Understanding Autism and our workforce will be essential in accommodating the population of adults with Autism that continues to increase. It will behoove us to understand this unique segment of the workforce not only to accommodate their needs, but also to open our minds and hearts to perhaps a new and yet different work environment that benefits everyone. From adapting social experiences to providing a sensory savvy workspace, we can all grow and learn to be better employers and employees. Let's take a look at some suggestions for making your office space Autism friendly.
- Personal Space- Some offices are more open than others. Cubicles or private office spaces may do better for those with Autism than working right next to someone who may have strong perfume, loud voice or have items that drift. Providing a cubicle type space provides more privacy and less sensory overload. Encourage your sensory needy employees to keep fidgets or small toys in their office that encourage hand play such as a stress ball or eye hand coordination. Allowing them to personalize their space to be more productive can make them feel more at ease as well.
- Physical well being- Encouraging exercise and physical well being whether it be with breaks, a human resources program or having access to a gym is great for everyone but especially for those with sensory needs. Movement acts much like a filter when it comes to sensory integration. An office that encourages some sort of recess will see productivity rise whether it is a game of catch or providing exercise bikes.
- Sensory Savvy- Be sure your environment is sensory savvy. Is it noisy? Perhaps fluorescent lights that make a humming noise can be replaced with LED or voices can be kept down. What is the office feel? Is it visually overstimulating? Using soft glow lamps, background productive music, and even aromatherapy can increase productivity and decrease stress.
- Emotional Resources- Is there someone checking in with your employees on a regular basis to see “how things are going?” It may be worth your while to have an emotional checklist or a way to check in on “feelings” from time to time. This is especially important for those on the Autism Spectrum as emotional intelligence and recognizing signs of discomfort may be limited, but everyone will benefit from regular check ups.
- Social Interaction- Is there a break room in your office? A place for employees to eat, take breaks and socialize? Perhaps a buddy couch or bench might be good. This is a place where if someone sits down, someone else who sees them, will sit and get to know them. This works great at school playgrounds but can be very empowering at an office as well. If there are after office activities, be sure your employees with Autism have a buddy who invites them to come along.
Creating a socially inclusive atmosphere is good for everyone involved. For many, their office place is a home place and making it one that is healthy and socially responsible will also make it one that is productive.