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World Autism Awareness Day 2024

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Thank you to Helga D Van Iderstine from MLT Aikens Law for the following post (you can click here to link to it directly):

April 2 is World Autism Awareness Day. It’s an opportunity to take a moment to reflect on how to better understand and embrace this form of neurodiversity in the workplace.

MLT Aikins Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DEI) mission statement is “Cultivating an environment that celebrates and promotes diversity, equity and inclusion to attract and retain the best talent, drive innovation and better serve our clients.”

What is autism?

Autism affects one in 50 Canadians. As with other forms of neurodiversity, it stems from a difference in how the brain develops and functions. For those with autism, these differences impact their ease and ability to engage in social communications and interactions, and how information related to the environment and people around them is perceived and processed. Autism is not a homogenous condition. It is a spectrum encompassing a diverse range of strengths, challenges, perspectives and experiences. Each autistic individual has unique skills, aptitudes and abilities.

Autism in the workplace

While the prevalence of autism diagnoses in Canada has been increasing over time, it is still an underestimate of the total number of Canadians who live with this identity. It does not include those who have yet to be diagnosed, especially adults. In particular, women may have a strong suspicion they are different but have learned to mask their symptoms when they work and interact with others.

Barriers to employment

Many people with autism face barriers to employment. In fact, it is estimated that 85% of adults with autism are either underemployed or unemployed. These barriers often relate more to challenges navigating the recruitment, candidate screening and job interview processes than to the actual talents and skills that autistic job seekers can bring to the workplace. Some characteristics seen among people with autism that can provide a competitive advantage in the workplace include a remarkable attention to detail, analytical prowess, logical reasoning and dedication to tasks they find meaningful.

Within the workplace, those with autism may encounter challenges related to day-to-day social interactions with co-workers, sensory sensitivities to light, sound and smell, and difficulty navigating the unspoken nuances of workplace dynamics. As a result, others within the workplace may see their autistic peers as “odd” or out-of-sync with those around them. They may come across as blunt, terse, direct, rule-bound or anti-social when often what is lacking is an understanding of the different ways people with autism may process information, understand and react to the environment, as well as how they handle the pressures of busy working lives.

What can you do?

There are a number of ways we can all be more inclusive in the workplace:

  • strive to adapt the work environment to mitigate the effects of sensory overload
  • focus on clear communication, preferably in writing, as a best practice
  • recognize and value that we all have different skills and abilities – this diversity contributes to collective innovation and success
  • learn more about autism and how to embrace workplace neurodiversity

Advice for employers

Depending upon your role and level of interaction with an autistic colleague, there are a number of ways to be more inclusive in your approach. At the human resources or management level, employers can offer a range of options for adapting the work environment that might mitigate the effects of sensory overload for those who experience significant challenges or stress in certain environments. As your employee: “What do you need to succeed here?” Work with your employee to come up with win-win strategies.

For supervisors and co-workers, think about how you can ensure there is a common understanding of workplace expectations, roles and responsibilities. When in doubt, check-in and ask what their understanding is and provide clarification if needed. Mentorship within the workplace – especially for those new to a role – is a great strategy that can build that sense of understanding and appreciation both ways.

Additional resources

The Canadian Bar Association recently published an article entitled Making room for neurodiversity in law which provides important insights on the education, recruitment and hiring of students and lawyers with autism.

There is a wealth of additional information, advocacy services, training and support networks available from autism-specific agencies and organizations in Canada:

As we strive to build more inclusive workplaces, increasing neurodiversity can make us more innovative, productive and successful. Let’s celebrate the unique strengths and perspectives that individuals with autism bring.

In recognition of the important work done by Level It Up, and their assistance in reviewing this post, MLT Aikins has made a donation to Level It Up Manitoba.

Neurodiversity 101

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This is a great post from ONGIG that provides some information on what neurodiversity is…and what it isn’t. It also speaks to many different initiatives led by some major corporations promoting and supporting greater neurodiversity in their recruitment and hiring processes.  Definitely worth a read! Click here to learn more.

Video Interviews – the wave of the future in a post-pandemic world

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Check out this recent article in the Winnipeg Free Press.  It speaks to changes in the job interview process as a result of the pandemic. More and more companies are using virtual or video interviews to screen job candidates.  These interviews require a few considerations that include:

  • attention to your personal appearance – dress for success, even if you are not interviewing in person
  • attention to where you are taking the interview – are you in a space that is free from background noise and distractions?
  • taking the time to answer the questions thoughtfully and concisely – it is more difficult to establish a “friendly atmosphere” when on a zoom call so pay close attention to your tone of voice and how you answer all the questions – engage in eye contact as much as possible and exhibit an open posture in front of the camera

While those on the autism spectrum do struggle with the softer social skills associated with the interviewing process, they tend to do better when answering technical, skills-based questions.  It is time to take a closer look at your resume and ensure it is up to date and provides links to examples of your work, highlighting job-related skills and accomplishments.

If you are unsure of what those may be, perhaps we can help.  Contact us to learn more about our training and assessment process.  And if you are an employer, consider the advantage that those with AS bring to the virtual workplace – self-led learners, able to work independently and with a strong focus on the details may just fit the bill when you are thinking about your current workforce needs.



First Hand Perspectives on Neurodiversity, Employment and the Pandemic

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Rachel Worsley, an Australian living with ASD, has a busy work schedule…. She’s the CEO of Neurodiversity Media, an editor and a neurodiversity advocate. Most of her work can be managed online but she’s finding it harder to manage the social side of things in lockdown as an autistic adult. She shares her perspective on how she’s coping, and offers some advice for her peers.  This YouTube video features and interview with Rachel and she describes both the benefits and challenges of working through the pandemic.


Tips for Individuals with ASD as They Prepare for Employment

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Common barriers to employment experienced by those with ASD

  • The importance of routine
  • Hygiene
  • Getting along with others
  • Asking for help
  • Clear communication strategies
  • Knowing yourself
  • Selling yourself

The job interview

  • First impressions do matter
  • The value of a handshake
  • Answering questions concisely and clearly
  • Open ended versus close ended questions
  • Different interview styles and different interview questions
  • Technical
  • Behavioural
  • Strategic
  • Following up

The job search

  • The employer wishlist versus your qualifications
  • The use of an online portfolio to showcase your skills
  • Your resume and cover letters

An Introduction to the Autism Spectrum

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The Autism Spectrum is a form of neurodiversity – that is, a variation in how someone perceives and responds to the world around them due to a wide range of factors including differences in brain structure and functioning.

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With a prevalence of one in 68, it is quite likely you know or know of someone within your workplace, neighbourhood or community that lives with AS.

As a “spectrum” this form of diversity can vary greatly in how it is experienced and demonstrated by those living with it. There are multiple traits, sensitivities, skills and abilities that vary from one individual to another

In very severe cases, those with AS may lack verbal skills, not seem to engage with people around them, and may be seen to rock, flap their hands, walk on tiptoe and engage in other “odd” mannerisms. They may be very inflexible, needing a strict routine and have very restricted interests and a lot of support is needed on a daily basis to ensure their health and wellbeing.

In less “severe” cases of AS, there may be support needed due to limited verbal skills, a need for predictable routines, narrow interests, hypersensitivities and limited engagement with others.

In the least severe cases, what were once individuals classified as having Asperger Syndrome, there is normal to advanced intellectual functioning, normal to advanced verbal skills and better tolerance for changes in the daily routine. That being said, those with this form of AS do still experience sensory sensitivities to light, sound, smell, touch and taste, find social situations challenging and may have very narrow interests and areas of expertise.


Executive functions related to goal setting and monitoring progress may also be affected.

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Those with AS may also experience other mental and physical health challenges including obsessive/compulsive disorder, attention deficit disorder, Tourette Syndrome, anxiety and depression, challenges with hand/eye coordination and gross motor difficulties. Some of these can be treated, or stabilize over time so that in adulthood they can be more easily accommodated in their day to day life.

All of this may sound overwhelming if you have never met someone with AS, but on a day to day basis, some of the most commonly observed traits, especially among those with the least sever forms include the following:

  • Difficulty engaging in eye contact
  • Flat affect – that is, their ability to demonstrate moods and their emotions may be difficult
  • Advanced vocabulary – using terminology and speech patterns that are very accurate and grammatically correct
  • A need for predictability and seeming inflexibility when it comes to what to expect when
  • Difficulty engaging in social conversation or understanding the subtleties of social communication (use of idioms, metaphors, teasing, body language, voice pitch, etc.)
  • Deep interest and expertise on specific topics

These may result in negative perceptions that the individual does not and cannot understand social nuances, adheres very strictly to rules, is only interested in their pet topic.
In actuality, there are positive aspects to these traits that can be of immense benefit to both the labour force and society at large. These include:

  • Strong attention to detail
  • Logical thought processes
  • Amazing memory
  • Deep understanding and knowledge of given topic areas – i.e. specialization
  • Out of the box thinking/creative problem solving
  • Strong intellect
  • And more.

These traits can compensate and provide strategies to overcome the challenges. For example, for someone who has difficulty in social situations, being given a “play book” on how to interact with different people, which topics to broach and which to avoid, can be very helpful – using memory and attention to detail, they can learn to manage these interactions in a positive manner. The deep understanding and knowledge about their pet topics make them subject matter experts in their chosen fields.

As Temple Grandin says, “the world needs all kinds of minds” and neurodiversity can drive innovation in many different aspects of work and life. In most cases, including those with AS in the workplace is relatively low cost and simple. Examples of easy fixes to accommodate skilled professionals with AS include the following:

  • Providing a single point of contact for the individual – this could be a mentor or supervisor they can ask clarifying questions, debrief with, and learn how to meaningfully contribute to the workforce.
  • Establishing clear communication strategies – if the workplace uses channels such as Slack or Teams, establish rules for these interactions, what an expected response time might be for any given team member, etc.
  • Provide clear job descriptions including role and responsibilities for both the individual with AS and those they may be working with.
  • Provide or approve access to noise-cancelling headphones
  • Adopt scent-free policies
  • Review workplace lighting and access to natural light – provide breaks from fluorescent lighting in an alternately lit environment
  • Provide access to a quiet break space
  • Give the individual more time to reply to questions, comments or instructions or ask them to put them in their own words to gauge their understanding – writing it down may be particularly helpful
  • Understand that although the individual seems to be working well in an environment that is challenging to them, the energy required for them to function is greater than for others. They may need more frequent breaks or very limited needs for overtime work.

Level IT Up is here to help. We can provide great workshops that describe AS and how it might impact your workforce and we can also support both the individual with AS, as well as their employer, to establish a positive, fruitful working relationships.

Some Famous People with Autism Spectrum Disorder

  • Bill Gates
  • Steve Jobs
  • Dan Akroyd
  • Susan Boyle
  • Satoshi Tajiri
  • Al Gore
  • Anthony Hopkins
  • Darryl Hannah

5 Tips for ASD in the Workplace

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Consider a few of the challenges of managing any workforce and workplace:

  • Miscommunication between and among colleagues can lead to lack of productivity and a feeling of disconnection
  • Miscommunication between teams and supervisors can lead to challenges with project completion and meeting client specifications
  • Lighting, ambient sound, proximity of workstations can lead to stress among your workforce
  • Stress and anxiety can build to a breaking point leading to sick leave, resignations, and hard feelings among staff
  • Workflow may ebb and crest depending upon client engagement, time of year, etc. needing a flexible and nimble workforce
  • The world is constantly changing and evolving, meaning you need lifelong learners among your staff who can adapt and grow in their roles and functions.

When your workforce includes those with ASD, all of these factors are important considerations to optimize both their performance and those of their colleagues. While many “neurotypical” employees may just pick up and adapt to the communication needs and styles of those around them, those with ASD often find this particularly difficult. This means that guarding against miscommunication is very important

Tip # 1: Establish clear ground rules for communication
Define proper etiquette for using real-time collaboration tools like Slack, Teams, Skype, Zoom, etc. and set clear expectations for all team members in terms of their roles and responsibilities. If needed, you could also work with staff to develop expectations in terms of how and when they respond to questions, comments and concerns and set strict criteria for off-hour work-related communication. You may need to set guidelines for acceptable response times on Slack or through email.

Tip # 2: Learn and understand their work habits and help them to learn and understand those of their colleagues and supervisory staff
Work with your staff to determine how they work best – in a quiet environment versus a busy one, alone or in a small group, at a standing desk versus sitting, with frequent, shorter breaks versus two or three longer breaks per workday. Learn their preferred communication medium – oral, written, graphic, in person or online/through text or email. Incorporate these as much as possible into the work you do with them.

Tip # 3: Establish regular “check-ins”
All staff benefit from knowing their supervisors are monitoring their wellbeing, and when your staff includes those with ASD, this is particularly important. Many with ASD have a flat affect, they don’t show emotion or stress in typical ways. By checking in with them using their preferred communication strategy you can get ahead of emerging challenges and work together to strategize ways around stressors. Ask for feedback on workload, role and responsibilities as well as how internal processes and policies are being implemented and used.

Tip # 4: Encourage team interaction both inside and outside of a given project
Help all of your staff learn about and appreciate their colleagues, supervisors, and other staff through various formal and informal activities. Showcase skills and accomplishments and encourage staff to staff help and praise for each other.

Tip # 5 Ask for help if and when needed
There are many services and supports available to you and to your staff to help you learn more about the intricacies of autism spectrum disorder and its potential impact. You may find the information you glean helps, not just with your new employee, but also with your established workforce. We all benefit from clear communication, access to a variety of tools and resources to get our jobs done, and learning more about each other. As we tell our staff, “when in doubt, ask.” The same holds true for ourselves as we grow and diversify our workforces.

Coping with change in a time of uncertainty

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Recent events have shown us how life as we know it can change seemingly overnight.  We are developing a better understanding and appreciation for the stress this causes us as we adjust to working remotely, being laid off or with increasing work demands.  The stress we feel now may be something that is a regularly experienced by those living with ASD.

And, when we think about what helps us to better cope with these changes, we might recognize that many of these approaches recommended for those with ASD – we can now better understand the “why” behind them.

These could include:

  • establishing a regular sleep schedule – regular bedtimes and times for getting up and dressed for the day
  • establishing regular meal and snack times – review your eating habits to ensure good nutrition and a balanced diet
  • have a regular work schedule (and maintain contact with work colleagues and supervisors)
  • maintain regular contact with relatives and friends (using virtual communication tools as needed available)
  • incorporating regular exercise into your routine – if indoors, have a space where you can stretch and do some light strength training – use online tools for setting up an exercise routine and monitoring your progress.
  • work with your supervisor and colleagues to determine the parameters of how you will communicate with each other, expected response times, how often and when you can message with each other.

It is important to monitor your stress level and get help if and when needed to manage it.  Talk to a trusted relative or friend who may be able to help – at least in providing a sympathetic ear.

So now that we have a better idea of what life may feel like for those with ASD when there is not a global pandemic creating so much unease and impacting our lives on many different levels, imagine the scope of that impact when you already live with a baseline of anxiety and resistance to change.  On the one hand, those with ASD have developed tools over the course of their lives to help them to cope with anxiety, but on the other hand, the routine they have grown accustomed to has now changed dramatically.

They may need more time to adjust to these changes than you expect, and you may have to more closely monitor their stress levels, increase time spent exercising (walking, running, bike riding, etc.) and increase their access to more predictable activities – puzzles, games, and regularly scheduled meals and sleep.

Over time, we can learn from each other to determine what works best for each of us.  Keep in mind that this pandemic is not permanent but does require a lot of our energy and focus for the next few weeks and months.  We will get through this and assume a new normal, with a greater appreciation for each other.

If you are feeling overwhelmed by the changes the pandemic has brought to your life, there are many online tools and helplines that are available including the recently introduced “Be Well” initiative: https://www.gov.mb.ca/covid19/bewell/index.html as well as those resources found at: https://www.gov.mb.ca/health/mh/crisis.html/