April is Autism Awareness Month, and in honor of that, we wanted to touch on how to accommodate employees with ASD by incorporating disability awareness training into the process. In many cases, the problem an employee may be having at work is related to social interaction and communication. Because individuals with ASD may have deficits in understanding social cues and norms of communication, they may have difficulty working effectively with coworkers. Something employers may want to consider in such circumstances is providing disability awareness training. This could be a broad training that covers disabilities generally, but in some cases, it may be beneficial to have a training specific to the disability. This will allow an employee (with his consent) to be a part of the training process and to explain how the disability specifically affects him. This empowers the employee to suggest steps that may be taken to help with more effective interaction and communication.
When coworkers are not aware of the characteristics of ASD, miscommunication can easily arise. For example, in some cases an individual with ASD may speak louder than is appropriate in a given situation. This could be perceived as aggressive or dominant behavior by coworkers, when in fact the employee doesn’t even realize he is speaking loudly. An individual with ASD may also seem to display inappropriate affect, such as not smiling when greeting someone. These behaviors can be considered rude, but in actuality, the individual may have no idea that his actions are being perceived this way; his behavior is simply being misunderstood.
Disability awareness may be able to address this particular issue to some extent because when coworkers are aware of the unique communication differences that individuals with ASD exhibit, they may be more tolerant and able to find better ways to interact and ensure they are being understood by the employee as well. It may be beneficial to have agreed upon “signal words” that a coworker can use when the employee is speaking too loudly, for example. The employee can then rely on the feedback of coworkers to make adjustments as needed.
It is important to stress that this type of training should only be done with the permission of the employee. Employers should not try to push an employee into talking about a disability if he is not comfortable doing so. It has been our experience at JAN that many employees would appreciate the opportunity to have an open conversation about their disability if it means the possibility of better working relationships with coworkers and a better chance of being successful in their work.