How to Help Someone With Autism In the Workplace

How to Help Someone with Autism in the Workplace

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Editorial by William Schroeder, LPC and co-writer Teri Schroeder, LCSW

In my private practice I work with a number of people who are on the autism spectrum and boy do I love my job. Every day I am fascinated by my clients unique perspectives on the world and their incredible sensory experience. In my work I regularly encounter some of the most gifted people who I get to work with to help create strategies that help both of us to grow. We discuss difficulties and research solutions as a team united towards growth and change. Issues covered include things like difficulties with social relationships.

Wherever you look there are examples of incredible autistic people. One such example would be a TED talk titled How Autism Freed Me to be Myself. In her talk Rosie King discusses how being autistic is the reason that she has been able to work on the BBC and have success as a writer. We have written in the past about Susan Boyle and why her being so open with her Aspergers diagnosis was so important. I have written about areas where I feel there is overlap between the strategy for overcoming elements of Autism and ADHD. Some of our most gifted and pioneering thinkers — Bill Gates, Mozart, Tim Burton, Courtney Love, Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol — these are all people who likely have or had autism. These unique thinkers are everywhere in our society as autism is now effecting 1 in 68 American children and it is important that we make sure that we “neurotypicals” learn to best connect with our gifted friends.

How to connect with someone with autism in the workplace?

In general, my advice would be to slow down and ask questions and find out people’s special interests. Everyone has unique interests but especially people on the spectrum. Interests may change but these things can include things like astronomy, anime, cars, maps, trains, creature films, music, video games, technology, guitars, fish, Japanese culture, horse racing, etc. One of the gifts of autism is having unique interests and being able to focus on them for extended periods of time. Many times these special interests lead to a career focus and often it is in a creative class.

People with Aspergers or autism often have a high degree of individuality which can make them creatively focused with their employment. Sometimes clients go the other way and do things like join the military as some people love the structure and consistency. A young man I mentored for years who was diagnosed with autism joined the military. His ability to hyperfocus helped him to zoom to the top of his class and beat all other cadets in his special interest area of foreign languages.

One of the parts of autism that I really understand and appreciate is sensory overload. Lights buzzing in a room, lots of people talking, layout of a room, temperature sensitivity, and the feeling of certain materials are examples of things that can cause overwhelm. Sometimes someone may be quiet and this could be misinterpreted when it actually could be something in the environment throwing them off. This can also be a good way to check in and see if people are comfortable as a way of connecting.

People with Aspergers and autism have so many strengths that make them valuable employees and friends. Examples include being extremely honest, ambitious, innovative, and willing to go to great lengths for friends and projects that are important to them. They are unlikely to play mind games with you and are very straight shooters in life. Loyalty and devotion are their strong points and I often have clients say how nice it is to have a partner they know will never cheat on you. People with autism tend to be non-conformists and have original personalities. These are just a few of the reasons I love my work with clients that are on the spectrum and I hope it will you connect with these incredible people as well!

Additionally, if you or anyone you know is struggling with Aspergers/Autism, you can contact us to make a counseling appointment and one of our clinicians will be happy to help. If you are curious about what the counseling process entails, you can read about Aspergers counseling on our dedicated page. One more resource that might be helpful for business owners is this article on creating a workplace for those with disabilities. Additionally, if a close one in your life is on the spectrum, you can read about more ways to support people in your life with Asperger’s.