Strategies for use as manager of an autistic person
July 18, 2022 11:31 PM   Subscribe

I’m interested in both personal recommendations and links to resources on how to be a good, inclusive manager to an autistic person.

I’m particularly interested in methods and skills I, as the (neurodivergent but not austistic) manager can use to improve communication. Many resources I’ve seen are (understandably) aimed at autistic people as the target audience. I’d appreciate suggestions or resources aimed at managers/employers, with concrete examples.

The first step would ideally be asking the employee for their ideas and preferences, but please assume that’s been unsuccessful for *reasons.*
posted by bluloo to Work & Money (11 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
The job accommodation network JAN has lists of potential difficulties and how you can accommodate them in the workplace.
posted by meijusa at 1:06 AM on July 19, 2022

If the person is not already out as autistic, avoid outing them.
posted by NotLost at 6:28 AM on July 19, 2022

Best answer: Autistic person here. The most important thing you can do to improve communication is to make your own communications (particularly about expectations, procedures, deadlines, and feedback) clear, direct, and explicit. This will benefit all your employees, not just the autistic ones. Encourage clarifying questions, and take questions about things that you thought you had stated clearly as feedback to yourself to improve your communication techniques. Being clear and explicit about the reason for various policies, tasks, etc. is also very helpful because it provides another angle from which your employees can understand "what are you asking me to do" (and also allows your employees to accomplish the task in the way most effective for them). Providing detailed examples (e.g., a copy of last year's report, or shadowing of an experienced employee in order to learn a particular task) gives explicit context for the scope and level of detail that you expect. Codify your policies in writing, and apply them consistently.

I generally prefer to communicate -- and receive communication -- in writing, but when it becomes clear that there's a disconnect of understanding, I find that switching to in-person communication (rather than continuing back-and-forth in writing) is more effective in clearing up misunderstandings because I can feel out in real time the gaps in the other person's understanding.

Think about how well your communications would be understood by a person from a foreign culture who has learned your language as an adult. If your communications are laden with metaphors, colloquialisms, sports analogies, and vague industry jargon, they will also be hard for autistic people to understand. Many autistic people process language by converting it into pictures in our heads.

If you run meetings, circulate an agenda in advance and stick to it. Do not allow socializing to occur during your meetings until after the stated end of the official business. Everyone will thank you for this.
posted by heatherlogan at 6:34 AM on July 19, 2022 [22 favorites]

Best answer: Also, as an autistic person, we generally prefer direct communication. Don't sugarcoat, beat around the bush, or have unspoken and unwritten rules that people are just supposed to pick up on. Clarity is good. Small talk is often unneeded.
posted by NotLost at 6:36 AM on July 19, 2022 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Hello!

I am autistic and a manager so please let me help you.

First, you can educate yourself on autism. The best place to do that, unfortunately, is social media like Instagram. I follow people on IG called autisticcallum and iampayingattention who are really awesome and providing context for the autistic experience.

Some basic things to understand is that Autistic people perceive sensory input differently than other people, and this means something different for every single autistic person.

However, there are some very basic things to understand about autistic people that are pretty universal.

For example, a lot of Autists like a lot of personal space, so no going up to them and putting your hand on them for any reason or tapping on shoulders.

-Another example is overhead lighting (fluorescent) has a negative physical effect on most autistics. I'm not sure what job you're in but if you could let them use/ provide them with an alternative light source it makes the brain calmer.

-You can also provide this person with consistent times for things. Lunch? Same time every day. Meeting? Let them know in advance, and tell them gently what will be in the meeting so their brain has some time to adjust.

-Loud music playing over the speaker? Let them wear headphones or turn it off. I promise you it won't affect their work.

-Let them have and don't judge them for using what's called a stim toy, a stim toy helps autistic people release extra energy in their body, this will not detract from their work

Why am I talking about things like lights, music, and personal space? These are some very, very EASY and base level things you can do to accomodate this person.

Being Autistic means having to constantly balance all of these spinning plates at the same time, and one of those plates is also appearing "normal" for a very unkind world.

However, if you can accommodate and manage these things for your employee, not only is it a great start, it'll also make that person loyal and work harder than any employee you've ever had.

Also one other thing to note are "shutdowns" and "meltdowns" are VERY NORMAL, and if that happens give this person some space and cover and grace to sort this out on their own.

Autistic people are very independent, especially with their symptoms. However, kindness, sensory accommodation, and embracing "quirky" personality will be your best success. I'd also just ask them what accommodations they specifically need, but remember to do it in advance and tell them what the meeting is about.

Also no puzzle pieces or Autism Speaks- those are really, really BAD symbols and organization. The infinity symbol is the latest in inclusion!

Hope this helps.
posted by Kestrelxo at 6:39 AM on July 19, 2022 [11 favorites]

Best answer: If you're having trouble getting feedback from your autistic employee (e.g., stuff that non-autistic employees would just chatter to you about randomly in the hallway), try scheduling a meeting with them specifically for that purpose, and ask in advance for them to prepare (e.g.) a 10-minute verbal report about your progress on Project X, including any parts where you need additional information or are having trouble getting necessary inputs from other co-workers.

(Edited to add: I'm mentioning this because some autistic people will be hesitant to just go up to you and start talking about something, and the structure of a scheduled meeting helps overcome this social barrier.)
posted by heatherlogan at 6:40 AM on July 19, 2022 [7 favorites]

Response by poster: Thank you for the responses so far. We’re a remote team, so the employee has full control of their working environment.
posted by bluloo at 8:09 AM on July 19, 2022

We tend to have a hard time with transitions. Try to minimize interruptions and announce changes in advance.
posted by NotLost at 9:19 AM on July 19, 2022 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Many autistic people will try to answer our own questions by reading documentation, policies, and public information (e.g., company web pages) rather than by asking another person, and we will take what we read to be the official word. It is therefore advantageous to make sure that your company's written documentation is up-to-date, self-consistent, and actually correct!
posted by heatherlogan at 9:47 AM on July 19, 2022 [14 favorites]

Best answer: One more: sometimes autistic people have trouble prioritizing tasks and determining "how good is good enough", which results in suboptimal allocation of time and energy. If you're noticing problems that could be attributed to this, a candid and explicit discussion of (or regularly-scheduled check-in about) priorities and time allocation can be helpful.
posted by heatherlogan at 9:52 AM on July 19, 2022 [4 favorites]

Ok one final thought (maybe not as relevant since your team is remote): keep your eyes open for any signs of bullying by co-workers, and shut that shit down immediately. In a remote team, this could manifest as co-workers neglecting to cooperate with your autistic employee(s). Do not just expect an autistic employee to set and enforce their own boundaries around this; maintaining a respectful work environment is your job as manager. This of course applies more generally to ensuring that your workplace is inclusive and free of harassment of any kind.
posted by heatherlogan at 10:00 AM on July 19, 2022 [5 favorites]

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