A major barrier to sustaining employment for autists is communication. “I work best when” includes asking employees their preferred communication styles. For autistic employees, this commonly means written communication, which allows autists to avoid confusing social interactions. Instead of meetings, teams and departments can create consensual communication schedules and routines, using email, Microsoft Teams, Google Drive, or something similar.
Autists are direct, honest, communicators, our language focused on information seeking problem-solving. We are commonly averse to small talk and prefer honest communication.
Miscommunication is not limited to small talk, however, as many neurodivergents face ableism in the workplace: harassment, stalking, bullying. Those whose identities place them in multiple intersections—women, LBTQIA+, disabled people, and people of color—tend to experience a combination of discrimination practices, wherein sexism, transphobia, homophobia, ableism, and racism combine, often driving neurodivergent employees out of an organization, either through unfair dismissal of the employee or the employee’s own choice to leave.
Many nonautistic people, believing in the stereotypes of high-functioning and low-functioning autism, assume that if their autistic employees/colleagues “present well” or are “successful” that they have no problems, need no accommodations, and since autistic accommodations are largely considered unusual, the need for accommodations are not often believed.
When someone says of a neurodivergent employee that they present well, what this someone is often seeing is an autist’s attempt to be perceived as nonautistic, largely by mimicking neurotypical behavior. To avoid seeming “different”, an autist might attempt to engage in small talk and make eye contact.
An autistic employee might also hide, or “mask” autistic traits such as stims and bursts. Suppressing natural behaviors is dangerous for anyone. Autists are especially harmed by masking because masking can also lead to autistic burnout, during which autists lose skills, experience chronic fatigue and mental illness, among other difficulties. Masking is massively draining and leads to more frequent neurological dysregulation, commonly termed shutdowns or meltdowns by the autistic community.
Often a painful physiological response, neurological dysregulation isn’t a choice, isn’t behavioral. A person in this state needs care, not judgment or punishment. Neurodivergent employees are major contributors to society. We deserve employers and colleagues who will treat us as real individuals. Accept us. If an employee prefers not to make eye contact, for example, a proper response is to avoid looking into their eyes, rather than trying to change them. We are not ill, nor are we a mystery. If you ask a neurodivergent employee what they need to succeed in your organization, they will tell you.