Zoom Autism Magazine Issue12 - Page 8

Sensory Realizing the Benefits of Autistic Inclusion in the Workplace By Steve Andrews Founder & CEO of Platinum Bay Technologies Autistic people tend to have a heightened sen- sitivity to environmental stimuli, including sensitivity to light, sound, motion and scent. I personally wear sunglasses even on cloudy days when I’m in Seattle, and a lot of visual motion can induce a seasick-like effect for me. Also, my ears don’t filter sound, and competing noises can be quite overwhelming to the point of meltdown. For others, perfumes or other scents can literally make them sick. Social Autistic people tend to struggle more than the neurotypical population with social dynamics. Quite often, the social stigmas of a “culture fit” during a hiring process are enough to exclude Autistics from the workforce. In addition, typi- cal inter-office interaction can be draining and overwhelming to the already sensitive Autistic nervous system. An Autistic person can typically only handle so much “input.” The casual social interactions that most people engage in at work can often feel like additional information that the Autistic person is tasked with processing, which feels overwhelming. This can get in the way of that Autistic person performing well in their actual work. Political I f you were to ask the parents of an Autistic young adult what their number one concern for their child’s future was, what would they say? “Will they graduate high school? Will they get a job? Will they be able to support them- selves? Will they be able to live rich and fulfilling lives?” The list of concerns and questions goes on and on. They are often right to be concerned. Recent statistics suggest that there are millions of unemployed or underemployed Autistic individuals (70-90% by some estimates), yet these individuals tend to have wonderful skills, talents and gifts that we need in our workplaces, including different perspectives that bring innovation, attention to detail, focus, honesty and loyalty. Hiring Autis- tic people should not be viewed as a charity or feel-good effort. In fact, there are numerous business benefits that can positively affect a company’s bottom line. To realize these benefits, we must first understand the unique challenges Autistic people face in the workplace. I was largely clueless to office politics during my career. I would tell the Senior Vice President that he was wrong, assuming my honesty would be appreciated. From my perspective, I was being informative in the spirit of meritocracy and con- tinuous improvement. I didn’t realize that there is an unwritten hierarchy around communica- tion in the workplace with rules that everyone else intuitively understands and follows. Autistic people tend to be honest and direct. Quite frank- ly, this should be viewed as a strength. Executive Function Executive Function challenges, including time management, organizational skills, prioritiza- tion, and handling ambiguity can be difficult for Autistic people, especially if they haven’t been exposed to those skills or learned how to navi- gate them. Challenges in the Workplace It’s not laziness that keeps Autistic people out of the workp lace. In fact, when Autistic people find their passions and purpose, lazy is the last descriptor anyone would use for them. Rather, it is the dynamics of the traditional work- place that often present tremendous barriers to employment. Here is a break- down of some of the unique challenges Autistic people face in the workplace. 8 ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses ZOOM Autism through Many Lenses 9