As the employment world becomes more and more aware of the need to understand all of their workforce, including those who are neurodiverse, there are some simple strategies that can be implemented to better manage autistic staff in order for them to flourish.
Two of these strategies are the clarity of instructions at the outset of a task and the safe space.
Clarity of instructions.
This strategy, sometimes referred to as The Brief, is an essential step in managing anyone at work and is more important for those who are autistic and/or have Asperger’s Syndrome which is part of the autism spectrum.
With any task, it is essential to set out what is required of the employee so that they start on the right footing and know what they are required to do. At the brief, take the time to find a quiet office or conference room where you will not be disturbed, have a cup of tea/coffee and sit down with the employee in a relaxed manner and go through the work steps by step. It is a good idea to have thought about this beforehand and prepared a checklist and to go through the checklist point by point in a measured way.
Do not rush this step and clearly set out if there are to be others in the team and if so what are the chains of command and communication channels. If there is any computer software to be used make sure that the employee has been fully trained in the programme before doing the task and if there are any problems who they can seek out to help. It is no use telling the employee, any employee, that there is software on the computer in the corner, off you go. That is poor management and is doomed to failure. No one will respond well to those kind of instructions.
A key aspect of clarifying the requirements is giving the employee the opportunity to ask questions about what you have just told them. It is really important that at this stage you should prepare for silence from the employee on the spectrum and not to worry about it. They are not ignoring you, they are talking the time to process what you have just told them and are formulating their questions. Their brain is wired differently and it may take them some time to organise their thoughts. When this silence happens, do not look or act impatient by drumming your hands on the desk or berating them in some way, be calm and patient. Then, be prepared for questions that you might not have been asked before. Also, they may ask more than one question, so allow for this in your time allocation for the briefing.
When you have finished the briefing make sure that you hand over the checklist for the person to keep. It will be a good reference point for them.
The Safe Space.
The second key strategy for managing some with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome is the safe space.
People who have autism and/or Asperger’s Syndrome often face challenges relating to overwhelm, anxiety and stresses caused by sudden change. When this happens they can reach the point of overwhelm which can be a violent outburst that can cause a scene or incident at work. This needs to be avoided and one of the ways to achieve this is to have a safe space where they can go, calm down, refresh themselves with a drink and return to work a short while later able to work productively.
In a number of larger organisations, they have break out areas and these might be suitable places although bright lights and loud music/televisions may not work for some people and they would need a quieter place to go. It doesn’t need to be luxurious but it does need to be away from the hullabaloo of the work environment where they can relax and feel safe.
There are some logistical issues that need to be established. Firstly, in the event of a fire or alarm, the management need to know where everyone is in the event of an emergency evacuation. This can be resolved by having a pre agreed signal with their supervisor/manager so that the manager knows that the person has gone to their safe space. It might be as simple as putting their stapler or whole punch in the middle of their desk. However, it is essential that when the employee feels the need to go to their safe space that they do not have to ask for permission to do so. It may well be that the very act of asking could tip them over the edge because it may have been something that their supervisor/manager has done that triggers the need to go in the first place.
Some companies are located where they can have a garden within their grounds. This would be an ideal safe space for dry days and providing there are some benches or places to sit they would work well as a safe space to allow the employee to relax and calm down.
There is also the issue of making up time. This needs to be agreed beforehand with the supervisor/manager so that it is not made to be an issue that could cause problems for the employee. These things can be accommodated, because employers make allowance for smokers who go outside of work to smoke and have some form of agreed way of making up lost time, the same can apply to those on the spectrum who need the safe space.
The management of the safe space needs to be a sensible practical one that enables the person to go uninhibited and not feel pressured about it or the consequences. You certainly don’t a supervisor clock watching their time in the safe space, there needs to be trust on both sides. The alternative is that the person doesn’t feel able to work and has time off, sometimes extended time off and that doesn’t serve either the employee or the business.
If you would like to know more about strategies to manage people with autism or Asperger’s Syndrome at work, please visit my website www.aspergersmatters.com or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Resilient Asperger
By Andrew Marsh