Empathy is a tricky business. Sometimes it requires us to put ourselves in someone else’s place and try to imagine how they are thinking or feeling. In other cases, however, it requires us to set aside our assumptions and listen. Such is the case with neurodiversity.
1. Not every autistic person is the same. Some traits will be present in some individuals but not in others.
2. They prefer written communication and instruction because they can process the information at their own speed. And having it in writing minimizes the risk of interpreting it incorrectly.
3. Say exactly or literally what you mean. Don’t expect an understanding of unspoken social cues.
4. Make them feel welcomed while also understanding that if they seem rude it is not intentional.
5. Unforeseen things can be disruptive, so explain changes in plans clearly and transparently.
6. Keep in mind that raised anxiety levels can cause them difficulty in tasks they should otherwise be able to do.
7. Utilize tact when providing feedback. Try to avoid framing it in a personal way.
What to Expect as a Manager
When you are a manager or team leader, part of the job is to learn how different individuals on your team work best. The same principle applies when working with neurodivergent individuals, wherever they are on the scale. In its “Hiring Managers’ Toolkit for Neurodiversity,” the Dublin City University Centre of Excellence for Diversity and Inclusion highlighted four key areas to consider:
Some autistic individuals are hypersensitive to sensory information, e.g., being touched on the shoulder might feel like a punch. Some may be unable to wear restrictive clothing such as a shirt and tie or suit. Some sounds such as hissing or consistent, low buzzing may prove overwhelming for someone who is hypersensitive, while it may not bother others.
Behavior and movement
One characteristic of autism is stimming. This is a form of sensory regulation. Most people engage in some form of stimming such as nailbiting, tapping or sudden movements. Some methods of stimming appear inappropriate or odd. Drawing attention to stimming can cause distress to the individual. It is important to be understanding of this behavior.
Communication and planning
Those on the autism spectrum tend to communicate differently. They do not naturally or automatically understand sarcasm, figures of speech and body language. However, this can be learned. Social events may also prove quite challenging for these individuals.
Pay attention to the location of after-work activities and social gatherings. Locations such as bars or pubs may be overwhelming for a person with ASD, as they are loud, busy and often an assault on the senses. People with ASD may choose not to attend these functions.