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 an invisible disability may feel that they need to hide their condition to appear unproblematic. However, employees with invisible disabilities can improve their productivity and feel more comfortable with the right workplace accommodations. 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 2021, Google Cloud even launched an Autism Career Program to strengthen and diversify their workforce.
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 million 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.
Some of the signs 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. The symptoms of ASD exist on a spectrum, which means the symptom type and severity can range widely from person to person.
What are the benefits of recruiting and retaining employees with Autism Spectrum Disorder?
Inviting those with ASD into your workforce brings fresh perspectives to your organization and can bring a much-needed diversity of thought and ideas. Organizations that recruit and retain workers with autism have the advantage of employing people with many of the following traits:
- Creative Problem-Solving Skills
People with ASD are neurodiverse, which means that their brains receive and respond to information differently than those who are neurotypical. This means that they can bring unique perspectives to issues and excel at “out of the box” thinking.
- High Productivity
Research suggests that autistic employees are up to 140% more productive than their neurotypical colleagues. Those with autism often have an increased ability to focus and ability to concentrate for an extended period of time.
- 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.
- Honesty and Directness
People with ASD are often known to be very honest and direct, and they can be quick to say exactly 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—or 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 could help them feel supported in their role.
Providing ongoing training and mentorship in communication and other interpersonal skills is can be very useful for neurodiverse employees. It can help them navigate day-to-day interactions better, keep them engaged, and give them a toolkit for improving their overall job performance. Conducting awareness training for managers and coworkers can help them understand their neurodiverse colleagues and how to support them.
There are many other ways to accommodate those with autism in your workplace, and most are extremely affordable. If employee with ASD requests a workplace accommodation, don’t forget to complete the full interactive process to provide them with exactly what will help. 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 ASD be more productive, your workplace could offer:
- Alternative lighting
- Noise-cancelling earbuds or headphones
- Flexible scheduling
Accommodations that can help employees with ASD manage stress:
- Modified break schedules
- One-on-one communication
- 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 ASD, it’s important to note that ASD is a protected disability under the American with Disabilities Act (ADA). Legally, employers must provide reasonable accommodations for employees to perform essential functions. Additionally, following ADA best practices can improve for your company’s culture and the experience for all employees.
- Make it accessible and stigma-free to request an accommodation
Even if you see an employee struggling, you cannot require them to ask for an accommodation. The best thing to do is raise awareness about the availability of accommodations, and continuously let your employees know how to make a request. 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.
- Providing a clear, and fair interactive process
Because every individual with ASD is going to have different needs, it is important to have a thorough, supportive interactive process. The better the interactive process goes, the more likely it is 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 them to see how it is going. With AbsenceSoft, you are able to set up automated follow-up reminders to ensure you are continuing to support your employees.
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.