Navigating the modern workplace is a big challenge for all employees, regardless of any other factors. The skills required to be a successful and productive worker are myriad, from meeting ever changing deadlines to the quarterly reviews where performance targets are constantly upgraded. When you add the autism spectrum disorder into the mix, which comes with its own unique set of complications, it’s no wonder that over 80% of British Columbian autistic adults are either out of work or in work that doesn’t challenge them to be their best selves. This is where job coaching for ASD employee is becoming a more popular trend to help retain autistic workers and prevent them from burning out or leaving before the end of their contract.
Challenges Facing Autistic Employees
Beyond the workplace stresses that neurotypical workers typically suffer from, autistic workers have extra layers of challenges that make the modern workplace almost impossible to navigate. Some of these challenges include:
Social situations - one of the hallmarks of autism is difficulty reading subtle social cues such as body language, abstract language and facial expressions. Given how much of the modern office relies on interpersonal interaction, it’s not surprising to find that autistic workers rate social situations as their number one stressor. This problem is exacerbated if they’ve chosen not to disclose their autism diagnosis with their colleagues or supervisor as they will not receive any accommodations or forgiveness for any problems that arise as part of their condition.
Sensory stimulation - another symptom common among many autistic employees is that they are easily overstimulated by lights and sounds in their environment. In some cases this can extend to textures and smells as well, and it’s clear to see that this would make it almost impossible for them to function at optimal levels in a noisy open plan office. Again, if no one knows about their autism diagnosis, changes can’t be made and the autistic employee is more likely to quit without revealing the stress that caused them to leave.
The uniqueness of the condition - There is a saying in the autism community that goes: once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one autistic person. This means that while the above symptoms are common, they aren’t always going to be present. However, there are plenty of negative stereotypes held by neurotypical individuals about what autism is and what it isn’t, and unless these are challenged and changed, the unique set of symptoms for each autism employee can be a source of confusion for colleagues and supervisors.
Of course, there are more challenges than these listed, and these challenges can be compounded by the nature of the job itself and the specific office environment.
The Role Of The Job Coach
With all these stress factors piled up on top of the day to day stress, it’s easy to see how having a job coach could be essential to help autistic employees to cope with the workplace. Some of the strategies that an autism job coach will employ include:
Advocacy - an autism job coach will get to know their autistic coachee in depth and will be able to advocate with them (or on their behalf) for accommodations and changes that need to be made to help them survive and thrive. These could include a personal working space with low level lighting, or full agendas for meetings a day ahead of time.
Personalized training - another service an autism job coach provides is personalized training for specific tricky situations. In these cases, they will often coordinate with the autistic employee’s supervisor to work through challenging parts of the job. This could be generating scripts to follow for meetings or creating checklists to make sure each task is completed in the right order.
Mediation - for autistic workers with low support needs, the job coach will recognise the importance of teaching and building their independence. In these cases, they will help to mediate conversations between the autistic worker and their colleagues or supervisors when issues arise, and will try to help them develop the problem solving strategies to be able to handle these situations by themselves.
There’s no specified contract for an autism job coach. The amount of time they need to spend with the coachee and the hiring company will vary from person to person, and will also depend on the frequency of the challenging situations. Most companies who have made the decision to hire neurodiversity talent employees keep the contact details of an autism job coach on hand, or train up one of their staff members to act in that coaching role as necessary.