The employment rate for people with disabilities is very low, and the employment rate for people with mild autism is even lower, according to this fact sheet on autism employment.
However, there are many numbers of people with mild autism not captured in this fact sheet. Every day, they bolster up their courage and head into the workplace.
They face challenges with social interactions, sensory difficulties, and unwritten rules.
Perhaps you are one of those people.
I’m excited to write about best practices for people with mild autism at work. A friend of mine on the autism spectrum recommended the book, Business for Aspies: 42 Best Practices for Using Asperger Syndrome Traits at Work. The author, Ashley Stanford, is a technical writer, and the CEO of a successful software company. She’s married to a man with high functioning autism. She has documented a number of best practices to help people with mild autism harness their strengths and design a work environment suitable to them.
Here’s One Strategy To Help With Social Interaction On The Job: Think Engagement and Safety
If you’re a person with mild autism, you may struggle with sensory challenges.
- Figure out what will help you reduce sensory overload. For example, can you ask for soft light instead of fluorescent light at your desk? If you can’t make changes with the fluorescent lights, perhaps placing a black poster next to your computer or behind it will help reduce the sensory input from light.
- Consider wearing headphones while working, to cut the overload of noises in the environment.
- Consider wearing a weighted vest. Or you can wear a pair of pants with heavy objects in the pockets.
- One acquaintance has taught me how to use aromatherapy to calm the senses.
- One person with mild autism shared some of his tips for staying focused and calm in the midst of sensory bombardment: he keeps a drawer full of “fidget toys” to play with while he’s thinking, like juggling balls and hacky sacks; a Rubik’s cube; and a picture of his wife. You could have other comforting things, like a particular type of candy, a figurine of a favorite cartoon or movie character, or a special pillow.
Knowing your employment rights can help you create a sense of safety.
In the United States, find out if there are existing laws to help you get the work environment that best fits your needs. Search online for the name of your state, city, region, or country plus search terms such as:
- employee rights
- employee protection
- department of labor
- workplace fairness
- labor law
I recommend contacting your employee assistance program at your company and speaking with a therapist who can, with confidentiality, coach you about how best to advocate for some basic accommodations at work. Or, if you feel uncomfortable contacting your employee assistance representative, consider finding a local therapist who can coach you as you advocate for yourself.
Engagement is tricky when dealing with mild autism.
Get to know one or two work colleagues you can trust.
Spend some time just observing people around you. Pick out one or two people who seem to have the characteristics of a good friend. Take your time getting to know them, keeping the friendship pyramid in mind. Once you’ve developed an evolving friendship, you may feel safe enough to share your diagnosis with them. They can then coach you on a) things you are doing well in your interactions with others; and b) things you may need to do less of or improve on.
Check out Improve Your Social Skills (free website) or get a copy of How to Talk to Anyone: 92 Little Tricks for Big Success in Relationships.
Limit the amount of meetings you go to. Talk to your manager to find what the most essential meetings are.
Perhaps you can arrange to work from home.
Tim Ferris lays out some practical strategies to make the case for fewer meetings and for working from home to your manager in his book, the Four Hour Work Week.
Penelope Trunk is controversial in both the autism and neurotypical communities, but she has successfully started a couple of companies, and has written career advice columns.
She’s also diagnosed with Aspergers, or high functioning autism.
Here’s a series of articles she’s written regarding Aspergers, and most of them center around navigating Aspergers and the workplace. Here’s an article she wrote about How Successful People Deal With Aspergers.
Rudy Simone has written an excellent book called Aspergers on the Job: Must-have Advice for People with Asperger’s or High Functioning Autism, and their Employers, Educators, and Advocates.
Here’s review of the book from Amazon:
Up to 85% of the Asperger’s population are without full-time employment, though many have above-average intelligence.
Rudy Simone, an adult with Asperger’s Syndrome and an accomplished author, consultant, and musician, created this insightful resource to help employers, educators, and therapists accommodate this growing population, and to help people with Asperger’s find and keep paid work.
Rudy’s candid advice is based on her personal experiences and the experiences of over 50 adults with Asperger’s from all over the world, in addition to their employers and numerous experts in the field.
Detailed lists of “what the employee can do” and “to employers and advocates” provide balanced guidelines for success, while Rudy’s “Interview Tips” and “Personal Job Map” tools will help Aspergians, young or old, find their employment niche.
There is more to a job than what the tasks are. From social blunders, to sensory issues, to bullying by coworkers, Simone presents solutions to difficult challenges. Readers will be enriched, enlightened, and ready to work—together!
I hope you found this article helpful. What other tips do you have for both safety and engagement in the workplace?
photo credit: blumpy