Working with an Autistic Coworker: What You Need to Know

Working with an Autistic Coworker: What You Need to Know

People with autism are often misunderstood and face a lot of challenges in the workplace. 

People with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) generally have difficulty understanding social cues, reading others' emotions, and talking about personal topics. 

This can make working alongside someone with ASD challenging for coworkers who are used to more typical interactions. 

Working alongside an autistic coworker can be awkward at first but also rewarding. Here is what you need to know about working with an ASD coworker and how you can help them succeed in the workplace.

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What Does it Mean to Have ASD?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that impacts a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. 

People with ASD often have difficulties with social skills and managing emotions. 

They also often have different ways of thinking and processing information. 

Most people with ASD fall on a spectrum and have varying degrees of impairment. 

The prevalence of autism has increased significantly in recent decades. 

One theory is that this increase is caused by a change in the way we diagnose autism. Another theory is that environmental factors are behind the increase. There is strong evidence that genetics are also involved.

Communication and Working With an Autistic Coworker

Communication is key when working with an autistic coworker. 

You may need to find alternative ways to convey information. 

Some autistic people prefer written instructions, while others may find videos or pictographs easier to understand. 

Some autistic people may not respond to your attempts to communicate. This may be due to a sensory sensitivity. 

They may be overwhelmed by the sound of your voice or the bright lights in the room. 

If you have a coworker who doesn't respond to your attempts to communicate, try using written methods of communication. 

If you work with an autistic coworker, you may need to be patient. They may not respond right away to emails, or they may forget about tasks that were assigned to them. 

It's important to be flexible when working with an autistic coworker. If an autistic employee forgets to do something, don't criticize them or get angry. Just kindly remind them what they need to do.

Tips for Working with an Autistic Coworker

It may take time to build trust with your autistic coworker, but here are some tips that can help you get there. 

Acknowledge feelings. You don't have to share their feelings, but you can acknowledge that they exist. Try to use concrete language and avoid metaphors or puns. 

Break down complex tasks into smaller, more manageable tasks. 

Give explicit instructions, explain what you want in detail and give your coworkers time to respond when you ask them a question. 

If you make a mistake, apologize. Even if it wasn't your fault, it's important to take accountability. It shows that you're a decent person. 

Give positive feedback and be honest with your praise when it is deserved. 

Be patient, It may take a while for your autistic coworker to get used to their new job. You may also have to adjust your expectations for them. 

Avoid making assumptions about your coworker. Their disability doesn't define them as a person. 

Be open to alternative methods of communication, some people with autism prefer to communicate in different ways. 

Ask your autistic coworker what they need. Your autistic coworker will know best what they need to be successful.

Things to be Aware of When Working With an Autistic Coworker

Like all employees, autistic employees are responsible for their own performance. 

Autism is considered a disability under federal law. Employers are required to make reasonable accommodations for workers with disabilities. 

This includes providing extra support to autistic employees. 

You may be held liable if you don't make reasonable accommodations for your employees with autism. 

If you are a coworker of an autistic employee, you can help ensure they feel a part of the team. 

If an employee with ASD makes a mistake, it may not be due to their disability. It may be due to other factors. 

For example, they may have misread instructions or had trouble completing a task due to sensory issues. If this happens, correct the mistake and provide more explicit instructions next time. Don't blame the employee for having a disability.

How to Approach an Autistic Coworker

Communicate clearly with your autistic coworker and make expectations clear. 

If you have high expectations for a team project, let them know upfront. 

Let your coworker know what you expect from them and what they can expect from you. 

Be open to different communication methods. Some people with autism may prefer to communicate in different ways. If your coworker prefers to communicate in a way that is different from the norm, don't dismiss it. 

Instead, do whatever you can to meet their needs in a reasonable approach.

Find out what made your coworker choose this particular job, you may realize you have more in common than you think.

Conclusion

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a developmental disability that impacts a person's ability to communicate and interact with others. 

Working alongside a coworker with autism can be challenging

It may take time to build trust, and you may need to make adjustments to accommodate their communication and sensory needs. 

By being open, clear, and flexible, you can successfully work with an autistic coworker.

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December 7th, 2022