Top Workplace Accommodations for Employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder

March 7, 2023

When most people think of workplace accommodations, they tend to associate them with physical, visible disabilities. However, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) covers a wide range of disabilities that are considered “invisible.” An “invisible disability” is a disability that might not be physically noticeable, and include conditions such as brain injuries, mental illness, diabetes, autism, ADHD, dyslexia and more. 

In our last blog, we discussed key strategies for accommodating employees with ADHD. To continue our Accommodating Invisible Disabilities Series, we will be discussing ways to accommodate employees with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  

Many employees who have been diagnosed with ASD, ADHD, or another invisible disability, may feel that they need to hide their condition to appear unproblematic. However, many employees with invisible disabilities can improve their productivity and feel more comfortable with the right accommodation. These accommodations often cost very little, or even nothing at all, so there are many benefits to fostering a culture of inclusivity and encouraging workers to request accommodations. In this blog, we’ll explore the ins and outs of autism spectrum disorder, and why those with ASD can be loyal, innovative, and highly productive employees. We’ll also take a look at some ways organizations can accommodate and support them.  

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder, and how can it affect employees?  

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that causes differences in the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 5.4 millions adults in the United States have ASD, making up more than 2% of the population. Those with severe forms of ASD are often diagnosed early in life. However, other individuals on the spectrum may not be diagnosed until they are much older.  

The symptoms of ASD exist on a spectrum, which means the severity can range widely.  

Some of the symptoms of ASD in working adults often include:  

  • Difficulty interpreting what others are thinking and feeling  
  • Challenges with emotional control 
  • Highly specific interests 
  • Repetitive behaviors and trouble adjusting to change 
  • Challenges following and keeping conversations moving 

Please keep in mind that this list does not include all symptoms of ASD, and symptoms can present very differently from individual to individual. 

What are the benefits of recruiting and retaining employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder?  

Embracing those with ASD into your workforce brings fresh perspectives to your organization and brings much-needed diversity of thought and ideas. Employers who recruit and retain workers with autism have the advantage of employing individuals with many of the following traits:  

  • Creative problem-solving skills: 
    People with ASD are neuro-diverse, which means that their brains possess and respond to information differently than those who are neurotypical. This means that they can bring unique perspectives to issues and “out of the box” thinking. 
  • Excellent Attention to Detail
    Those with ASD often have excellent attention to detail and great memory. This can help with them be more accurate and notice details that might have otherwise been overlooked . 
  • Honest and Direct
    People with ASD are often known to be very honest and direct, and they can be quick to say precisely what they think. As an employee, a person like this wouldn’t make excuses, and prefer instead to show up to do the work and be truthful about their activities.  

What types of accommodations can help employees with autism spectrum disorder?  

If you have decided to employ someone on the spectrum — maybe you already do — the first thing you’ll want to think about is training. Before their first day, it is important to think about what kind of job coaching they may need to feel supported in their role.  

Focusing on continuous training in communication and other interpersonal skills is vital for keeping neurodiverse employees engaged and happy— while also improving their overall job performance. In addition to employee training, awareness training for managers and coworkers can help others understand their colleagues and how to support them.  

There are many other ways to accommodate those with autism in your workplace, and most don’t require shelling out the big bucks. It’s important to keep in mind that it may take an in-depth interactive process to discover what each employee needs for their specific disorder. Here are some examples from the JAN (Job Accommodation Network), of accommodations that may be able to help your neurodiverse employees.  

To help employees with autism be more attentive your workplace could offer:  

  • Alternative lighting  
  • Noise cancelling earbuds  
  • Flexible scheduling  

Accommodations that can help manage stress:  

  • Modified break schedules  
  • One-one communication  
  • Support animal  
  • Sun stimulating stress lamps  

To assist those with sensitivity issues, these accommodations are recommended:  

  • Blue light filters  
  • Remote work options  
  • Modified workspaces  

Do note that this is by no means an exhaustive list. It is a good idea to ask employees themselves what potential accommodation can help most. The great news is that most of these accommodations cost very little and can easily be modified and customized to each individual. 

What are some best practices for managing accommodations for employees with ASD?

When thinking about how to best accommodate employees with Autism, it’s important to note that they are protected under the American with Disabilities Act. Legally, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees to perform essential functions. Additionally, following ADA best practices is beneficial for your company’s culture and all employees’ experiences when accommodating employees with Autism. Let’s review a few of the most important ones. 

  • Make it accessible and stigma free to request an accommodation
    Even if you see an employee struggling, unfortunately you cannot require them to ask for an accommodation. The best thing to do is raise awareness, and continuously let your employees know they have options. Using software like AbsenceSoft that offers a self-service portal gives employees an easy way to make and track a request for an accommodation, especially if they are hesitant about calling or emailing someone directly. 
  • Provid a clear and equitable interactive process 
    Because every individual with ASD is going to have different needs, and potentially different accommodation requests, it is important to have a well-established, thorough ADA interactive process. The better the interactive process goes, the more likely that you will find an accommodation that will benefit the employee for the duration of their employment  
  • Clear communication throughout the process 
    Once an employee has been granted their accommodation, it’s important to continue to communicate with the employee. We recommend, establishing a regular cadence for checking in. With AbsenceSoft, you are able to set up automated follow-up reminders, to ensure you are continuing to support your employees  

Final Thoughts 

Employees with ASD bring unique and diverse perspectives to your organization, and skills not often found in neurotypical employees. Recognizing and supporting cognitive diversity in your workplace can create a more inclusive and welcoming environment for everyone. By ensuring that your accommodation process is easy to access, thorough, and personalized, you can create a truly “people first” workplace where neurodiverse employees can thrive.

Check out our free guide to learn how technology can transform workplace accommodations: Best Practices for Modern ADA and Accommodation Management. To see how AbsenceSoft can help you more effectively manage accommodations, schedule a demo today