Everything you wanted to know about ASD but were too afraid to ask
Every employer is looking for the next way to get an advantage over their competition, and making shrewd hiring decisions is always part of getting the competitive edge. However, in each field, there are only so many high quality employees available, unless you know where to look.
Hiring a person with autism is very much out of the box thinking, and the benefits of employees with autism, including a high attention detail, extended periods of high intensity focus and a novel way to see old problems, easily outweigh any challenges surrounding training, feedback and office relationships. However, many employers stay away from this talented group of potential employees due to stereotypes and preconceived notions about what autism is and what it isn’t. To help put everyone on the same page, here’s everything you need to know about autism spectrum disorder.
As it’s most simplistic explanation, autism is a developmental disability that affects around 60,000 people in British Columbia. It can cause significant social, behavioral and social communication challenges, but as the saying goes “when you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism”. The reason why it’s called a spectrum is the way it affects individuals ranges massively from a severe case where the individual needs permanent 1:1 help to “high functioning” individuals who are able to engage in all aspects of adult life with some support and guidance.
Signs of autism
As an employer considering engaging in an autism hiring program, you need to know some of the signs of autism that you’ll need to work with to help support the employee with ASD. Some of common symptoms of autism include:
● Having trouble relating to other people – while this sounds like a massive obstacle for office relationships, many people with autism can learn how to handle themselves in these social situations with guidance, scripts and positive feedback. It will also be important for your employees to show empathy and understanding.
● Having trouble adapting to changes in routine – one of the reasons people with autism make great employees is that they are able to follow a series of unchanging steps for incredibly long periods of time. However, we all know life doesn’t always go smoothly even with a set checklist, so you’ll need to think about how to prepare them for changes, both expected and unexpected.
● Finding it hard to transfer skills – it will be essential to remember that your employee with autism doesn’t learn or retain new skills and information like the rest of your workforce. Any new task may require the same level of skilling up as their initial job training, and this needs to be factored into the job description and support mechanisms.
● Focusing on one specific area of interest – a person with autism doesn’t necessarily have control over what things they fixate on, but can maintain some control over how much it dominates their thoughts. As you work with the autism hiring program, you’ll want to set out to find individuals who are interested in your field of work as this will help motivate them to gain mastery quickly.
● Frequently Asked Questions Even before you introduce the employee with autism to the rest of your workforce, there will be many questions that you’ll need to field to make their transition smoother. Some frequently asked questions (and suggested answers) include:
● Can I catch autism? No. While we don’t entirely know the causes of autism, it’s not contagious.
● Is there a cure? No. However, there are many inventions and services that have been proven effective to help people with autism navigate daily life.
● What can I do to help? Be understanding and patient. You may need to explain things multiple times, and they may not respond in a way that you’d expect, but they need your empathy and trust as much as anyone else.
● Why are you hiring them? Everyone should get a fair chance to be an active member of society, and hiring someone with autism helps them to build confidence and independence. It also increases the tax base for all of us, and reduces the strain on the benefits system, so everyone gets a positive from this. This is of course the tip of the iceberg when it comes to autism spectrum disorder. As you go further into the autism hiring process, you should do some further research and consider hiring in autism awareness training for you and your staff.