There are an estimated 40,000 British Columbia adults with autism who are either unemployed or in employment that doesn’t make full use of their unique skills and talents. It’s becoming a recognized fact that these individuals bring a lot to the table of any workforce: an ability for high levels of focus and concentration, excellent pattern recognition skills and an eye for truly out of the box thinking are just some of the benefits that big multinational companies such as Microsoft and JP Morgan Chase have been discovering through their autism specific hiring processes.
As with any employee group, there are some challenges of employing people with autism. As with all of these challenges, the trick is to look for solutions that not only meet the needs of the group but also help to improve your organization as a whole. Some examples of potential challenges of hiring people on the autism spectrum that can actually become companywide benefits include:
- Over stimulating work environment – one of the hallmarks of autism is that it makes it hard for people with the condition to be in environments with lots of stimulation. This usually refers to sound and light, but can also relate to other people or the pressure of deadlines. By reducing sensory input for all staff members, employers typically find that overall anxiety goes down and productivity goes up. It is always worth surveying all staff about potential changes to their working environment as it can be eye-opening as to common practices that are universally hated.
- Abstract communication – there are literally hundreds of books and articles on how to communicate effectively in the workplace. Many of these centre around the need for clear and simple messages that are easy to send and easy to receive. However, it’s not until the company hires an individual with autism that these ideas are truly put into practice. Individuals with ASD often miss the hidden meanings in abstract language (for example, sarcasm, metaphors and idioms), and by eliminating these from emails and meetings, companies will find that interpersonal relationships improve as there are no hidden subtexts to try and decipher.
- Complex tasks need breaking down – Employing people on the autism spectrum will often need complex tasks breaking down into their component parts. While this may seem arduous at first, many organizations use this as an opportunity to re-examine their practices and often find ways to simplify the task and make things more efficient. It’s also a great way to harness the out of the box thinking of the employee with autism by having them look for better ways to complete the tasks that they have been assigned.
One final perceived challenge stems from the belief that individuals with autism find it hard to interact socially. While this can be true in some situations, it often requires some changes on the behalf of the existing staff. This requires a certain amount of empathy and patience, and there is no company in British Columbia who wouldn’t better from having more empathic and patient staff across the board.