- what are the kinds of accommodations an autistic student or colleague might need?
- how to provide and deliver on those accommodations
The second question is both more complicated, and more interesting, so our solution is to list here a checklist for making “reasonable adjustments” in the case of students and colleagues with autism, together with a bit of background on why this matters. In our talk we’ll reference this page and save valuable time skipping past the bit about “don’t wear strong perfume” and onto the bit about “whose responsibility is it to identify reasonable adjustments”.
But first, some background.
In addition, late diagnosis of autism is becoming more common. Although the “core’ features of autism centre on social communication differences and the presence of “repetitive, restricted behaviours”, the real world effects may seem quite different. Typical features include difficulties with sleep, stress, anxiety, as well as in coping with sensory, emotional and social input. If unsupported, many autistic adults find themselves in receipt of clinical diagnoses of anxiety or depression. The consequences can be very serious. There may also be significant challenges with things like scheduling and monitoring time, multi-tasking and project management – these issues are commonly reported in the autistic community. Such issues can be especially problematic for students, who are expected to work more independently than ever before, and for people undertaking research, because of the relative ease with which unexpected circumstances can derail their efforts.
What can we do about it?
Here’s our attempt at a Reasonable Adjustment Checklist for an Autistic Student or Staff Member
This list provides the basis for a conversation which should happen between the autistic person, and their line manager or supervisor. They should also be encouraged to bring a trusted friend or mentor to the meeting.
1. Disclosing diagnosis
Is the individual willing to disclose their diagnosis to colleagues, and if so, how would they like to manage this? Would people who work with the individual benefit from training, or an opportunity to ask questions? If so, can a trusted, independent person be brought in to orchestrate an open and friendly discussion? If the individual does disclose to their colleagues, are they also willing for those colleagues to share the information more widely, or is this privileged information? If and when autism comes up in conversation, how would the person like to be referred to? (e.g. person with autism, autistic person, Aspie, autistic).
2. The sensory environment
Does the individual have a place to work where they feel comfortable? Are the ambient sounds, smells and visuals tolerable? Is the lighting suitable? Are there uncomfortable tactile stimuli in the work space or important shared areas (e.g. venues for supervision meetings)? Do people working with them have information about what might be a problem – e.g. wearing strong perfume – and has someone taken the time to explain why this matters?
3. The social environment
Does the workplace have social occasions and is the individual keen / reluctant to participate? Are there essential social occasions? Can group activities be adjusted to enable the autistic staff member / student to take part – e.g. issuing a clear invitation to a specific, time-bound event. Do staff in the workplace recognise that a reluctance to engage socially does not imply dislike or rudeness?
4. Project management
Does the person experience difficulties with planning, flexibility, sustained attention or inertia? What exacerbates these difficulties and how can they be minimised? Is the individual’s preferred planning system non-linear (e.g. mind maps, sketch notes) or linear (e.g. gantt chart, “to do” list) and can this be accommodated? Does the person prefer to be immersed in a specific topic or task, or to have a selection of different tasks / intermediate deadlines – and can this preference be built into the project work plan?
5. Communication styles
Does the person prefer literal, specific language? And if so, can their line manager / supervisor and colleagues be reminded to use this? Does the person prefer written communication, or face-to- face? Is Skype easier than a phone call? Should colleagues be reminded to explain why they are offering a particular comment or piece of advice, as well as offering the comment?
6. Well being and work-life balance
Is the individual sleeping and eating well? Are meetings scheduled at times that suit their personal routine? Is the person known to relevant services including disability support? Are they registered with a GP? Do they have social support from friends or family nearby – and if not, would a befriending scheme be appealing? Does their line manager / supervisor / colleagues cultivate an atmosphere that enables them to ask for help if needed?
Would the person benefit from having a traffic-light system (e.g. green, yellow or red post-it notes) to signal their willingness to interact and / or current stress level? Would they benefit from a solo office or can they work from home? Can ear defenders, computer screen filters or room dividers be used to create a more comfortable work environment? Are there digital tools (e.g. time management apps, shared calendars) which can provide extra structure to the project?
For further reading, you might like to check out this fantastic blog post on How to Work With / For an Autistic Person and we’d also recommend this book on Autism and Mental Well-Being in Higher Education.
We’ll be posting up our talk slides soon – we hope you find them useful and interesting!