Autistic people and meetings – how to make meetings fully inclusive and productive. Meetings are an essential part of business – Interviews, review, team, committee meetings. They help get contributions, get to know people, improve performance. Done well and companies really benefit.
However meetings can be a major source of stress and exhaustion to autistic people, and they do not always contribute to their best.
This article provides some information on how to make meetings more inclusive and autism friendly, enabling full contribution, without judgement.
According to various statistics 1 in 42/66/88 of the population are autistics. Due to perceived stigma some don’t disclose it. Only 21% are in full time work. Yet autistic people have contributed so much to the world and made the modern world possible.
So why listen to me?
I am female, late diagnose, after issues raised at work. Autism was considered likely. However I still felt I had no choice but to leave, with damaged confidence, unable to contribute fully. A far too common story.
What is Autism?
It is a lifelong neurological condition, affecting how the world is seen understood and interacted with. Often accompanied by ‘masking’, acting to fit in. One of the invisible conditions, a neurodiversity. A different way of thinking.
It is not a mental deficiency, inability to communicate. A disability, focussing on the lack of ability.
How to improve meetings for Autistic people
Getting the best staff, developing and growing them will help companies become the CREAM in their industry, like the CREAM on strawberries. CREAM is an acronym for the 5 areas which I have identified as being essential to this.
C – Communication
Without this companies cannot work properly.
Yet this is not as easy as it seems. Formed of non-verbal, tone of voice, words, learnt and developed from babyhood by most. Not always clear to autistic people though, resulting in misunderstandings.
To reduce this, just concentrating on the general words helps, reducing slang and metaphors. Seeking clarification also helps, as does allowing written contributions, or post meeting meetings.
R – Reasonable adjustments
Providing support to work to the same levels of other, often quite simple. Distractions – sensory issues, including light, sound and movement. These can be hard to filter out, causing stress and affecting focus. They can also be easy to work around by allowing looking down, shutting eyes, accepting tinted glasses and adjusting screen brightness.
E – Executive Functioning
Planning tasks, thoughts and responding. This can be tricky, especially if like me there are multiple thoughts, near simultaneously, considering how to respond. Delays can be misunderstood. By allowing time to process thoughts, seeking clarification, and maybe discussing with another person can help.
A – Attitude of others
No person with autism is the same. Others being open accepting and understanding each individual and their ways is essential to enabling autistic people to relax and it in (ie stop masking and contribute).
M – Moving on
Essential to the retention and growth of staff. Trust and confidence can take months to build up. A second to destroy. To restore it can be very hard, especially for autistic people, already navigating a confusing world. Provide training, support and understanding will make meetings a friendly, inclusive and productive environment.
5 advantages of having autistic people in meetings
- Different views – going off at potentially useful tangents, which do have a connection to the topic
- Multiple, view points, sometimes near simultaneously.
- Pattern/ process seekers – naturally
- Blunt and to the point sometimes, or sometimes talk through verbally
- Problem prevention – can see future issues, thus saving time and money
What does work
- Accepting delays in responding, and responses however they come.
- Seeking clarification with open questions
- Focus on the general words used, over body language and tone of voice
- Allow a representative with them if required, to support and clarify
- Accepting there may be no logical path to conclusions, or multiple solutions
- Allow time to consider discussion and follow up
- Get to know them, find out what way works.
What doesn’t work
- Short notice meetings on staff
- Vague, verbal comments, no clear goals
- Long, verbal meetings without a concluding summary
- Negative feedback – don’t be sharp, include clear positives
- Have fixed expectations of response forms
- Don’t assume if it is clear for you it is clear to them
- Considering meltdowns/shutdowns to be tantrums/ sulking. They are a communication of overwhelm
Autistic people have a great deal to contribute if meetings are fully inclusive. Simply by adapting meetings to them, by following the CREAM system will help them and the companies grow.