How to Work With Autistic Peers

ICare4Autism is dedicated to building awareness and opportunities for people with autism spectrum disorders (ASD) in the workplace. Our Global Autism Workforce Initiative is developing programs throughout the US and abroad to connect autistic adults across the spectrum with training and employment opportunities appropriate for each individual’s unique interests, skill sets, and functionality. We aim to guide employers in the development of a more inclusive workforce, and are inspired by organizations such as Walgreens who actively seek to employ and provide appropriate training for people with cognitive and physical disabilities.

The upside of increased diagnosis of ASD is a broader awareness and understanding of autism beyond the autism community. Through fictional television characters, popular culture has provided glimpses into the unique character traits that can signify some form of autism and the many ways ASD can be beneficial in the workplace, although usually in over-dramatized roles as crime solvers, brilliantly quirky scientists, or crime solving scientists.  People are becoming more patient and accepting of the social difficulties many autistic people experience, and are increasingly more willing to learn how to relate and work with their autistic peers, because as we all know, autistic people have a lot to offer.

An article was published yesterday in the online version of Forbes Magazine called, “What You Need to Know About Working With Colleagues on the Autism Spectrum.” It is very encouraging in its message to be patient, reserve judgement, and employ their recommended tips to help build a work environment where everyone can perform to their best abilities. What is most encouraging, though, is the underlying subtext that it is very common to have autistic colleagues and that it is important for everyone to learn how to work with each other.

The article, co-authored by Forbes staffer Dorie Clark and Dr. Brent Betit, provides a comprehensive outline of tips and strategies for building effective professional relationships with autistic co-workers, and we invite you to add to this list or challenge any recommendations with which you disagree.

1)   Avoid eye contact if your autistic colleague does.

2)   Take their affect in stride – a flat tone of voice is a trait that can’t be controlled anymore than eye color or height.

3)   Listen carefully – many people with ASD lack understanding of the unwritten rules of communication and social interactions in the workplace. You may expect that you listen to their impressive knowledge of baseball statistics that they will feign the same interest in your cat’s cute antics. Listen with an ear to learn, not as an opening to share.  (BTW- your non-autistic colleagues probably don’t want to hear about your cat either)

4)   Minimize “social clutter” – if your colleague has a hard time fitting in and tends to be distracting in meetings, try holding video meetings. This can help everyone focus and stay on message.

5)   Embrace project management solutions – Adopt structural and workflow changes that help keep everyone organized and on track. Autistic people tend to work best within a structured environment.

6)   Embrace universal design – design a process that works for everyone, including professionals with ASD. Accommodating differences in the workplace can give you edge with recruitment and retaining the most talented workforce to build your business and your bottom line.

Let’s keep the conversation going. What do you want people with limited knowledge of autism to know about how to foster good working relationships with professionals on the autism spectrum? Please share your tips and insights by posting a comment below.

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