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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.


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/