Skip to Main Content

Autism in the Workplace (March 2023): Strategies to Help Individuals on the Spectrum

By Gundars Kaupins

Strategies to Help Individuals on the Spectrum

Some practitioner-oriented books target employers, counselors, and families, showing them how to reasonably accommodate employees on the spectrum. These books cover human resource management issues, such as recruiting, hiring, compensation, training, performance appraisal, discipline, and termination.

Janine Booth’s Autism Equality in the Workplace is a compact how-to book. Its most notable characteristic is its bullet-point lists of what employers can do to accommodate employees on the spectrum. Topics include social interaction, sensory issues, organizing work, bullying, harassment, and discrimination. For instance, the bullet points on the list for alleviating sensory overstimulation include avoiding fluorescent light, muting bright colors, providing earplugs or noise-canceling headphones, shielding the workplace from strong smells, reducing complex upholstery, and providing counseling to reduce sensitivities. The book also provides summaries of the legal neurodiversity protections of the United Nations, European Union, United Kingdom, United States, Canada, and Australia.

Gail Hawkins’s How to Find Work that Works for People with Asperger Syndrome is a long book that also has many bullet point lists for employers. The lists focus on specific behaviors, for instance, always wearing dark-colored socks. One chapter on the “Employment Toolbox” has lists at two levels. The first level has scripted dialogues for given situations, role-plays for scenes, and so on. The second level, under each of the ten topics, is a description of the topic, instruction on what is appropriate, an example, and experience tips. The book’s chapters target employers, job coaches, job candidates, families, and educational and medical professionals.

Another book about employer actions is Michael Bernick and Richard Holden’s The Autism Job Club, which explores how to build an improved employment structure for individuals with autism. Most of the book discusses autism employment initiatives to help people with autism find and keep jobs. The authors suggest training autism job coaches; enhancing employment among tech firms; sharing the benefits of the internet economy by incorporating individuals with autism into micro-businesses; taking advantage of the practical economy; leveraging the growth of knowledge-oriented jobs (such as accountants, management analysts, and software developers); augmenting formal employment initiatives in companies; and encouraging lifelong learning with a positive workplace culture to help those on the spectrum.

Rudy Simone’s Asperger’s on the Job gives practitioner-oriented advice for individuals and employers. Its 20 chapters average six pages and discuss what the employee and the company should do to improve the work lives of those on the spectrum. Some topics include the need for quiet, the power of praise, the importance of routines, the decision to reveal autism, emotional detachment, and bluntness.

Two books have a point-blank focus on employers. Victoria Honeybourne’s The Neurodiverse Workplace describes the characteristics of neurodiverse individuals, employer responsibilities, inclusive recruitment, and the creation of neurodiverse-friendly environments. Marcia Scheiner’s An Employer’s Guide to Managing Professionals on the Autism Spectrum, written with Joan Bogden, gives employers and colleagues ways to increase the organizational fit and productivity of individuals on the spectrum. Simple-to-understand strategies include reducing noises around autistic workers, adjusting the lighting, establishing nonverbal and verbal signals to manage the content and length of verbal and written communications, and training neurotypical employees how to recognize and work with those on the spectrum. The goals of the book are to enhance the advantages that those on the spectrum can offer, anticipate challenges, promote person-job fit, and retain and promote workers on the spectrum.

Theo Smith and Amanda Kirby’s Neurodiversity at Work: Drive Innovation, Performance, and Productivity with a Neurodiverse Workforce is meant particularly for human resource management professionals. It is similar to the books mentioned above but adds many case studies of organizations, such as Microsoft, that augmented their efforts to find qualified individuals on the spectrum. It details the results of interviews with companies that changed their human resource management practices and how, in doing so, the productivity of individuals and the companies as a whole improved.

Adam Feinstein’s Autism Works: A Guide to Successful Employment across the Entire Spectrum provides advice to employers and employees on the spectrum on improving workplaces and considering viable employment options. Case studies examine the daily challenges and rewards of individuals who are not only high-functioning but also those lower on the spectrum. Even though Feinstein mentions that jobs such as cashiers, receptionists, waiters, and airline ticket agents may not be good fits for individuals with autism because of their high levels of socializing and sensory overload, the book’s main focus is that such individuals should not be limited by those stereotypes.

Temple Grandin’s Visual Thinking: The Hidden Gifts of People Who Think in Pictures, Patterns, and Abstractions, written with Betsy Lerner, makes strong arguments for hiring and supporting visual thinkers, such as those on the spectrum. Educational systems and hiring practices are biased against those who can see the details in buildings and equipment that others cannot see. Engineering problems need to be solved through multiple perspectives. For example, one engineer encouraged the use of the Hubble Space Telescope to observe an “empty” part of space. As it turns out, that empty part had thousands of galaxies. Grandin has chapters on the role of geniuses, the need to visualize risk to prevent disasters, and the importance of understanding the nonverbal world.

Jaclyn Hunt’s Life Coaching for Adults on the Autism Spectrum shows how those on the spectrum can survive day-to-day challenges with the help of one-on-one life coaches. Coaches can give tips to help individuals enhance their social relationships and find and maintain jobs.

The majority of research and practitioner works focus on helping K-12 and college students cope with school, everyday life, and very early careers. The following books may seem like materials designed for younger audiences, but basic skills, especially those associated with communication, are very relevant at work. The exercises take a direct approach, nailing the greatest incidents that those on the spectrum face.

The mechanical steps to achieving success feature in Michelle Rigler, Amy Rutherford, and Emily Quinn’s Developing Workplace Skills for Young Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder: The BASICS College Curriculum. This hands-on book provides exercises on how to work in a team, manage stress, enhance self-control, and communicate with colleagues. The exercises may more relevant for high-school students, but sometimes a simple and direct approach to problems can be the best.

Carol Burmeister, Sheri Wilkins, and Rebecca Silva’s FLIPP 2.0: Mastering Executive Function Skills from School to Adult Life for Students with Autism focuses on helping high-school students with challenges, including autism, make a good transition to a successful life. Though some exercises are geared toward lower grades, but high-school-related exercises focus on adult employment. The book has questionnaires for teachers, counselors, and school administrators to use to evaluate students’ autism-related challenges. Several critical incident questionnaires help teachers evaluate what happened, who was involved, where and when the activity occurred, why it happened, and how it might be prevented (or supported) in the future. Another assesses what the students can tolerate, such as busy wall decorations, air quality, lighting, temperature, and noise level. These are topics that a career counselor, mentor, coach, or employee trainer can also employ to generate reasonable accommodations.

Works Cited