Autism in the Workplace: A Comprehensive Guide

We’ve all heard of autism, but have you ever wondered how hard it is for autistic people to find employment or what the benefits and challenges of autism in the workplace are? If yes, dive in and read more about autism and how we can contribute to creating a more diverse and inclusive workplace.

What Is Autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) describes a group of neurological developmental conditions that affect a person’s ability to communicate and interact with others.

There is no single cause of autism, but it is often thought that a combination of genetic and environmental factors causes it. Even though there is no cure for autism, early intervention and therapy can improve the outcomes.

Symptoms can vary from mild to severe, and they typically appear before the age of three. People with autism may have difficulty understanding or using spoken language and have trouble reading or writing. Some people with autism are entirely nonverbal.

Other common autism symptoms include resistance to change and intense interest in certain subjects. Some people may also exhibit repetitive behaviors or engage in stimming (self-stimulatory behaviors).

The Five Types of ASD

  1. Asperger’s syndrome or Level 1 Autism Spectrum Disorder
  2. Rett syndrome
  3. Kanner’s syndrome
  4. Pervasive Developmental Disorder – Not Otherwise Specified (PDD-NOS)
  5. Childhood Disintegrative Disorder (CDD)

Autism and the Workplace

While some people with ASD may be highly functioning and able to hold down a job, others may struggle with social interaction, communication, and repetitive behaviors.

Autistic employees can have difficulty understanding social cues, making eye contact, or engaging in small talk. As a result, they may come across as aloof or uninterested in others, making it difficult to build relationships with colleagues. They may also have difficulty completing tasks that require teamwork or collaboration. 

However, some people have high-functioning autism in the workplace, which doesn’t hinder progress in their careers. Having an autism workforce comes with its own benefits and challenges that, if acknowledged and supported in the right way, can help create a more diverse and inclusive work environment.

Read more: Diversity in the Workplace Statistics

Benefits of Autism in the Workplace

Autistic employees are often detail-oriented and can easily catch errors others might overlook. In addition, they usually have strong pattern recognition skills, the ability to focus on a task for long periods, and excellent observation skills regarding detail. For example, their attention to detail can be valuable in many occupations, such as quality control or proofreading.

In addition, autistic people often have strong problem-solving skills and the ability to think outside the box, which can help generate new ideas and solutions. An autistic employee can offer a unique perspective that can benefit brainstorming sessions and other collaborative situations.

Finally, autism is sometimes accompanied by savant syndrome, which can lead to exceptional memory, calculation, or musical abilities. While not all autistic people have savant syndrome, those who do can bring unique skills to the workplace.

Challenges of Autistic Employees

One of the biggest workplace challenges for people with autism is communication. Many have difficulties reading social cues, making it hard to know when and how to communicate with co-workers. Unfortunately, autism at work can often lead to isolation and exclusion from the workplace community.

Another common challenge is sensory processing. Many people with autism are sensitive to certain sounds, smells, or textures that can make the workplace uncomfortable.

Finally, people with autism may also have difficulty with executive functioning skills such as time management and organization, making it hard to meet deadlines or keep track of tasks.

Workplace Accommodations for Autism

While people with ASD face many challenges in the workplace, some accommodations can help them succeed.

For example, some individuals with autism may benefit from a set schedule or routine, as this can help reduce anxiety and confusion. In addition, employers should provide clear expectations and instructions to employees with ASD.

Some individuals with autism may need help with social skills training through individual coaching or group sessions. Employers should also stimulate social interaction and collaboration among team members. Moreover, they can encourage employees to learn more about autism in the workplace by offering training sessions.

Read more: What Is Coaching in the Workplace

Other work accommodations for autism include workstations equipped with noise-canceling headphones or other tools that reduce sensory overload. In addition, some people with ASD may benefit from having a quiet space to retreat to when they feel overwhelmed.

Tips for Working with Autistic Adults

There is no one-size-fits-all answer on how to work with someone with autism, as each person with ASD will have their own unique needs and preferences. However, here are some tips that might help:

1. Be patient and understanding. Remember that people with autism often process information differently than most people, so don’t get frustrated if they don’t understand something or take a little longer to respond.

2. Adapt your communication style to match theirs. Some people on the spectrum prefer clear and concise communication, while others may appreciate more detail or visual aids.

3. Respect their sensory sensitivities. People with autism can be susceptible to sound, light, touch, smell, etc., so try to avoid anything that may be overwhelming for them.

4. Make sure they have a clear understanding of expectations. Be explicit about what you expect from them regarding work tasks, deadlines, etc.

5. Offer support and accommodations as needed. There are many available resources for assisting people with autism to succeed in the workplace, so don’t hesitate to ask for help.

If you have any questions or concerns, it’s always best to speak with the person with autism directly and get their input on what would work best. In most cases, the skills needed to work with autistic adults boil down to being patient, supportive, and open to hearing them out.

Finally, remember that everyone on the autism spectrum is different, so it’s important to tailor your approach to each individual.

Autism Spectrum Jobs

There is a variety of in-demand jobs that autistic adults can apply for, depending on their skills and interests. 

For example, some people with ASD may excel at data entry or other repetitive tasks, making them well suited for positions in office support or data entry.

People with autism often have exceptional focus and attention to detail. These qualities can make them successful in jobs requiring precision and concentration, such as engineering or computer programming.

Finally, many people with ASD have excellent memories and outstanding verbal skills, which they can use in customer service or telemarketing jobs.

However, getting a job with autism these days is still a challenge. Autism in the workplace statistics show that more than 66% of young adults on the spectrum are unemployed, according to the data published by Autism Society.

The best way to find employment for people with ASD is with the help of a local Autism Society affiliate or Department of Vocational Rehabilitation, which has representation in each US state and territory. They assist people with autism in all matters, from education to employment.

Resources for Employers and Employees with Autism

Employers and employees affected by ASD can find resources through several organizations, including the Autism Society, the Autism Society of America, Autism Speaks, and the National Autistic Society. These organizations offer support and information on various topics, including employment for autistic adults, education, housing, health care, and more.

By understanding ASD and knowing where to find resources on autism in the workplace, employers and employees can create a supportive environment that allows everyone to thrive.

Success Stories of People with ASD

While autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is often seen as a hindrance in the workplace, there are many stories of autistic individuals who have found success.

Oscar award-winning actor Sir Anthony Hopkins was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome at an early age. Hopkins openly talked about how this reflected on his life and career.

Another example is Temple Grandin, a professor of Animal Science at Colorado State University and author of several books. Grandin has been an inspiring speaker on autism and talks about how she reached success not despite but rather thanks to autism.

Final Thoughts on Autism in the Workplace

Autism is a complex neurological disorder that comes with many challenges and benefits in the workplace. However, with suitable accommodations, autism can be a strength rather than a weakness in the workplace.

If you’re an autistic adult looking for a job, know that many opportunities are available to you – you just need to find the right fit. We hope this article has given you some insights into what it’s like to work with autistic adults and how much they have to offer organizations.

FAQ on Autism in the Workplace