autism

Autism is on the rise across the country. Currently, 1 in 45 children are diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

By Rob Wilson

However, children are not the only ones with ASD. Millions of adults have autism, along with other developmental disorders like sensory processing disorder (SPD) and learning delays like dyslexia and attention deficit disorder.

Despite this, many workplaces are not set up to manage the needs of autistic and otherwise neurologically atypical employees, even though the Americans with Disabilities Act requires that they do so.

But what measures should an employer take to support employees with autism, and when do the requirements become an undue hardship?

The answer will vary widely based upon your company’s specific environment and culture. But there are several key points that every employer should keep in mind:

Adjusting your workplace for those with ASD is legally required.

Just as you must provide handicap accessible stalls and parking spaces for employees with mobility issues, you must also be prepared to make provisions for those have different needs than neurologically typical employees.

Changes can be beneficial to all.

Many people balk at the idea of making changes to their workplace or catering to the needs of just one employee with special needs. “Maybe he just isn’t a good fit here,” they muse. “Why should we be forced to change?”

However, I have found that the changes companies make to their office environment for those with ASD and other disorders end up benefiting the whole staff. For example, one of the key requirements that many individuals with ASD have is a need for peace, predictability and the freedom to work without distractions.

There are many ways to make this happen. You could switch out bright overhead lights with warm (and energy-friendly) LED lights. You could turn off the overhead 90’s soft rock station and only play instrumental music, or better yet, none at all. Instead, permit employees to use headphones to listen to music if it doesn’t impede their workflow.

It would also be a smart idea to create a ‘quiet area’ in your office where employees could work with the expectation of absolute silence. No phone calls. No gum popping. No chatter between desks. No loud rustling of papers.

If such an area cannot be created, consider allowing your employee with ASD to work in an office with a door they can shut. While it might seem like favoritism to offer one employee a private office and not another, remember: This is not about offering special treatment, but about meeting an employee’s health needs.

All told, making such provisions will improve your office culture across the board. Each employee will benefit from a quiet office place with few distractions.

Be clear about any changes ahead of time.

People with ASD tend to need plenty of warning before they can adjust to any changes to their routine or environment. If you are going to swap out their computer program for a new version, give them a heads up. If you need them to switch desks or trade shifts with another employee, be aware that someone with ASD will need more advance warning than an employee without ASD.

Hiring staff with ASD can be incredibly beneficial for your company.

Experts theorize that if great thinkers like Einstein and Newton were alive today, they would be diagnosed with ASD.  No wonder corporations like Microsoft and Walgreens are going out of their way to seek job candidates with autism. These firms realize that autism has amazingly powerful advantages: People with autism tend to be highly intelligent and highly focused workers, along with loyal employees.

Making your workplace friendly for those with autism and other developmental disorders requires little effort, and it can pay off for everyone.

Rob Wilson is the president of Employco USA, an HR outsourcing enterprise. Follow Employco at @employco and on Facebook.