“Autistic people are geeks with no communication skills!” “And just like in the film Rain Man, they can remember all the names in a telephone directory and count hundreds of matches with one look. But they really can’t do anything else.” Now, do you really believe this?
Well, it so happens that not everybody with autism is an uncommunicative geek or as institutionalised and unemployable as the character portrayed in ‘Rain Man’. How about people like Albert Einstein, Mozart or Isaac Newton? They have shaped our world with their genius and their different ways of thinking.
Having autism doesn’t of course automatically mean that you are a genius. However, many people with autism are actually extremely intelligent and excel in structured situations. Yes, they can struggle in unstructured social situations, as most just cannot do small talk. But, do you want your employee to be good at their job or good at practising small talk?
Burden vs. Bonus
You say, “I’ve heard that people with autism are rigid in their thinking, cannot adapt to change and are disruptive in the workplace because of this.” Could you now please tell me how many non-autistic people you know who grumble about change? Yes, it is a well-known fact that most people don’t like change, autistic or not, hence the increased popularity of “change management” these days. It is generally the case that you will get an unpleasant reaction from most of your employees if you change something at short notice. However, if you plan and manage the change correctly and tell everybody what is happening, they know what to expect and anxiety levels won’t rise too much. This approach will benefit all your employees; the need for this is obviously not exclusive to autistic employees. Employing a person with autism and putting extra measures in place would therefore not be a burden on the company but actually a bonus.
Stagnation vs. Innovation
Can I just ask how innovation happens in your company? Do you have people in your organisation who think differently to anybody else, in a way that is completely unique? Or are you struggling to innovate because there is not enough diversity in your workplace? In that case, you should seriously consider employing a creative and well-qualified person with autism. “Inclusivity and Diversity” are the new buzzwords floating around the business world at the moment. They have not just been pulled out of thin air because they sound good together. Their meaning goes beyond ‘buzz’ and actually looks at the enormous benefits of including people who are different. It promotes the unique innovations that can come from a different-thinking mind and their effect on a company’s success. Not including diversity these days equals stagnation. And with this, we are back at the Einsteins, Mozarts and Newtons of this generation.
Disruption vs. Smooth Operation
Accepting and handling difference can be a challenge, but there can be significant rewards for making the effort.
So what would be the main issues with managing people with autism? The answer is sensory issues, the inability to easily think like everyone else, and a lack of understanding as to how most of the world likes to build relationships.
- Sensory issues: These can lead to excessive stress in the workplace unless a sensory environment is provided, that suits the autistic employee. This will vary from person to person and often requires just minor adjustments. There is no one solution that suits everybody, but knowledge and understanding will make this issue an easy one to resolve. And, in any case, how many of your other employees dislike background noise, and would prefer quieter places to work in?
- Different ways of thinking to people without autism: This just needs tolerance, acceptance, and appreciation of diversity. People with autism may appear rude at times, but if you know they are not doing it deliberately, surely you can simply take what they say at face value and not take it personally? People with autism will not generally put things between the lines for you to read. So why insist on reading things into what they say when there really is nothing there to read? And wouldn’t everybody in your workplace benefit from being accepted and valued for just being the person they are, despite all their quirks?
If social issues really become a problem, Aspiedent offers social skills training for employees and managers with autism and "inverse social skills training" for the rest of the workforce. This training encourages mutual understanding of difference. Once you understand, it is much easier to accept.
If, after reading this post, you feel that you would benefit from further guidance and advice, please consult our website www.aspiedent.com, or contact Jen Blacow, our Communications Manager, by e-mail or mobile: 07717 404846. We would be pleased to help you with finding the right strategy for your business.
None of us are perfect. We all have our quirks. We have to tolerate and adapt to each other, whether we are autistic or non-autistic. With autism, all you need is more tolerance and a greater willingness to adapt and to try to understand each other. Once that is in place, few other changes are necessary.
As you can see an “autism-friendly workplace” is actually an “everybody-friendly workplace”, and nothing to be scared about.