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Providing innovative accommodations in autism-friendly workspaces

While workplace accommodations like dimming the lights and wearing noise-canceling headphones are essential to autistic workers, it’s time to dive deeper into the conversation of workplace accommodations for autism.

While workplace accommodations like dimming the lights and wearing noise-canceling headphones are essential to autistic workers, it’s time to dive deeper into the conversation of workplace accommodations for autism. I have a unique perspective on this because I am an autistic person who has worked in various traditional work environments. I’ve seen all sides of the workplace accommodation conundrum and can say that it is complex and confusing, and it shouldn’t be. Often people will come to auticon with a tumultuous past of short-lived jobs, and when asked why those jobs didn’t work out, it’s because they weren’t able to access the simple accommodations required to perform the job. Usually, these people knew that they were entitled to accommodations, but they didn’t know who to ask, or what types of accommodations would be reasonable, or were too afraid to disclose their autism and have stigma held against them.

Unfortunately, this isn’t surprising to hear. At many companies, it’s really up to the person who needs accommodations to start that conversation with their employer and ensure that their own ongoing needs are being met. It is clear that there needs to be a shift in general workplace culture towards true inclusion, and that means this burden is removed from the employee’s shoulders and put onto the employer’s shoulders. So, how can you as an employer start to do that?

At auticon we make a lot of individualized accommodations to people’s schedules for various reasons. Some autistic people prefer not to want to work a full 40 hours a week. For one person, 35 hours may be acceptable, but another may need a half-time accommodation with 20 hours. Not all positions will be able to be part-time, but whenever possible, consider opening them up to 30+ hours instead of the mandatory 40 hours. Apart from shortened hours, allowing for flexible hours is often very helpful. Some autistic people can be hyper-focused and get more done in less time but will also need more break time afterward to prevent burnout. Allowing flexibility in the actual hours worked, as long as the work gets done on time, will accommodate this common autistic working style. Other people may have frequent appointments, rely on public transportation that runs on a set schedule, or have precise routines that would be upsetting to break, and allowing for slightly different hours or longer breaks can be an easy way to accommodate them.

Second, let people know that you are an autism-friendly inclusive employer! Most job postings these days have a little disclaimer stating that it is open to people of all races, sexualities, etc. However, this doesn’t mean much to the average autistic job seeker who has struggled through interviews due to lack of accommodation and understanding. When someone applies to auticon, it’s pretty apparent that they are applying to an autism-positive place, but any company can make some subtle additions to their job postings to accommodate autistic people. For example, you can invite people to send any accommodation needs when they schedule an interview. This simple step helps normalize the need for accommodations, alleviates the stress of the job seeker needing to start that conversation themselves, and lets the job seeker know that needing accommodations will not negatively impact their interview outcome. You can also give a detailed “itinerary” of the hiring process. Most autistic people like to plan and have a lot of detailed information to leave nothing to surprise. An easy way to implement this is to make it an auto-email response early on in the process. Hence, the applicants know approximately how long they might have to wait, how many interviews there could be, and generally what the process is like. At auticon, we do this after our initial phone screen and list out the next steps in detail.

Finally, only evaluate people on the skills needed for the job. This seems simple, but you might be surprised at the amount of “soft skills” you’re asking for that aren’t immediately relevant for the job if you analyzed your job postings and cross-referenced the exact needs for the job itself. Does the applicant really need to have excellent interpersonal communication or be able to lift 25lbs? Because autistic people tend to read things more literally, we often only apply to jobs that we meet 100% of the criteria for. You could be missing out on some great candidates because of the specific wording in your job postings. On our job postings, we have it explicitly written that candidates do not have to meet 100% of requirements and give specific examples whenever possible, like what we count as professional experience and what we don’t.

Asking for accommodations is scary, especially as an autistic person. It’s a process that requires self-awareness, self-advocacy, and collaboration to be done best, three things that are hard for everyone but can be even harder when you’re autistic. You can be a catalyst for more neurodiversity in the workplace by making these changes and embodying a mindset of always focusing on inclusive design and true acceptance.

Louise graduated college with a degree in psychology in 2016. Immediately after graduating, she started working in sales at Yelp for nearly 2 years. After that, Louise bounced around jobs that didn’t fully utilize her skills or interests, including tech start-ups, a marketing agency, and a property management firm. Being at auticon is the first job Louise has held where she feels that she is able to work at her full potential, within a field of interest, and that she has plenty of room for upward mobility.

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