Creating a Healthy Work Environment for People with ASD

Kailey Blount

June 06, 2021

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What is ASD?

Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD is a neurological difference in how one's brain is wired. No neurotype is 'abnormal' or 'wrong'. Neurodivergence, including ASD, is simply a difference in how one communicates, senses and perceives the world. This being so, ASD individuals often have different needs compared to neurotypical individuals. Since acceptance starts with accommodation, it is important for workplaces to accommodate their ASD employees.

The following WITI article written by Jen Slaton further articulates the intricacies of neurodiversity: Understand How Your Brain is Wired - Neurodiversity is the New Normal - WITI

Common Workplace Accommodations for Autistic Individuals

A healthy work environment means a workplace accessible for all. Since our world naturally suits neurotypical individuals, neurodivergent individuals, including those with ASD, are often left in unhealthy and unsafe situations. Such circumstances may prohibit those with ASD from achieving their goals and in dire situations cause detrimental harm, such as long term burnout. The following accommodations may help autistic individuals who are struggling in workplaces built for a neurotype different from their own.

    Communication Accommodations: For some, verbal communication may be difficult to understand or remember. Providing written communication or instruction can alleviate communication issues. Another possible accommodation would be 'verbal recordings.' Such recordings may help those who communicate verbally, but need help remembering instruction. Asking the employee about their specific communication needs is important when creating an accommodation plan.

    Sensory Accommodations: Since each ASD individual has unique sensory sensitivities, it is important to first determine what sensitivities exist. Tailoring one's work environment to sensory needs may include placing an employee with fluorescent light sensitivity near a window or providing noise cancelling headphones for an employee with noise sensitivity. Communicating with the employee about their specific sensory sensitivities is imperative when creating a healthy work environment.

    Transportation Accommodations: If needed, develop a practical plan with the employee to ensure safe travel to the workplace. This might involve public transportation or handicap transport depending on the individual's needs.

    Physical Accommodations: Depending on the employee's needs and job, physical accommodations, such as a private working space or a certain work product may be necessary.

The following site gives a more in depth list of potential accommodations for those with ASD: JAN Publications & Articles Regarding Autism Spectrum

WITI Partner Spotlight: Microsoft

Not only has Microsoft worked to create an inclusive environment within their own company under the Microsoft Disability ERG, the tech company was also the recipient of the 2018 Disability Smart Award due to their innovative and accessible technologies for disabled customers. Microsoft offers the Microsoft Disability Scholarship, an award for high school seniors with disabilities who intend to pursue careers in technology.

Final Thoughts

Listening is the first step in any successful accommodation process. Like neurotypical individuals, neurodivergent individuals possess unique strengths and weaknesses. What works for one person may not work for another. This is why listening to one's specific needs and tailoring accommodations is important for the success of not only the ASD individual, but also the workplace.

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Opinions expressed by the author are not necessarily those of WITI.

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