May 02, 2014

7 Things Every Boss Should Know About Their Autistic Employees

You may or may not know it, but if you're a decent-sized company, you have Autistic people working for you. We don't always announce ourselves as such, but we're there.
Here are some tips for optimizing the workplace, but it all comes down to treating each individual as valuable and with respect.

1) If you're not sure about our mood from our facial expressions, just ask, don't assume. I tend to rub my head a lot, the way people do when they have a headache, so it worries people who don't know me. I also tend to look very serious. It just means I'm thinking or concentrating. Ask if you aren't sure - don't just think we're in a bad mood all the time or angry at you.

2) Give us alternatives or choices in how we work or organize our workstation. If it doesn't disturb anyone else, let us sit on a therapy/exercise ball, stand, or sit cross-legged. For example, I often sit on my office chair but on my feet and legs. I have even sat on the floor cross-legged in certain offices. If the person is not greeting clients, try to have some flexibility in how they present themselves. Focus on the productivity and happiness of your employees and less about the method or presentation.

3) Encourage us to take breaks and eat, but don't Mother us. If it weren't for others getting up around me and leaving, I often forget to take a break. I do realize I am hungry at some point, but I will often just eat at my desk. Encourage us to get up and stretch our legs, take a bathroom break or eat. Sometimes we are so focused, we forget. Some of us will also have to be told when to go home.

4) If you want us to be involved, you need to directly ask us. I do not assume when someone says, "who wants to go for lunch?" that they want me to join them. I am used to being alone and left out, so I usually just think I am not wanted around. If you want to include me, you need to actually come up to me, say my name and ask. If I tag along but do not say much, it's because I don't know what to say or when to jump in a conversation, but it doesn't mean I'm not enjoying myself.

5) Privately tell us if we've been inappropriate in speech or manner. If our hygiene is not up to snuff, we stand too close to people when we talk, or we've said something rude, take us aside privately and tell us simply. In other words, be direct, but kind. Don't use euphemisms or hint at issues. Even though it can be hard to say, you really do need someone to clearly tell us where we have erred because we honestly don't always know when we've offended and without you pointing it out to us, we can't change.

6) Understand that if we ask for specific accommodations we are not just being spoiled or difficult. Some perfumes and colognes give me migraines. I will not be able to stay at a job I like for very long if my co-workers give me migraines with their scents. Consider making a blanket rule for everyone. Or, as a compromise in one office I worked at, people were not allowed to spray perfume at their desks; they could do that in the bathroom. I was able to manage as long as perfume wasn't being sprayed all around me. Similarly, if we need noise cancelling headphones or ear plugs to function, please allow us those things.

7) We will be your most loyal employees when you let us use our talents and knowledge to their full extent. I have a meticulousness and eye for detail like no one else in my department. I'm really good at finding bugs and problems. Rather than get upset that there are bugs in the code, encourage your employee to keep finding more if that's what they're good at. I wasn't hired to do that, but my workplace is cool enough to let me use my skills to their advantage. There are few things worse than a bored employee who feels like they're wasting their talents, so find out what each individual is good at and let them shine.

You may be interested to read all my other posts about Autistics at work.

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