By Dr. Heather Hurd
After working for years with adults with Autism (Autism Spectrum Disorder or ASD), I am convinced that it can be very helpful to share the ASD diagnosis with employers. I have heard concerns about discrimination and being judged for having ASD, but in my experience the benefits of sharing the disorder have far outweighed the disadvantages.
Sharing the disorder can foster a more positive and effective work environment. One example of this is an individual was having a hard time working with some coworkers for years. It is likely that there was miscommunication occurring with nonsocial cues. After I wrote a letter to be shared with this individual’s supervisor and coworkers communication at work improved. There was an increased understanding, acceptance, and support that was not there previously. In fact, the coworker that had started off with the most rocky relationship actually brought in something special to celebrate Autism Awareness Day.
Another reason to consider communicating the diagnosis to employers is so that there is a betterchance of the employment working out. Not in every case, but many individuals with ASD who do not reveal their diagnosis have a spotty employment record. They may be let go at a higher rate or may choose to leave jobs that they find stressful. By communicating about their diagnosis it may not only aid in keeping their job, but make that job go more smoothly.
How would I share this diagnosis with employers? One option is for a psychologist to send a letter. This could help by giving not only information about Autism, but also could provide information pertinent to working with that individual. Autism does not manifest the same way for everyone. Therefore, there are specific characteristics to be shared and recommendations to be given for that individual. Another option is for the individual with ASD to pen the letter themselves in order to share their diagnosis, along with what Autism is and how to best communicate with them.
Another reason for sharing the diagnosis is to be able to request a reasonable accommodation. For many with Autism, sensory agitators in the environment can cause increased stress. These agitators may include: noises, crowded areas, lights, scents, or touch. Accommodations that are often provided in schooling to alleviate symptoms for those with ASD include quiet breaks and the use of headphones/ear plugs. These reasonable accommodations are also warranted in the work environment and can be requested when the individual communicates with the employer regarding the ASD diagnosis. Typically these accommodations are relatively easy to provide, but make a large difference in lowering stress for an individual with ASD and will aid them in working effectively and efficiently.