Lynne Soraya

Asperger's Diary

15 Workplace Behaviors That Exclude

If you do these 15 things, you may be excluding workers on the autism spectrum.

Posted Jul 27, 2011

Pain at work
There are a lot of behaviors, some of which people don't even think about, which can make a workplace a very difficult place for those of us on the autism spectrum. As one might guess from my last post, this is an issue that has been particularly top of mind for me.  As an advocate, and as a person on the autism spectrum who's been in the workplace for many years, I've had ample opportunity to observe these behaviors.

Thinking about this topic (and truthfully getting rather mad about it), I thought it might be a good idea to write about it...as I've found that writing often has dividends that even I frequently do not anticipate. So, I've decided to compile a list of these behaviors from the aggregate experiences of the many of those I've encountered as well as my own.

This list is by all means not all-encompassing, but represents for me an example of an environment that would be particularly onerous for someone like me.

So, here we go...fifteen behaviors that exclude employees on the spectrum:

  1. Publicly reprimand employees to "watch their body language" without specifying what you mean, and what body language is problematic.
  2. In group meetings, utilize metaphors that require a knowledge of body language to make sense, such as "we all need to be leaning forward" to indicate employee engagement. 
  3. If an associate drops something, be sure to joke about their "motor control issues."
  4. Equate the inability to pick up on sarcasm to a lack of intelligence.
  5. Dismiss associates who do not speak up (verbally) in meetings as having nothing to say. 
  6. Insist that all instruction be given verbally, and don't break them down. Ignore the associate if they ask to get a piece of paper to write things down.
  7. Immediately assume that behavior such as not meeting someone's eyes, or appearing aloof, means that associate is intentionally acting "stuck up," arrogant or rude. Take adverse employment action against them based on this assumption.
  8. Pressure associates to participate in off-site social functions - preferably in loud, noisy environments, such as a bar or race track. Judge them as less than committed if they do not join in.
  9. When discussing other employees, use words like "weird," and "bizarre," especially if it applies to appearance or behavior. If a person has a distinct gait or walk, make sure that is the first thing you mention about them...rather than focusing on their abilities.
  10. Commit an employee to traveling, or reporting to an alternate location, without discussing it with them first. Assume it will be no problem, or it reflects a lack of commitment if it is.
  11. Judge associates who use notes or e-mail as their primary way of interacting - insist they either talk to someone in person or utilize the phone.
  12. If an associate appears to be struggling to articulate themselves, be sure you rush them and treat them with irritation, or simply talk over them. Assume that if they can't get it out verbally, it must not be important. Don't look for alternative solutions.
  13. Punish associates for being truthful, and for speaking up when they feel something is wrong. 
  14. When an associate attempts to bring up the subject of disability, make sure you don't let them finish. Throw in a few comments regarding how you, or someone you know, has a disability, so you understand - one disability is as good as another, right?
  15. Don't provide the associate a way to safely escalate issues - assume that "they'll just talk to their manager." Ensure manager practices some or all of the above.

Fighting at work
If you've practiced any of the above, you've created a world in which a person on the spectrum is likely to be excluded. Unfortunately, like many, you might not have even realized it...and that's the sad piece of it.

So, what to do about it? I'll get into that in my next post. But, in the meantime, I'll ask my friends and readers who are on the spectrum to pitch in. Have you experienced any of the above? I'll put a few questions to you:

  1. In your opinion, what are the behaviors of bosses and co-workers that cause problems for those on the spectrum?
  2. How would you recommend that these behaviors be addressed?
  3. What can employers, and co-workers do to proactively ensure a welcoming environment for those on the autism spectrum?

I welcome your comments.

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