How to Hire Someone With Autism
Being on the autism spectrum has traditionally been a barrier to gainful employment — of the 2.5 million people diagnosed with autism, 85% are unemployed. This is especially egregious considering that people on the spectrum are more than capable of being productive members of the workforce and often possess many unique skills and talents.
These figures are largely due to a poor understanding of the condition and how it requires those individuals to function in the world. Fortunately, with more research and the tireless self advocacy of people on the spectrum this attitude is changing. Hiring someone with autism is a net benefit to society but can also benefit a business. Here's a toolkit to better recruit and retain a neurodiverse employee.
How to Interview Someone with Autism
One of the hardships frequently faced by people on the autism spectrum and the neurodiverse in general is a mismatch with traditional modes of communication, and though they may be more than qualified for a position, interviewing can be a challenge. If a prospective hire discloses their autism to you in their query it can be beneficial to both you and the candidate to ask if there might be a way to accommodate their specific needs in meeting for their interview.
Ask yourself if it’s possible for the interview to be conducted over the phone or by email. Do they need a particular time of day to be at their best? What about the location the interview is to take place in? Is it a group interview in an open office? A nice quiet room is usually ideal for any situation, but if approached by your potential hire about any concerns over noise or ongoing workplace activity during the interview, be open to making these accommodations. Remember, you’re trying to find the best fit for your position, so you want to give your candidate an opportunity to show what they are like at their best. Something like dimming the lights in a room or conducting the interview over the phone are not especially time consuming, expensive, or difficult to do — these simple things may help you hire an incredible employee.
Autism Spectrum Accommodations
If you’ve hired a neurodiverse employee or are working to make changes for someone already at your firm, depending on the work environment certain ongoing accommodations may need to be made. This is no different than making changes to meet the unique needs of any of your workers, and doesn’t need to be challenging or difficult.
Make the effort to engage with your neurodiverse employee honestly. If they express a difficulty with noise then perhaps they can be allowed to wear noise canceling headphones. If the sharp lights in the office are overwhelming then sunglasses can be a solution or a workstation placement that puts them out of the way of this stimuli. Another helpful idea is the establishment of a “Quiet Room”, a place for your employee on the spectrum to retire to for their breaks that they can retire to that’s removed from punishing stimuli and regain the calm and fortitude required to finish out the day.
Another hardship frequently faced by the neurodiverse are social communication challenges. Eye contact can be uncomfortable and body language hard to parse and to the neurotypical, that can read as a disregard for others. This is an unfortunate misconception, as neurodiverse individuals are no less aware of or sensitive to others — it’s simply that the perceptions and reactions to them are different. If group meetings are a frequent occurrence and your neurodiverse employees struggle with it, a workable solution may be to have them phone in as a conference call so that they can be up to date on company workings and contribute to the best of their ability in that situation.
Advance notice of changes taking place in the company regarding floorplan rearrangements or changes in the specifics of workplace tasks can also help individuals on the autism spectrum more readily acclimate to them.
Feedback for Neurodiverse Employees
Regardless of the employee, at some point feedback is required to improve the workings of day to day business. For many neurodiverse individuals, directness and specificity tends to be the best tactic. A general expression of dissatisfaction in an area of work may not be taken in the way it was intended or will be confusing. Be clear about criticisms, encourage this employee’s questions on particulars, and emphasize that they come from a desire for that employee to perform at their best.
Because of the difficulty neurodiverse people frequently have with so-called “soft skills”, specific feedback about social behavior can be helpful. The ease with which these individuals can be misunderstood in social situations can cause friction, but be careful not to make assumptions in these cases. Simply try to establish communication between neurodiverse and neurotypical employees to minimize misunderstandings in the workplace.
Always keep in mind when hiring individuals on the spectrum that they are just that, individuals. Speak openly and frankly with your neurodiverse employees about their situations at work and between the team so a unique and thriving workplace can flourish.
Opinions expressed by Daivergent contributors are their own.