More Than Awareness: Autistic People Deserve Acceptance in the Workplace
As the world celebrates Autism Awareness Month, how can companies embrace and value their autistic members and provide genuine acceptance for autistic people in the workplace?
Autism is defined by the National Autistic Society as “a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world”. It is not a disease to be cured, nor a behavioral challenge to be fixed. People who are born autistic will always be that way; it is an integral part of who they are.
For the past 50 years, organizations around the world have been advocating for autism awareness. Their aim was for people to understand what autism is and what it is like to be autistic. Awareness comes from a stance of emphasizing the differences between autistic and allistic (non-autistic) individuals.
Today, there is a growing need to shift the language from awareness to acceptance. Full acceptance is to value the individual for who they are, not ask them to change or mask to fit in a world that is not designed for them.
When autistic acceptance becomes ingrained in society, we will shift our focus from division to inclusion—including everyone with all their different abilities, strengths, and interests. So, what can we do as parents, carers, colleagues, and individuals in society to fully accept autistic people in our communities, workplaces, and lives?
How We Can Promote Acceptance of Autistic People in the Workplace
#1—Give Autistic People a Chance!
According to the latest stats by the ONS: just 22% of autistic adults in the UK are in any kind of employment. This is a shocking reflection of the struggles autistic people face when trying to find a job since they are in the lowest employment percentage vs. 52% of disabled people in general and 81% of non-disabled people. The struggle to be given a chance has recently been expressed by a young man through this letter.
Last year, SHL joined a global movement of organizations that recognize neurodiversity and disability as a vital, and often missing, part of corporate inclusion. Autistic people need to be given a fair chance both in the application and selection process, and SHL is pioneering in research, in providing guidelines to adjustments, and in giving a fair testing environment to disabled people in general and autistic people in specific.
#2—Provide a Safe and Enabling Environment
To provide the necessary accommodations, autistic people need to have a safe environment where they can declare their disabilities and what accommodations they need. They should not be threatened by their differences.
SHL provides a number of options that can be considered with the candidate according to their needs and the nature of the assessment, such as providing additional time on some assessments. Assessments such as Smart Interview on Demand might be a better option than Smart Interview Live, as it gives them a chance to prepare and record in their own time. Furthermore, when having face-to-face interviews, providing clear instructions and interview questions in advance could help.
To provide the necessary accommodations, autistic people need to have a safe environment where they can declare their disabilities and what accommodations they need.
#3—Value Their Uniqueness
Autistic people are unique individuals, and no two autistic people are the same. Although some may think that autistic people have similar needs, challenges, or even strengths, this could not be farther from the truth. The infinity symbol signifies the infinite ways of being autistic. Just like allistic people, no two autistic people are the same, so no assumptions should be made. We need to value each individual’s uniqueness and the vast characteristics that they present.
#4—Make Accommodations by Listening to Their Needs
With uniqueness in mind, individuals in the workplace need to understand and know autistic people as individuals. If you are a manager or colleague of an autistic person, you should give them a space to express their preferences and needs. Accommodations could make a real difference in an autistic person’s life. Some accommodations that may help some people could be:
- Permitting flexible work patterns or working from home when necessary
- Offering them some breaks during long meetings
- Providing clear expectations and writing important points for better communication and structure
- Setting predictable schedules to help with time management and structure
- Providing noise and/ or light reduced environments
- Allowing them to do what makes them comfortable, such as wearing earplugs, sunglasses, or stimming when they are happy or anxious
By giving them a chance to be themselves, they will give their best to the organization.
#5—Cherish Autistic People in Your Workplace
Value them for the new perspectives they bring into your teams. They deserve all the respect, acceptance, and inclusion we could give them.
I hope that all autistic people experience more than awareness in the workplace and that they will be valued for who they are. I hope that when my two autistic young adults go into the workplace, they are justly accommodated so that they can contribute their best.
Finally, I wish that every autistic individual can confidently say with Judy Endow: Today, I have a full and meaningful life. I am content and happy, and I am still just as autistic as I have always been.
SHL embraces and accepts individual’s differences in the workplace. Read our blogs on various diversity and inclusion topics to learn more tips about creating an inclusive workplace.