By George P. Linke, Jr., Psy.D.

Many companies nowadays are acknowledging the importance of creating a more inclusive and neurodiverse workplace by creating strategies and programs that aim to attract and retain workers with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Not only is this movement creating jobs for many individuals with autism, but the hiring companies are seeing successful returns when it comes to productivity, innovation, and efficiency.

Microsoft, for example, has established a program initiating a push to hire more employees on the autism spectrum. The program provided resources, such as mock interviews, for applicants with ASD. It also introduces specific training for interviewers to better understand different communication styles. Through this initiation, Microsoft has been able to hire individuals with autism for various roles.

Another company, JP Morgan Chase, also introduced a program in 2015 focused on hiring employees with autism. Six months into the program, the company saw that when compared to peers, employees with autism were 48 percent faster and as much as 92 percent more productive.

Companies such as Walgreens, Accenture, and Ernst & Young, are only a few names that have been successfully running such programs. They have reported an increase in productivity, efficiency and work quality in job areas where neurodiverse employees were employed.

Understanding that diversity and inclusion in the workforce bring greater innovation and creativity, you may want to start hiring more neurodiverse employees. However, before you bring this big cultural change in your company, you need to make sure you are well prepared to accommodate such a development.

Accommodating Employees on the Autism Spectrum

People with ASD may develop some limitations that can greatly impact their work and life activities. Most, if not all, will require specific accommodations to perform their tasks. The following are examples of what managers need to think about when managing employees and candidates with autism in the workplace.

Clarifying Job Expectations

Sharing clear expectations about the job are especially important to share when interviewing a candidate with an ASD. Not only should your job description cover all of the key functions of the job, but you also need to explain the etiquette and unwritten rules of the workplace. With that information, the candidate can fully understand their responsibilities and gain a greater scope of the workplace atmosphere. Together, you can decide if the candidate is right for the position.

Set Clear Instructions and Be Specific in What You Want

When giving out an assignment or specific task, individuals with autism benefit greatly from clear direction. If possible, providing written step-by-step instructions will greatly improve your employee’s ability to perform at their highest capacity. If it is not possible to provide such instruction, assure them that they can always seek assistance if they feel the responsibility is unclear.

Provide Necessary Training

On-the-job training for communication and other interpersonal skills is vital for employees on the spectrum, as many individuals with autism struggle with expressing their needs. This can be provided informally on the job by a manager or colleague but consider hiring a specialized coach to hold training sessions for your employees. Research indicates that behavioral training strategies can be very successful.

Provide Reassurance in Stressful Situations

Given a stressful situation, individuals with autism may find themselves quite anxious. There is a greater possibility that they may react inappropriately if things don’t go according to plan.

For example, a relatively small issue, such as a printer failure, can cause extreme anxiety. In this situation, having protocols set up – such as a backup printer, can lessen anxiety. Also, it is very important to offer validation and lead neurodivergent employees through their solution path. Once the employee feels heard and understands how to achieve their solution, he/she will feel much calmer.

Use a Direct Approach When Providing Feedback

Employees with autism may have difficulty in understanding social cues or indirect feedback. This can result in confusion. Being straightforward and using a direct approach when giving feedback is important for all employees, but especially for an individual with autism.

Ask About Sensory Distractions

Sometimes, individuals with autism are especially sensitive to environmental noise. They may prefer working in an area that is more private or benefit from screens or shields around their desk, non-fluorescent lighting or even noise-canceling headsets. Of course, everyone is different, but in general, individuals with autism are more likely to be distracted by things that their coworkers may not even notice.

Help Staff Members Prepare for Change

Before making any cultural changes in your workplace, it’s important to create awareness among your current employees. Training and workshops related to autism can help managers and coworkers understand their colleagues and how to support them. Training in effective communication strategies can also be helpful.

If you want to have a more inclusive and efficient workplace, consider utilizing the above tools. If you feel that you have any information to add to this conversation please click this link to join the conversation.

George Linke is the Founder and President of Linke Resources. He is an executive & professional search consultant specializing in healthcare and human services. He has a demonstrated track record of placing well qualified professionals that advance the clinical and programmatic needs critical to an organization’s mission and financial health. He has extensive experience serving individuals with behavioral health needs, intellectual disabilities, autism and other developmental disabilities. To learn more about how Linke Resources can make the hiring process efficient, successful and stress-free, call 610-873-4813.