How can your workplace become more autism-friendly?
Here at Specialisterne, it is our experience that an autism-friendly workplace improves the working environment for everyone. That is why we would like to offer you three pieces of advice. Find out more here:
Three pieces of advice on how to create an autism-friendly workplace
Why do we need to pay special attention to the working environment of autistic people?
Very often, autistic employees are “the canary in a coal mine” at the workplace. We usually get stressed out quicker and more seriously by issues that also make neurotypical people ill. That is because many autistic people are more sensible towards stress, changes and conflicts at the workplace.
The good news is that creating a more autism-friendly workplace means a better working environment for everyone.
In this article, we will highlight three factors that are vital to autistic people:
- 1. Disturbing sensory input
- 2. Unpredictable tasks and organisational aspects
- 3. Social communication
Reduce disturbing sensory input
Sensory disturbance means that autistic people sense the world in a different way than neurotypical people do. Often, this means that sounds, visual input, smells and touch are perceived in a much more intense manner. We need to use more brain power than most other people in order to process this input. And that is why we might get tired much faster, unless we use a good “sensory diet” during the day. It is a good idea to use some suitable strategies for handling sensory input in order to ensure that we have enough energy at work.
This might include:
- Headphones with active sound reduction.
- Sitting in an office alone or with just a few well-known colleagues.
- Prohibiting the use of heavy perfumes at the workplace.
- A casual dress code – many autists prefer comfortable clothes.
- A break room where you can take a quick power nap or just be alone for a minute.
- The option of working at home if you are feeling low on energy one day.
Unpredictable tasks and organisational aspects make up a challenge to autistic people because our brains work like a big tanker. We might contain a lot of knowledge but it takes time, energy and concentration to turn the ship. We can handle variation and development in our work 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 level of quality. But if the work is often marked by changing tasks and organisational aspects, our workplace performance will suffer along with our mental health in general.
Predictability might include:
- A clear matching of expectations regarding how to solve a problem, including follow-up.
- Simple structures in terms of co-operation partners and reporting.
- Fixed starting times, break times and a permanent place of work.
- 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 everybody else; however, our social communication works in a different way. Within a social context, we often tire very quickly because we need to use a lot of energy on decoding and understanding all the signals and sensory input that we are receiving from colleagues, customers, sounds and light sources.
For this reason, we need the social space at the workplace to feel safe and be as predictable as possible.
A good working environment might include:
- 1. That it is OK to act in an autistic way. This might include the use of noise reducing headphones, movements (= rhythmic movements and similar), avoiding eye contact and the need for spending time alone or resting during the workday.
- 2. A mentor scheme in which the autistic employee can speak to a nice colleague about his or her challenges, both professional and private.
- 3. 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.
- 4. Instructions as to how and when written and verbal communication is to take place.
- 5. That it is OK to leave early or decline social events if the energy level is low on that day.
- 6. That you have agreed with a colleague to always have lunch together at a certain time.
A nice working environment that fits your workplace
How an autism-friendly workplace can be created in your company is something that you have to define in co-operation with the working environment representative and the autistic employees. You might want to use this text as a starting point and add whatever needs the autistic employees express.
Such a definition must be very detailed and it must relate to their work areas. Because there is a big difference between working as an IT consultant, an economist or a warehouse worker.
This article was written by Eline who works as a communication employee at Specialisterne.
Find out how to make your workplace autism-friendly