How to manage Autistic talent. I heard on the radio that a good manager is a good communicator. This set off an explosion in my mind. It is so true.
People leave managers not companies. And what is heart of a good company? Employees feeling valued and welcomed, listened to. As they are. Not having to mask to fit in. Feeling work is a safe psychological space to communicate and be yourself.
Not always the case for autistic people who have too often had to learn to act, mask, not be themselves to fit in to a company culture and be accepted. Frequently lost jobs to failing to do so. Struggling to understand facial expressions, body language. And sometimes quite vague and confusing verbal communication. Except where they are accepted as they are, worked with as they are. Whether or not they know they are autistic. And too many are reluctant, when they know, to disclose it.
Autistic people have made the modern world possible. Just a few – Alexander Graham Bell, Alan Turing, Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Mark Zuckerberg, Nikola Tesla, Thomas Edison.
Standing out as different, not always accepted.
Yet if they, like so many autistic people, can contribute so much, how come the work place is so hard to navigate for autistic people? Understanding communication needs. Only 21% of autistic people are in full time work, not necessarily work that suits them. And when in work, keeping it is another matter. Many can suffer a lack of confidence.
The CREAM system can help improve this communication, and thus help ensure company culture helps with Communication as a wider issue. It may help other talent.
C – Communication
Can you imagine what it is like if talent are not clear on expectations, and there is a lack of understanding. Much of this can be due to communication, verbal, body language, tone of voice, words used, putting it all together. Not easy for autistic people.
So how to avoid it?
1/ Forms of communication – Don’t rely on body language etc with autistic people, concentrate on the words. Keep language straight and clear, no idioms. Consider written communication as an option.
2/ Discussions – reconsider how you approach them, including in the questions used. Rather than asking ‘Do you understand …’ which can easily result in ‘yes’ ask ‘What do you understand by’. One element at a time. Ask for clarification if necessary.
R – Reasonable Adjustments
What happens if someone has different visible needs, not being met affecting their ability to do their work to the same level as others, and they get stressed what do you do? Brush it over, deal with it, get rid of them is it a nuisance? Autism is an invisible disability, but situations can be still be overwhelming, leading to meltdowns or shut downs, mistaken as tantrums or sulking. Reasonable adjustments can help improve productivity to remove these. Judging behaviour, not the person.
1/ The environment – lights, sounds, movement, smells. All potentially stressful, distracting. Autistic people can be over or under sensitive to these stimuli. Allowing the autistic person some control over this helps, without judgement.
2/ Emotional regulation – Allowing time to move, fidget, have time away from desk, releasing internal feelings, stress. This is not avoiding work, but aids thinking. Fidget toys can be very calming. For me I feel they engage the parts of the brain not needed for work, being bi-dextrous.
E – Executive Functioning
This is thinking, processing, moving on, how to do a job. Not a visible action. Taking on board and absorbing information. It seems quite easy. Not always when you have multiple simultaneous thoughts and solutions, long meetings and information gathering. Autistic people can have amazing long term memories but shorter term can be a challenge, and require time to process and respond to, appearing to be a lack of intelligence. Solutions to this include:
1/ Allow processing time – thinking time, allow writing down. Maybe a follow up meeting to discuss any issues arising after. Also allowing time to write up information immediately after meetings, or including extra information in minutes may help.
2/ Meltdowns/ Shut downs – Too much information, not tantrums and sulking. Limit the information given at one time, write instructions. At one workplace I would be told what to do, and write it down immediately. Lists are my friend.
A – Attitudes of Others
Being autistic can feel like being a foreigner in your own land, different needs, traditions, different outlook. Whilst this is more obvious on a holiday, it is not always so easy for colleagues working with autistic people as they are from the same environment. Causing friction and misunderstanding.
1/ Time – take time to get to know them, be open to suggestions for communication, adapt to them. Occupational Health and Human Resources can help with advice and support.
2/ Government Schemes – and charities can provide support, advice and training for autistic people. This may include agencies visiting the place of work, or offsite training. These are not always expensive and can be free. An investment.
M – Mentoring
What if you have someone, quiet, not being a team player as expected, possibly no mutual trust, skills lacking as a result? And you want them to contribute more? Autistic people can find it hard to trust, based on life experiences? So what can grow them and the company?
1/ Mentoring/ buddy – from a mutually agreed trusted person, not the line manager, providing a safe space to talk, develop, discuss issues. These topics may not seem major to others, but may provide an outlet, preventing issues, without judgement.
2/ Continuous development – training, to improve skills. This could include discussing their aspirations, future ideas that they may not have considered. This could include internal training to build and grow skills. Seeing areas for potential growth.
Working on the 5 points, with mutual trust and respect, companies can grow and stand out in the market, managing not only their autistic talent but all their talent.