Wired to Work Differently: Autism Spectrum Disorder
Our understanding of neurodiverse people is growing, as well as our understanding of how to help these exceptional individuals thrive at work
There’s a growing understanding of neurodiversity—an umbrella term used to describe a variety of cognitive conditions such as autism, dyslexia, dyscalculia, and ADHD—and how neurodivergent people’s differences should be seen as strengths and assets rather than a disorder they suffer from.
Despite the remarkable inroads being made in psychology and the increased acceptance of neurodivergent behaviours, the modern working world has yet to keep up. The vast majority of neurodivergent individuals are chronically unemployed or underemployed—many HR departments are hesitant to hire anyone who looks, acts, or communicates in a nontypical way.
Once in the workplace, they often face misperceptions, misunderstandings, and discrimination. Some neurotypical traits such as procrastination, challenges following through, and difficulty deciding how to prioritize tasks can be misconstrued as laziness and a lack of motivation—when it’s a cognitive process, not a character flaw.
So just how common are neurodivergent individuals? And how can they support themselves, and be supported, in the workplace?
Neurodiversity includes but is not limited to: ADHD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Dyscalculia, and Dyslexia.
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
A complex spectrum condition that affects how people communicate and interact with the world—including, but not limited to, repetitive patterns of behaviour, difficulty adapting to change, and challenges with communication. But no definition can truly capture the range of characteristics for those who are “on the spectrum.”
1 in 66 children in Canada experience ASD, including 1 in 42 boys and 1 in 189 girls.
• Attention to detail
• Logical thinking
• Visual memory/information retention
• Sensory sensitivities
• Speech and articulation issues
• Difficulty perceiving others’ emotional state
• Difficulty multitasking
• Challenges with time management
• Challenges with organization
• Difficulty navigating unwritten social rules
• Difficulty navigating nuance and tonal shifts
5 Workplace Tips
1. Exit. Have an exit strategy in place in case of sensory overload. You don’t have to leave the job site—just try to find a quiet, calm environment to escape to with noise-cancelling headphones for a few moments.
2. Fidget. Like those with ADHD, fidget toys can be a great way to calm, relax, and focus and reduce the need to stim (repetitive movements some ASD individuals use to manage emotions and cope with overwhelming situations).
3. Find it. Find one friendly coworker who understands ASD and can advocate for you and help you navigate your workplace’s social rules and communication styles.
4. List it. Make a list of your triggers and use this as a basis of discussion with your coworkers or supervisors.
5. Clarify it. If your coworkers and supervisor aren’t speaking in a direct or straightforward manner, don’t be afraid to ask them for clarification.
• Sir Anthony Hopkins
• Nikola Tesla
• Vincent van Gogh
• Greta Thunberg
• Daryl Hannah
Sources: Sources: institute4learning.com, disabled-world.com, wired.com, exceptionalindividuals.com, additudemag.com, caddac.ca