Special offer 

Jumpstart your hiring with a $75 credit to sponsor your first job.*

Sponsored Jobs are 2.6x times faster to first hire than non-sponsored jobs.**
  • Attract the talent you’re looking for
  • Get more visibility in search results
  • Appear to more candidates longer

Autism in the Workplace: A Guide for Employers

The CDC estimates that 2.21% of adults in the United States have autism spectrum disorder (ASD).

Use this guide to create an innovative working environment that gives everyone—neurodivergent adults included—room to showcase their talents.

Post a Job

What is autism?

ASD is a complex developmental disorder usually characterized by a wide range of symptoms. These include, but are not limited to:

  • Difficulty with social interactions and communication: This can include issues maintaining conversation, a reduced desire to share interests or emotions and difficulties understanding or responding to social cues like eye contact or facial expressions.
  • Repetitive patterns of behavior: For some individuals with autism, symptoms may include repetitive movements or even an inflexible adherence to routines.
  • Restricted interests: For some, autism can manifest as an abnormally intense interest in something specific.

The effects and symptoms of ASD, as well as their severity, vary across individuals. This is why autism is known as a spectrum disorder.

Autism and work: challenges and contributions

Neurodiversity in the workplace  adds unique perspectives and skills to your teams. For successful integration, it’s important to understand the specific challenges faced by those with ASD and recognize why supporting autistic employees can make your workplace more productive and innovative.

Challenges for employees with autism

Autism and work pose unique challenges for both employees and employers, and these issues can significantly affect professional success and morale. While each person with ASD is unique, there are some commonalities when it comes to the challenges they face in the workplace. 

These challenges may include:

  • Communication subtleties: Those with ASD may sometimes have issues interpreting nuances such as sarcasm and nonverbal cues in conversations. This, along with misunderstanding implicit meanings, may lead to miscommunication with coworkers and leadership alike.
  • Sensory overload issues: Workplace design may cause employees with autism to experience sensory overload. Due to brighter lighting and louder noise levels, those with ASD may find themselves overwhelmed and struggling to focus and perform their job duties.
  • Social expectations: Because those with ASD typically have a very direct way of thinking, social expectations in the workplace may be confusing to them. They may avoid small talk and networking opportunities, which may in turn lead to feelings of anxiety and isolation.
  • Resistance to change: People with autism tend to thrive on routine and predictability, so when unexpected events occur, they may have problems pivoting and adapting. Likewise, changes to work processes they’re used to may lead to resistance that puts them at odds with coworkers and management.
  • Accommodation concerns: Some employees on the spectrum may require autism workplace accommodations to properly perform their jobs. These can include quiet workspaces, clearly written communications and flexible scheduling.

Contributions by autistic employees

Understanding and embracing the fresh perspectives brought by workplace neurodiversity can put your company ahead of the competition. Those with ASD have the potential to enhance team dynamics, improve efficiency and foster innovation.

Specific contributions employees on the spectrum may offer include: 

  • Attention to detail: Many individuals with ASD benefit from remarkable attention to detail—and so do their employers. Extreme focus and precision while performing tasks may reduce errors and enhance the quality of your work product.
  • Innovative thinking: Those with autism often approach problems from unique angles, making them a breath of fresh air when you need a more innovative approach. Their creative ideas often challenge conventional thinking for a more dynamic workplace.
  • Reliable work: A desire for predictability makes many on the spectrum extremely dependable in the workplace. These individuals often value stability over all else, ensuring they reliably carry out their tasks and fulfill their responsibilities.
  • Specialized skills: People withASD often have highly specialized skills. These individuals often give all their attention to singular areas of interest, giving them expertise well-suited to highly specialized roles.
  • Workplace diversity: Putting autism workplace accommodations in place and valuing employees on the spectrum makes your company more diverse and inclusive. This recognition of those with varying abilities and perspectives enhances morale and helps attract more diverse talent.

Debunking myths and misconceptions

Individuals who are neurodivergent also bring unique talents and skills to the table, but they may struggle due to misconceptions about ASD. Here are some common myths and misconceptions about autism and work to keep in mind.

Myth: Autistic individuals aren’t team players.
Reality: Effective communication and an established hierarchy help many people with autism work well on teams. Because those with ASD often benefit from structure, clarity and transparency help those with the condition feel more comfortable and supported in the workplace.

Myth: Autism only affects communication and social skills.
Reality: This condition also typically affects sensory processes, cognitive abilities and motor skills, so it may affect work performance in numerous ways. For that reason, it’s important to consider the individual needs of employees with this condition when making autism workplace accommodations.

Myth: ASD is visible, so you always know if someone has it.
Reality: The disorder is a spectrum, so it doesn’t affect everyone the same way. In fact, characteristics have a wide expression, and many individuals may not exhibit easily recognizable signs or even disclose their diagnosis to coworkers.

What to consider during the hiring process

The usual hiring process may differ slightly when communicating with an individual with autism. Beyond traditional best practices, here are some adjustments to consider:

  • Provide work environment details: Let the candidate know what their potential work environment will look and sound like. By doing this, they’ll be able to assess if the work environment is suitable for their sensory and social preferences.
  • Adjust the interview format: A traditional Q&A interview may not allow an individual with autism to showcase their abilities. One solution to this could be to provide a list of questions before the interview or to offer a practical assessment.
  • Offer a work trial: If it’s possible or reasonable for your company and the position, a work trial can help you assess a candidate with autism’s suitability for the role while giving them an opportunity to evaluate the position.

ASD: Creating an autism-friendly workplace

If you have an employee with autism or may hire one, there are some steps you can take to create an autism-friendly workplace.

  • Offer flexible schedules: When possible and reasonable for the position, the ability to work remotely can be beneficial to employees with autism. They may perform better in a quiet and controlled environment that they are familiar with.
  • Create a sensory-friendly environment: In some cases, a symptom of ASD can be hypersensitivity to sound and light. Creating a sensory-friendly workspace that reduces sensory distractions can help individuals with autism concentrate.
  • Structured support: Helping employees with autism succeed can start with giving them clear instructions and expectations. To help reduce any anxiety, you may also wish to pair them up with a mentor or employee resource for additional support.

More than just implementing reasonable accommodations, creating an autism-friendly workplace means shaping the environment into one that supports and values neurodiversity. 

Establishing robust support systems, including organizational mentorship opportunities, for those with ASD can provide more job satisfaction. Likewise, offering autism awareness and sensitivity training for other staff members fosters a sense of community within your company. On the whole, hiring employees with disabilities, including autism, promotes a more inclusive company culture and boosts overall productivity and morale, thanks to unique contributions by employees who have autism.

FAQs about autism in the workplace

What jobs do employees with autism do well? 

Employees with ASD can do well in any field. It’s a misconception that people on the spectrum are only suited to certain types of jobs. 

How can companies leverage technology to help employees with ASD?

Companies can leverage several key technological tools to assist those with ASD on the job:

  • Communication apps keep all conversations with coworkers and leadership in a written format so it’s clear-cut and simple to look back on when the employee needs clarity.
  • Project management software creates a structured setting with milestones and deadlines for each step to prevent misunderstandings.
  • Noise-canceling headphones help create a quieter workspace for those with sensory sensitivities.
Post a Job

Ready to get started?

Post a Job

*Indeed provides this information as a courtesy to users of this site. Please note that we are not your recruiting or legal advisor, we are not responsible for the content of your job descriptions, and none of the information provided herein guarantees performance.

Editorial Guidelines