Working With a Co-worker Who Has Autism

Posted Oct 27, 2017

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Summary

  • Treat a person with autism like anyone else you work with.
  • Be patient and listen.
  • Use clear directions with specific steps.

In any workplace, you will come across someone who has a different work style than you. Sometimes people are procrastinators. Maybe a co-worker listens to music without earbuds, or cracks her knuckles. But what if you have a co-worker who doesn’t make eye contact? Or talks obsessively about trivia, yet doesn’t ask about your weekend? Maybe he gets overwhelmed in staff meetings, or doesn’t get your sarcasm. What if she needs step-by-step directions?

Your co-worker may have autism spectrum disorder. People with autism have a hard time connecting with the world around them. They may have trouble communicating. However, they are often experts in their field. They can have great skills that make them valued employees.

Treat a person with autism like anyone else you work with. Try some tips to make communicating easier.

  • Talk less. Be direct and specific.
  • Be patient. Silence is OK while you wait for an answer.
  • Be friendly, but respect his desire to avoid eye contact or handshakes.
  • Avoid sarcasm or slang. Say exactly what you mean.
  • Listen. People with autism may talk for a long time on certain subjects. They may not vary their tone. Listen patiently. You may learn something. Plus, it will help them feel included.
  • Remind them of structure during meetings. “Here is when we exchange ideas.” “We will go around the table and say what we think.”

When employees and workplaces make slight changes in communication it will help make everyone more effective. Here are some tips that can help. Be sure to ask your co-worker what works best for her. All people, with autism or without, have different communication and learning styles. Asking your co-worker for suggestions might help remove immediate roadblocks.

  • Follow a written protocol for meetings. Maybe make the person with autism the time-keeper or rule enforcer. Such outlines and time limits for meetings cut through social clutter. Protocols keep everyone on track. Then everyone gets back to work sooner.
  • Have more meetings via video conferencing or over the phone. People are more comfortable in their own environment.
  • Use common team practices like labeling folders the same or using specific organizational tools. This helps cut down on clutter and allows for easier communication.
  • Offer job coaches until people are familiar with their duties.
  • Provide visual clues and written directions.

There are many things you, your employer, and your co-workers can do to make the workplace more productive and pleasant for everyone. Read up on people with autism online or at your library. Sometimes it requires a little give and take.

Resources

“Autism Can Be an Asset in The Workplace, Employers and Workers Find,” by Yuki Noguchi. "All Things Considered." National Public Radio. www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/05/18/478387452/autism-can-be-an-asset-in-the-workplace-employers-and-workers-find.

Autism Speaks
www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/docs/employer_guide_to_hiring_and_retaining.pdf

By Jennifer Brick
Source: "Managing an Autistic Employee," The National Autistic Society, www.autism.org.uk/managing; "Adults with Autism in the Workplace" by Tom Murphy, ERS Press, www.ers-eap.com/2FC0F6/assets/files/News/20-3%20Autism.pdf; "What You Need To Know About Working With Colleagues On The Autism Spectrum" by Dorie Clark. Forbes, www.forbes.com/sites/dorieclark/2014/09/29/what-you-need-to-know-about-working-with-colleagues-on-the-autism-spectrum/2/#260e281e24ab
Reviewed by Teresa Boussom, BCBA, National Director of Autism Services, Beacon Health Options, and Drew Pate, MD, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Treat a person with autism like anyone else you work with.
  • Be patient and listen.
  • Use clear directions with specific steps.

In any workplace, you will come across someone who has a different work style than you. Sometimes people are procrastinators. Maybe a co-worker listens to music without earbuds, or cracks her knuckles. But what if you have a co-worker who doesn’t make eye contact? Or talks obsessively about trivia, yet doesn’t ask about your weekend? Maybe he gets overwhelmed in staff meetings, or doesn’t get your sarcasm. What if she needs step-by-step directions?

Your co-worker may have autism spectrum disorder. People with autism have a hard time connecting with the world around them. They may have trouble communicating. However, they are often experts in their field. They can have great skills that make them valued employees.

Treat a person with autism like anyone else you work with. Try some tips to make communicating easier.

  • Talk less. Be direct and specific.
  • Be patient. Silence is OK while you wait for an answer.
  • Be friendly, but respect his desire to avoid eye contact or handshakes.
  • Avoid sarcasm or slang. Say exactly what you mean.
  • Listen. People with autism may talk for a long time on certain subjects. They may not vary their tone. Listen patiently. You may learn something. Plus, it will help them feel included.
  • Remind them of structure during meetings. “Here is when we exchange ideas.” “We will go around the table and say what we think.”

When employees and workplaces make slight changes in communication it will help make everyone more effective. Here are some tips that can help. Be sure to ask your co-worker what works best for her. All people, with autism or without, have different communication and learning styles. Asking your co-worker for suggestions might help remove immediate roadblocks.

  • Follow a written protocol for meetings. Maybe make the person with autism the time-keeper or rule enforcer. Such outlines and time limits for meetings cut through social clutter. Protocols keep everyone on track. Then everyone gets back to work sooner.
  • Have more meetings via video conferencing or over the phone. People are more comfortable in their own environment.
  • Use common team practices like labeling folders the same or using specific organizational tools. This helps cut down on clutter and allows for easier communication.
  • Offer job coaches until people are familiar with their duties.
  • Provide visual clues and written directions.

There are many things you, your employer, and your co-workers can do to make the workplace more productive and pleasant for everyone. Read up on people with autism online or at your library. Sometimes it requires a little give and take.

Resources

“Autism Can Be an Asset in The Workplace, Employers and Workers Find,” by Yuki Noguchi. "All Things Considered." National Public Radio. www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/05/18/478387452/autism-can-be-an-asset-in-the-workplace-employers-and-workers-find.

Autism Speaks
www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/docs/employer_guide_to_hiring_and_retaining.pdf

By Jennifer Brick
Source: "Managing an Autistic Employee," The National Autistic Society, www.autism.org.uk/managing; "Adults with Autism in the Workplace" by Tom Murphy, ERS Press, www.ers-eap.com/2FC0F6/assets/files/News/20-3%20Autism.pdf; "What You Need To Know About Working With Colleagues On The Autism Spectrum" by Dorie Clark. Forbes, www.forbes.com/sites/dorieclark/2014/09/29/what-you-need-to-know-about-working-with-colleagues-on-the-autism-spectrum/2/#260e281e24ab
Reviewed by Teresa Boussom, BCBA, National Director of Autism Services, Beacon Health Options, and Drew Pate, MD, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

Summary

  • Treat a person with autism like anyone else you work with.
  • Be patient and listen.
  • Use clear directions with specific steps.

In any workplace, you will come across someone who has a different work style than you. Sometimes people are procrastinators. Maybe a co-worker listens to music without earbuds, or cracks her knuckles. But what if you have a co-worker who doesn’t make eye contact? Or talks obsessively about trivia, yet doesn’t ask about your weekend? Maybe he gets overwhelmed in staff meetings, or doesn’t get your sarcasm. What if she needs step-by-step directions?

Your co-worker may have autism spectrum disorder. People with autism have a hard time connecting with the world around them. They may have trouble communicating. However, they are often experts in their field. They can have great skills that make them valued employees.

Treat a person with autism like anyone else you work with. Try some tips to make communicating easier.

  • Talk less. Be direct and specific.
  • Be patient. Silence is OK while you wait for an answer.
  • Be friendly, but respect his desire to avoid eye contact or handshakes.
  • Avoid sarcasm or slang. Say exactly what you mean.
  • Listen. People with autism may talk for a long time on certain subjects. They may not vary their tone. Listen patiently. You may learn something. Plus, it will help them feel included.
  • Remind them of structure during meetings. “Here is when we exchange ideas.” “We will go around the table and say what we think.”

When employees and workplaces make slight changes in communication it will help make everyone more effective. Here are some tips that can help. Be sure to ask your co-worker what works best for her. All people, with autism or without, have different communication and learning styles. Asking your co-worker for suggestions might help remove immediate roadblocks.

  • Follow a written protocol for meetings. Maybe make the person with autism the time-keeper or rule enforcer. Such outlines and time limits for meetings cut through social clutter. Protocols keep everyone on track. Then everyone gets back to work sooner.
  • Have more meetings via video conferencing or over the phone. People are more comfortable in their own environment.
  • Use common team practices like labeling folders the same or using specific organizational tools. This helps cut down on clutter and allows for easier communication.
  • Offer job coaches until people are familiar with their duties.
  • Provide visual clues and written directions.

There are many things you, your employer, and your co-workers can do to make the workplace more productive and pleasant for everyone. Read up on people with autism online or at your library. Sometimes it requires a little give and take.

Resources

“Autism Can Be an Asset in The Workplace, Employers and Workers Find,” by Yuki Noguchi. "All Things Considered." National Public Radio. www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2016/05/18/478387452/autism-can-be-an-asset-in-the-workplace-employers-and-workers-find.

Autism Speaks
www.autismspeaks.org/sites/default/files/docs/employer_guide_to_hiring_and_retaining.pdf

By Jennifer Brick
Source: "Managing an Autistic Employee," The National Autistic Society, www.autism.org.uk/managing; "Adults with Autism in the Workplace" by Tom Murphy, ERS Press, www.ers-eap.com/2FC0F6/assets/files/News/20-3%20Autism.pdf; "What You Need To Know About Working With Colleagues On The Autism Spectrum" by Dorie Clark. Forbes, www.forbes.com/sites/dorieclark/2014/09/29/what-you-need-to-know-about-working-with-colleagues-on-the-autism-spectrum/2/#260e281e24ab
Reviewed by Teresa Boussom, BCBA, National Director of Autism Services, Beacon Health Options, and Drew Pate, MD, Medical Director, Beacon Health Options

The information provided on the Achieve Solutions site, including, but not limited to, articles, quizzes, and other general information, is for informational purposes only and should not be treated as medical, health care, psychiatric, psychological or behavioral health care advice. Nothing contained on the Achieve Solutions site is intended to be used for medical diagnosis or treatment or as a substitute for consultation with a qualified health care professional. Please direct questions regarding the operation of the Achieve Solutions site to Web Feedback. If you have concerns about your health, please contact your health care provider.  ©2017 Beacon Health Options, Inc.

 

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