5 Impactful Actions that Honor Autism Awareness Month

The Autistic Community defines Autism from a perspective of neurodiversity. Like the Deaf Community believes that Deafness is not something that needs cured, the Autistic Community believes that Autism is a natural state of being. Neurodiversity embraces the idea that there are natural variations in the human brain that impact areas such as how a person learns, interacts with others, and reacts to the environment. It moves away from the idea that autism is a disorder and that there is such a thing as a “normal” brain and embraces brain differences. It is critical that when spreading awareness around disability, that we make choices that focus on telling the stories and sharing the lived experiences of people within that community. We must remember that there is a social aspect of disability, not just a medical one.

This April honor Autism Awareness Month by committing to actions that make a difference in the lives of people living with Autism. Autism, like many other disabilities, affects the lives of different people in different ways. Each person’s experience can be unique, for example some prefer to use the people-first language of the Disability Community and others prefer to be called an Autistic person. This choice is very personal and in its own way celebrates diversity in thought.

During awareness months, it has long been a viewpoint of this company that this is a time for taking impactful actions that increase inclusion rather than focusing simply on talking about it. We are aware that autism exists, but what are we doing to ensure equity for people within this community. Each of the following actions center around the common theme of inclusion of members of the Autistic Community within the workplace. The actions we have put together below can be implemented as a group or can be focused on individually.

1: Support prepare-for-work programming for youth with disabilities.

Prepare-for-work or work-readiness programming addresses educational and resource gaps that exist for youth with disabilities as they move from academic supports to the workforce. In addition to building workplace competencies, these programs help youth with disabilities in building community networks, increasing self-efficacy, and identifying career pathways.

For youth with disabilities, moving from high school to higher education or employment is a different experience than for those who aren’t living with disabilities. In addition to all of the changes expected of them making these transitions, they have to navigate changes from a resource and legal perspective.

While in school, the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA) governs how states and public agencies provide services such as early intervention and special education. It also makes public education available for eligible children with disabilities. The IDEA brings schools and families together to work toward identifying appropriate accommodations for students with disabilities. This is very different from a work environment where employees are to notify their employer of accommodation needs. Instead, schools play a more active role in determining these needs.

Some prepare-for-work programming, such as programs delivered through the Bender Leadership Academy, also provide tools for self-advocacy and independence which address these changes in how accommodations are identified and put in place.

2: Review your application processes to determine if it deters people with Autism from applying.

Today, one of the predominant conversations taking place in the disability community is digital accessibility, which explores accessibility of websites, applications, and other digital space. For those organizations who are not fully aware of all that the WCAG covers, this is focused solely on people who are blind. However, digital accessibility also considers users of technology with other disabilities as well. If you are currently looking at your application portal only from the standpoint of users who are blind, you are leaving many others out.

Outside of accessibility, there are other considerations as well, including job postings that are generalized to the point of lacking clarity, the use of artificial intelligence which does not typically incorporate data from the Autistic Community, open ended application questions which do not consider neurodiversity in how questions are perceived, and a lack of universally applied processes or correct engagement directions in requesting accommodations to apply for a job.

Engaging experts in these areas can lead to identification of inherent deterrents throughout the application process for the Autistic Community.

Contact us to learn more about how Bender’s HighTest team can support your organization in ensuring your digital space is accessible.

3: Train individuals involved in your candidate screening process to adjust interviewing styles to overcome unconscious bias when interviewing people with Autism.

When reviewing results of candidate interviews, to what degree does feedback such as “did not seem enthusiastic about the job,” “lacked confidence – didn’t make eye contact,” or “struggled to answer open-ended questions” play a part in the selection process?

All of these are possible feedback scenarios for people with Autism. However, not all jobs being filled require eye contact or the ability to answer open-ended questions. There are job roles that are actually performed better by people who aren’t always focused on social interaction. Just because a person doesn’t express enthusiasm in a way that is expected, doesn’t mean the person doesn’t want the job. The things that people are taught to expect in responses inherently rule out people from the Autistic Community, even when screening for jobs that don’t require those traits to successfully meet the needs of the company.

Another area of bias stems from the idea that all people from the Autistic Community are the same. Characters and portrayals of people from this community in today’s media oversimplify the diverse experience that is Autism into all people being razor focused, mathematical geniuses. There are just as many people with Autism who do not excel at math, as well as those without disabilities.

Training provides insight into these preconceptions and can help those involved in the process to better identify the needs of the job role as well as who is qualified to perform those functions.

4: Train employees on how to implement best practices in engaging, managing, and collaborating with employees with Autism.

Providing training for what comes after the screening process is also an important component in successful inclusion of people from the Autistic Community. The experience won’t be the same as overseeing or working with someone without Autism, just as it won’t be the same for each person hired that has Autism.

Understanding what to expect and how to change things up can have a big impact on success. The good news is that learning these skills, and how to accommodate a person with Autism, builds leadership competencies and managerial skills. These qualities, such as being able to adapt communication and training styles, not assuming how someone thinks or feels, and asking the right questions, can be used when managing people across the board.

5: Hire a person with Autism.

All the awareness campaigns, webinars, and training programs in the world won’t make a difference if companies don’t hire members of the Autistic Community. The one thing you can do to truly be impactful, is hire a person with Autism.

In the end, neurodiversity is diversity. It celebrates our differences, rather than defining those differences as deficits that stand in the way of the pursuit of ‘normal.’ Some of the biggest benefits of diversity in the workforce include differences in thoughts and experiences and the innovations and ideas that come from multiple perspectives. Neurodivergent people experience the world in unique ways, adding new perspectives to the workforce. Make your commitment this month to taking action that celebrates, rather than excludes, these perspectives.

Contact us today to learn more about how Bender Consulting Services can help you in your disability inclusion journey.