration 🙂
Wonderful! Great for employers!
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