How To Prioritize Inclusive Workplaces to Help the Autism Community Thrive
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental condition that affects 75 million individuals worldwide. It can impact social interactions, communication skills, and behavior patterns. But, it can also provide unique strengths and abilities. Unfortunately, finding and maintaining employment is a particular challenge people with ASD face, often due to a lack of understanding and accommodations in the workplace.
The Autism Society has found that more than 66% of young adults on the Autism spectrum are unemployed and are not engaged in higher education two years after exiting high school. The lack of employment not only limits people’s potential but also represents a significant loss for organizations that fail to tap into the talents of the autism community. April is Autism Acceptance Month, and in the move to create truly inclusive workplaces, it’s important to actively support the autism community this month and beyond. Here are simple and practical ways organizations and individuals have been creating a more inclusive work environment to reap the benefits of a diverse and talented workforce.
The Power of Advocacy Organizations
According to national data, autistic adults can struggle to find employment, despite their skill sets and expertise. Autism Speaks, and their partners, are an example of an advocacy organization aiming to transform employment for those on the spectrum through a very specific approach called Workplace Inclusion Now (WIN). WIN is an integrated model bringing together job seekers, employers, and communities to increase employment opportunities for autistic employees and creating a more diverse and inclusive workforce. WIN focuses on addressing employment disparities and obstacles, equipping employers to hire and retain autistic workers, and creating supportive workplace environments. In addition, they provide an accessible, inclusive digital job-sourcing platform, a digital training series for participating employers, events designed to empower communities, and direct consultation for employers on how to effectively recruit and hire a more diverse and inclusive staff. It’s comprehensive in its approach and, in return, develops a welcoming and supportive environment. This has made a positive impact in the workplace for people with autism, others in the neurodiverse community, and people with developmental differences.
The Power of Large Scale Programs
There are a number of large companies that have adopted some, or all, of these WIN practices, and made strides towards creating inclusive work environments for employees with autism. Ford, Ernst and Young (EY), and SAP are three companies that have established notable programs and policies aimed in this direction. Ford has partnered with the Autism Alliance of Michigan to establish a program that helps individuals with autism develop workplace skills and gain employment. EY has implemented a number of programs both internally and externally including building a new recruiting process to support neurodiverse candidates. And SAP has created a global Autism at Work program that has resulted in the hiring of over 200 employees with autism across 14 countries. These are only three of many organizations that are helping set an important example for others on how to prioritize inclusivity and leverage the unique strengths of individuals with autism.
The Power of Individual Accommodations
Strong policy and process doesn’t always fully equate to access and opportunity for each and every person. Even if a company is a good match and is responsive to general inclusion practices, individual adjustments and accommodations may be necessary for success. It’s important to fit the job to the person as much as fitting the person to the job. Employers are required by law to make reasonable accommodations for employees with disabilities, as long as it doesn’t cause undue hardship. Accommodations can include job restructuring, modification of work schedules, physical changes to the workspace, equipment and devices, adjustment of supervisory methods, and job coaching. Some examples of accommodations provided by the Autism Research Institute that workers can request are:
- A regular check-in to receive feedback
- A 5-minute break every hour
- The use of a kneeling chair or other ergonomic equipment
- Accessible software or assistive technology
- Adjustments to lighting, temperature, noise levels, or other sensory accommodations
When requesting accommodations, for yourself or a direct report, it’s important to approach employers with a clear and functional request. Accommodations should be developed in collaboration with people in decision making roles, with many possible solutions to any one issue.
Inclusive Workplaces Leverage Strengths of ASD Community
Creating more access and opportunity for individuals with ASD should be a priority for any company trying to create a more inclusive work environment. Companies like Ford, EY, and SAP have shown prioritizing inclusivity and leveraging the unique strengths of individuals with autism can build a more diverse, inclusive, and high-performing workforce. Accommodations, training programs, and support networks are a great first step and can help individuals with ASD thrive in the workplace while contributing their valuable skills and abilities. As we continue to strive for a more equitable and inclusive society, it is vital to ask ourselves: What is the single action we can take right now to create opportunities for each person to reach their full potential?
To learn more about creating an inclusive workplace for individuals with ASD, check out our list of resources to provide you with a better understanding of those with neurodiversity.
April 3, 2023