About Autism Spectrum
Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is characterized by persistent deficits in social communication and social interaction across multiple contexts, including deficits in social reciprocity, nonverbal communicative behaviors used for social interaction, and skills in developing, maintaining, and understanding relationships. For the diagnosis, the presence of restricted, repetitive patterns of behavior, interests, or activities is required.
JAN's Effective Accommodation Practices (EAP) Series: Executive Functioning Deficits is a publication detailing accommodations for individuals with limitations related to executive functioning. These ideas may be helpful in determining accommodations.
Autism Spectrum and the Americans with Disabilities Act
The ADA does not contain a list of medical conditions that constitute disabilities. Instead, the ADA has a general definition of disability that each person must meet. A person has a disability if he/she has a physical or mental impairment that substantially limits one or more major life activities, a record of such an impairment, or is regarded as having an impairment. For more information about how to determine whether a person has a disability under the ADA, see How to Determine Whether a Person Has a Disability under the Americans with Disabilities Act Amendments Act (ADAAA).
Accommodating Employees with Autism Spectrum
People with ASD may develop some of the limitations discussed below, but seldom develop all of them. Also, the degree of limitation will vary among individuals. Be aware that not all people with ASD will need accommodations to perform their jobs and many others may only need a few accommodations. The following is only a sample of the possibilities available. Numerous other accommodation solutions may exist.
Questions to Consider:
- What limitations is the employee experiencing?
- How do these limitations affect the employee and the employee’s job performance?
- What specific job tasks are problematic as a result of these limitations?
- What accommodations are available to reduce or eliminate these problems? Are all possible resources being used to determine possible accommodations?
- Has the employee been consulted regarding possible accommodations?
- Once accommodations are in place, would it be useful to meet with the employee to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodations and to determine whether additional accommodations are needed?
- Do supervisory personnel and employees need training?
Social Skills: Employees with learning disabilities may have difficulty exhibiting appropriate social skills on the job. This may be the result of underdeveloped social skills, lack of experience/exposure in the workforce, shyness, intimidation, behavior disorders, or low self-esteem. This can affect the employee’s ability to adhere to conduct standards, work effectively with supervisors, or interact with coworkers or customers.
- To reduce incidents of inappropriate behavior, thoroughly review conduct policy with employee
- Provide concrete examples to explain inappropriate behavior
- Provide concrete examples to explain consequences in a disciplinary action
- To reinforce appropriate behavior, recognize and reward appropriate behavior
- Coworker Interaction:
- Provide sensitivity training to promote disability awareness
- If feasible, allow employee to work from home
- Help employee “learn the ropes” by provide a mentor
- Make employee attendance at social functions optional
- Allow employee to transfer to another workgroup, shift, or department
- Encourage the employee to walk away from frustrating situations and confrontations
- Working Effectively:
- Two common issues that JAN receives inquiries on are: (1) what accommodations will work for individuals with learning disabilities when workplaces are implementing substantial changes, and (2) what accommodations will help supervisors work effectively with individuals with learning disabilities. Many accommodation ideas are born from effective management techniques. When organizations are implementing workplace changes, it is important that key personnel recognize that a change in the environment or in supervisors may be difficult. Maintaining open channels of communication to ensure any transitions are smooth, and providing short weekly or monthly meetings with employees to discuss workplace issues can be helpful.
- Supervisors can also implement management techniques that support an inclusive workplace culture while simultaneously providing accommodations. Techniques include the following:
- Provide positive praise and reinforcement,
- Provide day-to-day guidance and feedback,
- Provide written job instructions via email,
- Develop clear expectations of responsibilities and the consequences of not meeting performance standards,
- Schedule consistent meetings with employee to set goals and review progress,
- Allow for open communication,
- Establish written long term and short term goals,
- Develop strategies to deal with conflict,
- Develop a procedure to evaluate the effectiveness of the accommodation,
- Educate all employees on their right to accommodations,
- Provide sensitivity training to coworkers and supervisors,
- Do not mandate that employees attend work related social functions, and
- Encourage all employees to move non-work related conversations out of work areas.
Speaking/Communicating: Employees with learning disabilities may have difficulty communicating with co-workers or supervisors. For employees with learning disabilities, poor communication may be the result of underdeveloped social skills, lack of experience/exposure in the workforce, shyness, intimidation, behavior disorders, or low self-esteem.
- To help facilitate communication, provide advance notice of topics to be discussed in meeting
- To reduce or eliminate anxiety, provide advance notice of date of meeting when employee is required to speak
- Allow employee to provide written response in lieu of verbal response
- To reduce or eliminate the feeling of intimidation, allow employee to have a friend or coworker attend meeting
Situations and Solutions:
An applicant with autism spectrum disorder applied for a research position with a chemical company.
He has a verbal communication deficit, though can communicate through handwriting and by e-mail. The employer wanted to provide accommodations during the first stage interview, which involved answering questions from a three-person search committee. JAN suggested providing the questions in advance and allowing the applicant to furnish written responses during the interview.
An employee with autism spectrum disorder works for a large marketing firm.
Though knowledgeable in her field, she had difficulty participating in work activities with her team. JAN suggested job restructuring, which allowed her to work independently while providing information to her team electronically. This gave the employee the social distance she needed to be comfortable, yet also provided the team with information needed to move forward with marketing campaigns.
A scientist with autism spectrum disorder was able to speak at times, but also experienced episodes when she found it difficult to speak and needed to use a speech device or speech generating app.
She was preparing to present her research at a conference. She pre-recorded audio to go with her slides and brought a tablet with a speech generating app with her in case she needed it during the question and answer portion of her presentation.
A new hire at a fast-food restaurant has autism spectrum disorder.
He completed his new job tasks quickly and efficiently, but then remained idle until someone told him the next task to perform. The manager complained that the employee "just stands around" and "looks bored." JAN suggested the use of a job coach to help learn the job and how to stay occupied during down time. JAN also suggested using a training DVD to help build workplace social skills.
A professor with autism spectrum disorder had difficulty keeping daily office hours and experienced anxiety because the timing of students' consultations was unpredictable.
JAN suggested modifying the schedule as an accommodation, for example the professor could reduce the number of days he has office hours, but have more office hours on those days. JAN also suggested adjusting the method by which students obtain appointments, asking students to schedule at least one day in advance and when possible, allow the professor to conduct consultations electronically, by phone, or by instant messenger. In addition, JAN suggested documenting each student consultation to ease the professor's anxiety about the meeting and to refresh his memory about previous meetings with the student.
JAN Publications & Articles Regarding Autism Spectrum
Accommodation and Compliance Series
Consultants' Corner Articles
- A Support Person as an Accommodation
- Accommodations Related to Commuting To and From Work
- Confidentiality of Medical Information under the ADA
- Hidden Disabilities: Confidentiality and Travel
- Interviewing Tips for Applicants with Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASD)
- Less Clutter, More Productivity
- Service Animals and Allergies in the Workplace
- Service Animals in the Workplace