Job Accommodation

At one of the previous agencies I worked at, we had quite a bit of space in the very beginning as far as our office went. I remember us having several conversations amongst ourselves about creating a sort of “quiet room” for employees to relax in. We also discussed such a room for or clients, who were autistic. We even thought up designs for the space; pillows, dim lighting (no florescent lights), a small relaxation fountain, etc. Needless to say, that lovely vision never saw the light of day.

Employers are required by laws (to a…reasonable extent, I’ll say) to accommodate for people with disabilities and special needs. They are encouraged in the United States to hire such individuals so as to appear inclusive. Ideally, this would happen regularly. As someone who has worked in HR, though, I can tell you that I have often witnessed quite the opposite.

That brings me to the article below. The consulting form EY talks with The Atlantic about hiring and accommodating autistic employees. To do this, every aspect of hiring and retaining had to be re-examined, from interviews, to interviews, to company culture. EY took this into consideration on all levels, and as a result has a more talented and complex employee demographic.

A lot of the tech companies are starting to actively adjust themselves in order to tap into a population who can make great employees if they are given the opportunity. Right now, EY is placing these employees in areas such as cybersecurity. My hope is that other industries will start to create similar programs to recruit and retain autistic individuals.

EY Describes it Program for Autistic Employees

Autism @ Work Reception: Thoughts

This past Wednesday, I was able to attend the evening reception for SAP’s Autism at Work conference. It featured a Q&A panel with three known authors in the autism world: Steve Silberman, John Elder Robison, and Dr. Stephen Shore. Robison and Shore are both autistic.

I quickly became aware that this reception (and indeed the conference itself) was attended by both neurotypical and neurodiverse individuals. It was my first time attending such an event, which was a bit bittersweet; this should be the norm for such conferences. There were even color codes on the name tags, letting everyone know each person’s level of comfort with being approached. Silberman later explained that while this was common for the autism conferences/talks he attended overseas, it was the first time he had seen the practice here in the United States. This further let me know how far behind my country is with regards to autism awareness and acceptance.

It again became clear when I asked the panel about their experiences with regards to how black and brown communities approach autism. Silberman woefully admitted that he wished he could have included more people of color in his book NeuroTribes, and Robison stated that the racial divide in autism is yet another symptom of the racial divide in medicine and education overall. Silberman shared a quick story of how he spoke with a black man who, when Silberman mentioned that he wrote a book about autism, basically replied, “Oh, that’s the white people disorder.” To say that the story saddened me is an understatement, but I am glad that I mustered the courage to ask about the topic. It led to several great conversations with other attendees afterwards.

This is one of the aspects of autism acceptance that hasn’t been achieved yet. There is a general awareness of it for the most part in minority communities, but it is still not understood enough in those communities to warrant full awareness. I know people who still put autism in the same category as MR, or like the man in the example, do not think it affects their community at all. A Mexican mother whose autistic son is a client of mine is very nervous about having him attend regular classes once he starts school. She would rather have him in special education classes than to face the bullying that she feels he would suffer through in mainstream classes. It broke my heart to hear that, especially since I feel her son has the potential to be able to thrive in regular classes of interest.

I want to end on a positive note, though, so here it is: The entire two day conference is a strong indicator of a shift in the business world. Companies are starting to realize the potential autistic employees have and how having neurodiverse people on their teams will help their companies grow and thrive. They recognize that hiring practices and procedures need to change and adjust; do talented individuals really need to go through a face-to-face interview? Do HR departments know how to bring in more neurodiverse applicants (right now, the answer appears to be “no”)? The questions and situations are starting to be explored and asked, which is a great step forward. Institutions are starting the slow process of change.

Here are a couple of pictures from the reception, including the books I got signed:

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