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Autism Spectrum Disorder- Diversity Inclusion Disability Series

How to Support Autism employees in the workplace? Best Tips on Autism Spectrum Disorder Inclusivity in the workplace and schools?

What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)?

CDC defined Autism Spectrum Disorder as “Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability  that can cause significant social, communication and behavioral challenges. There is often nothing about how people with ASD look that sets them apart from other people, but people with ASD may communicate, interact, behave, and learn in different ways. The learning, thinking, and problem-solving abilities of people with ASD can range from gifted to severely challenged. Some people with ASD need a lot of help in their daily lives; others need less.”

Autism Spectrum Disorder Symptoms and Signs

Someone with ASD may avoid eye contact and want to be alone. They may have trouble relating to others or not have an interest in others at all. They may have trouble describing their own feelings or understanding others’. They may be very interested in people but do not know how to relate, talk or play with others. They may repeat their actions again and again. They may have unusual reactions to the way things look, sound, feel, taste or smell.

They may also show awkward eye contact, gestures and postures. There may be delayed verbal responses. They may have difficulty understanding facial expressions, subtle messages and tones. They may have difficulty starting a conversation. They may be showing blunt honesty.

Signs of Autism in Adults

A person with ASD may have difficulty with organization. They may focus a lot on details. Their thinking could be very black and white. It may take them longer to complete a task. They may resist change. They may get overwhelmed with too many interruptions.

A person with ASD may have difficulty reading social cues and understanding someone’s perspective. They may take language literally. They may not know how to make small talks. They may not notice others are bored. They may make honest statements that may offend others unintentionally.

A person with ASD may have sensitivities to noises, smells and room temperatures.

There are three functional level of Autism, according to Verywell, they are Requiring Support, Requiring Substantial Support, and Requiring Very Substantial Support.

Illustration by Cindy Chung, Verywell

Best Autism Spectrum Disorder Resources and Learning

CDC offers fact sheets and flyers such as Fact Sheet: Autism and Developmental Disabilities Monitoring (ADDM) Network, Fact Sheet: Study to Explore Early Development (SEED), Fact Sheet: “Learn the Signs. Act Early.” Program, and  Developmental milestone fact sheets, checklists, posters, books, and more.

This is also where you can find resources on:

Diversity and Inclusion for People with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

The Good Doctor

Have you watched the medical drama – The Good Doctor starred by Freddie Highmore, Antonia Thomas, and Hill Harper?

The TV drama is about how a young surgeon with autism and savant syndrome called Dr. Sean Murphy, who often feels alone and unable to personally connect with people around him, relocates to a prestigious hospital in San Jose, California, to save lives with his gift in the medical field.

The viewer can see how talented Dr. Murphy is when you see how quickly and effortlessly he calculates complicated medical diagnosis in his head. At the same time, one can see his autism’s impact on his social interactions and communications with others, causing him to be treated with less respect, suspicion, and sometimes distrust.

Why all of a sudden do we talk about a TV drama here? It is because you could see how skepticism, discrimination and social stereotypes are challenged throughout the shows.

Social stereotype is one of the most common barriers in our society. Social stereotypes arise from our lack of knowledge, experience and familiarity with the topic and the people.

Even though Dr. Murphy has stellar scores and performance, people have concerns with his abilities, and were reluctant to hire him.

In the show, the viewer would also see Dr. Murphy’s mentor – Dr. Aaron Glassman who is the president and surgeon in the hospital. Dr. Glassman’s character is so inspirational. He is the one who thinks “we should hire him because he is different”. People with disabilities are often viewed through a distorted lens of who they are assumed to be, not who they really are. By being more open-minded, sensitive and aware of the conditions, accommodations and inclusion can be made for the person with disability so that they can shine in their role at work like Dr. Murphy.

In one episode, Dr. Murphy has to transport an organ for a medical emergency with Dr. Claire Browne, who has not worked much with him before. Dr. Claire Browne finds it difficult to understand him because of his autistic characteristics but slowly learns and understands how Dr. Murphy is. She learns that Dr. Murphy is not ignoring her to be rude. He just doesn’t like questions. She learns that he’s more open to answering her questions when she makes it his choice to tell her rather than demanding something from him. After understanding more about Dr. Murphy, they make a great team in solving difficult situations.  And of course, at the end, the transport was a success thanks to Dr. Murphy.

1 out of 250 people in the United States has ASD. ASD affects each individual differently.

Autism in your workplace        

Whether you are an employer, a recruiter or a person with or without ASD, we strongly recommend you to watch this video by Claire Barnett at TED x Vanderbilt University to learn more about ASD: 

Check out what Ford, Microsoft, Wallgreens and SAP are doing.

Take a look at these inspiring Autism Hiring Programs at DEL and Microsoft to understand the values and potentials:

In addition, it shows the society and your staff/prospect hires that you are demonstrating corporate social responsibility. It shows your commitment to Diversity and Inclusion. Fostering a diverse and inclusive culture in the workplace promotes cohesiveness, collaborations, attracts more diverse talents, skills, experience and knowledge into your business, and attracts more like-minded business partners and customers. It gives you access to a pool of underrepresented and underemployed talents who can shine in their abilities and roles.

Benefits to employ people with Autism – ASD

Here is some examples of the benefits to hire people with autism:

  • People with ASD offers you focus, honesty, reliability and a preference for work over politics.
  • They have astonishing attention to detail, accuracy, a memory for details, and an ability to identify errors.
  • They have high levels of concentration, and can tolerate repetitive and routine work.
  • They are likely to be very punctual and reliable.
  • They are strong in technical abilities.
  • They succeed in the fields of scientific research, computing, software testing, media design & development.
  • They may be better at a job than someone who is not autistic.

Recruiters, what can you do to remove barriers for applicants with ASD?

During the early of the employee cycle you can start with the Job description and job posting:

  • Use clear and concise language
  • List essential skills
  • Avoid jargons and unnecessary information
  • Avoid complex format or design

During the Interview phase:

A person with ASD may have struggled with traditional conversation-type interviews that emphasize much on social and communication skills. They may have difficulty selling themselves in an interview even when they have all the right skills and competencies to do a great job. They may have difficulty understanding body language.

As a recruiter, here are some diversity recruiting teams specific for Autism candidates:

  • Provide them time before the interview to read and formulate answers before presenting them.
  • Provide clear written and visual information ex. pictures of directions to the office
  • Give specific explanation of procedures or what to expect a head of time to the candidate. Ex. Arrive at the reception at 10am where you’ll be greeted by [name of the person].
  • Provide names and titles of interview panel members.
  • Provide a clear timetable of what will happen on the day of the interview. Ex. The first 1 hour will be a panel interview with [names of panel] followed by a 1-hour computer, technical or aptitude test in a separate room.
  • Provide candidates with a private and quiet place to wait.
  • Sometimes a clear sign is that when the employee tells you “please be patient I have autism”
  • Ask specific interview questions. Avoid hypothetical or abstract questions. Try asking “Tell us about a time when you coped with work when people interrupted you?” instead of “How do you think you’ll cope with interruptions at work?”
  • Autistic candidate may have difficulty judging how much information/details you’d need. You can directly let them know you’ve noted down enough details and we can move onto the next part.
  • Be aware that the candidate may interpret what you say literally.
  • The candidate’s eye contact can be prolonged or fleeting depending on the individual.
  • Allow candidate to take notes and refer to them to formulate their answers.
  • Reword or clarify the question to help the candidate understand what you’re asking.

Tips for Diversity and Inclusion manager for People with Autism Spectrum Disorders

Many excellent managers understand that people with ASD may benefit their operations or business greatly if they are managed properly. Here are some tips that we have collected from experienced mangers including Chief Diversity Officers:

  • Be open-minded with Autism workers. They may have difficulty picking up social cues.
  • Be patient with people with Autism. When they try to fit in (ex. interrupting a conversation), because of the communicational challenges, it may irritate other colleagues.
  • Use direct and simple language. Say exactly what you mean. Provide as much details as possible. Be clear to explain what you want.
  • Provide written instructions. Follow up with verbal instructions and an email afterwards.
  • If you find the Autism or ASD candidates are feeling anxious, try to find out the cause of the problem. It may not be about the difficulty in the job but may be because of a colleague not being explicit in their instructions.
  • Be clear and concise about job expectations. Explain the etiquette and unwritten rules in the workplace.
  • Be supportive.
  • Address them as you would any adult, not a child.
  • Avoid sarcasm, cliches, idioms and implied meanings.
  • Respect their personal space.
  • Provide clear expectations. Have a peer buddy or a mentor to show them rules and social culture of the workplace.
  • Do not force communication.
  • Do not make assumptions. Ensure directions are understood.
  • Provide detailed feedback. Be honest, consistent and constructive. Ask questions to check if they understand. Explain to them what they should do. Some people with ASD have low self-esteem or experience bullying. Hence, be as positive and sensitive as you can.
  • Allow them time to respond. Take time to listen. They may take a little longer time to absorb and process information, and to formulate a rely.
  • Uncertainty can cause anxiety. Try to inform them about upcoming events and changes.
  • Use a calendar to emphasize important dates.
  • Break assignments/projects into small tasks.
  • Some can have significant difficulties with organization. Some help includes written checklists and reminders or providing direct instructions and guidance.
  • Look past the physical symptoms. Try to connect with the inner person. We are all humans. We all need and like social connections. Take the extra step and make a new friend!
  • Set a timeline for completion.
  • Stay positive.
  • Stay calm. Use a calm tone of voice.
  • Avoid physical touching.
  • Some lack the ability to communicate. Try different methods of communications.
  • Acknowledge and celebrate small steps of achievements.

Training for managers and staff – to increase their awareness and teach them to be more open and show them ways to support someone with ASD in the workplace. So that we can all be more understanding and supportive to those in need.

Tips for Managing Autism Student in Education

Here are some tips for managing autism students for Teachers, Caretakers and Educators:

  • Partner up with parents to talk about and make changes to the plan for a child with ASD.
  • Keep track of the treatments and medications you try and how the child responds to each one of them.
  • Be sensitive. Ensure the messages and environment are as positive as they can be. Keep in mind although a person with ASD may not be verbal, they can still see, hear and understand what goes on around them.
  • Try not to stare when you see ex. hand-flapping or rocking.
  • Teach them how to request something by providing a picture or explaining their accommodation needs.
  • Some may have sensory issues. Try to identify, develop and implement strategies as early as possible.
  • Develop routines of regular interactions with others every day to help them with social and emotional development. Connect them with others with similar interests. Teach them how to share and take turns.
  • Teach and practise skills across different scenarios, people, activities and settings.
  • Break down tasks into small steps. Show steps in form of pictures. Model the steps. Say the steps out loud.

Accommodations for Autism Spectrum Disorder

Reduce auditory distractions ex. wearing a noise-cancelling headset.

Reduce visual distractions ex. setting up cubicle walls.

Be mindful that while a person with ASD is focused on work, a co-worker can startle the person if approaching from behind or touching the person.

As a person with ASD may fidget or show movements for calming themselves, this can also disturb other coworkers. Try to assign them private work space if possible. Allow them to work from home if possible.

A person with ASD may experience stress when they encounter unrealistic timeframes, heavy workloads, and conflicts with coworkers. Provide them with more positive encouragements.

More Autism and Diversity Videos

People on the Autism spectrum could struggle with job interviews. Check out this video by CBC News: The National – People with autism recruited for skilled jobs to see how a company recruits people with Autisms for firms that need skilled workers.

Hiring people with autism: how one car wash turned it into a winning formula by CBC News: The National

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About the author

Jess Man

Jessica is the Editor-in-Chief and Senior Diversity Advisor at Diversity Social. Jessica has over 10 years of working with and advising employers to be more diverse and create an inclusive working environment.
Jessica's experience spans private and non-profit sectors in multiple industries.
Jessica's expertise experience is beyond Diversity & Inclusion, she is also a certified professional IT recruiter in Data & Analytics, Database administration, Artificial Intelligence area.