How accommodating workers with autism benefits employers—and everyone else

July 15, 2019

How accommodating workers with autism benefits employers—and everyone else
Providing workers who have autism with a quiet workspace and detailed instructions on tasks are among several accommodation strategies for employers. Credit: Crew/Unsplash

Companies seek a competitive edge by hiring talented people, yet many capable workers are overlooked because they have autism.

So why is it happening? Largely because autism is poorly understood and managers are ill-informed about how to accommodate affected workers.

Fortunately, recent research has provided us with many strategies to make workplaces more inclusive.

The diverse ways autism presents

Autism is a developmental disorder that people are born with. It is a spectrum disorder since it encompasses a wide range of symptoms and abilities. Each individual with autism is unique, and the way their condition presents itself varies.

Common symptoms include trouble "reading" social/emotional cues and difficulties with conventional language and . Some autistic people are non-verbal and use assistive technologies, making it important to remember that being non-verbal does not mean being incapable.

Another common symptom is repetitive thoughts or behaviors, including "stimming." Stimming may include hand flapping, rocking, etc. It's a reaction to being overwhelmed by a situation or by everyday stimuli.

Stimming helps people cope by focusing intensely on a specific sensation or behavior. People who stim report that they find it embarrassing but critical in order to calm themselves. As such, the lack of social acceptability of stimming can be a greater workplace problem than the activity itself.

Lack of empathy is frequently cited as an autistic trait. This characterization is disputed by the autism community and by evidence from psychologists.

Both suggest that some people with autism may suffer from excessive levels of empathy that overwhelm, but the way they express it is not well-recognized. Other traits associated with autism include the ability to focus intensively, persistence and high detail orientation.

Unspoken social etiquette can be a mystery

Many barriers experienced by workers with autism relate to social/communication difficulties and are affected by how they behave but also how others perceive them.

For example, people with autism are often accused of lacking in emotion. They do experience emotions, but tend to express them in ways that are not readily recognized. Socially, they may dominate conversations while focusing on narrow interests, have difficulty understanding variations in tone and reading body language and facial expressions, and they may take things inappropriately literally.

Many find eye contact overwhelming, leading to avoidance that is mistaken for being anti-social.

Norms can be difficult for people with autism to perceive. The unspoken social etiquette that everyone is expected to instinctively know may be a mystery, negatively impacting job performance when expectations are not clearly communicated.

Change can also be anxiety-inducing and lead to challenging behaviors if it happens unexpectedly. Heightened sensitivity to stimuli such as smells and sounds can lead to reactions that seem extreme. A lack of understanding of those reactions often leads to those with autism being labeled "difficult," and those labels create additional problems.

Accommodation strategies for employers

Many people with autism are able to focus intensively. If a topic interests them, they will spent large amounts of time developing expertise. Attention to detail, combined with heightened pattern recognition skills, are also common traits, leading many autistic people to become technical experts in their fields.

Some people with autism enjoy repetitive routines and can tolerate work that others find monotonous. Others are creative, able to visualize solutions to complex problems and develop unique insights. People with autism are also known for being forthright and are less likely to engage in toxic political behaviors.

There are many accommodation strategies workplaces can adopt for employees with autism. Here are some:

1. Reduce workplace stimuli

There are many ways to reduce unnecessary stimuli at work. I'm providing some examples but this should not be considered an exhaustive list. Solutions are limited only by one's creativity.

Physical blocking of work spaces can reduce distractions. Examples include providing private offices or cubicles that face a corner. Whenever possible, LEDs should replace noisy and intense fluorescent lights. Noise-cancelling headphones can also be used, although some people will not be able to tolerate the sensation.

Similarly, uniforms can be a problem if the fabric is itchy, collars are tight or there are tags that irritate. Wardrobe flexibility may be needed.

Moving beyond the physical, minimizing interruptions can also help. You could encourage the use of e-mail instead of phone calls and ask people to use meeting rooms instead of hallways for conversations lasting more than a couple of minutes. Co-workers could be asked to schedule chats instead of "popping in."

Regardless of your efforts, workplaces may still overwhelm sometimes. A "quiet room can be very beneficial." They are darkened rooms in a low-traffic places containing comfortable furniture and a minimum of other sources of stimulation. Spending time in a quiet room helps people with autism cope when overwhelmed, and non-autistic workers also report psychological benefits from quiet spaces.

2. Create a culture of clear communication

The communication and social difficulties experienced by people with autism are heavily intertwined. And so resolving communication issues will also help with social difficulties.

First, make unspoken norms explicit. Managers should be trained to provide detailed instructions in writing and avoid ambiguity in task assignments. Things that may seem obvious, such as how to prioritize assignments, should be explicitly explained.

Performance criteria should be clearly outlined and employees should be capable of monitoring their progress. It is worth noting that these steps help all workers, and represent documented best workplace practices.

Workers with autism report that their ability to communicate is increased when they are able to see questions in advance, when people avoid jumping between multiple topics and when their intent is not judged by eye contact or having the "right" facial expression.

3. Offer social and emotional coaching

Even with the supports already outlined, workers with autism may find the social and emotional behaviors of others mystifying. A coach can be helpful. That mentor could be a trained co-worker or an outside expert. Co-workers may also benefit from receiving information to increase understanding.

These are all simple steps that can help employers leverage the large group of under-utilized workers with autism in the labor pool.

Many of these accommodations could help all workers and represent good business practice. Accommodating autism, therefore, has the potential to make our workplaces more just and productive for all.

Success Magazine – A Moment with Russell Lehmann

Success Magazine Russell Lehmann 2019 www.russell-lehmann.com

If it is one thing all of humankind has in common, it’s that we all struggle. Within this profound commonality of the human race lies the key to personal growth and development.

Diagnosed with autism at 12, I have been admitted to 3 different psychiatric wards at the ages of 11, 21 and 25. I dropped out of public school in the 5th grade and subsequently became somewhat of societal recluse for the next decade. I have battled incapacitating OCD, tumultuous panic attacks, severe depressive episodes and almost lost my life to anorexia.

Now? I am 28 and an award-winning and internationally recognized motivational speaker, author, poet and advocate. My story is archived in the Library of Congress.

Through my strife I have learned to run towards, and not away, from my obstacles. To not turn my back on my challenges, but rather to stare back at them. To kiss the feet of adversity, for it has given me the opportunity to learn my most cherished lessons and gain my greatest insights.

I am strong because I have been weak. I’m fearless because I’ve been afraid and I succeed because I have failed.

A large portion of life’s struggles are unfortunately exacerbated by societal conditions such as judgement, expectations, prejudices and biases, comparisons, peer pressure, so on and so forth. To protect ourselves from this, each of us has a mask we wear in certain situations to protect the fragility of our true selves.

It is behind our masks where we find the true essence of life and where we can experience the totality of what it means to be human. What Novalis stated centuries ago turns out to be true: “The path of mystery leads inward”.

I used to shun my trials and tribulations. Now, however, I embrace them with open arms. I have found my success through my struggle. You can, too.

 

The Secret to Life in 2 Words

Russell Lehmann, APSE Keynote

Don't resist.

Oftentimes we fight so hard against the things we don't want in our lives that it's akin to playing a game of tug-of-war: we pull and pull with all our might, yet whatever opposes us seems to only pull back stronger and harder.

Don't resist.

There are times, however, when we must learn to let go of our end of the rope, to not resist. In doing so, our opponent in the battle we are fighting loses its power, and when it goes to pull its end of the rope harder than ever before, it justly falls on its back.

Don't resist.

Life is not a fight. It is not a destination. Rather, life is a journey, an at-times tumultuous venture that no one has ever quite mapped out.

Respect the path before you. Spin wildly into the chaos that is the unknown and have faith that everything is for a reason, even if you never find out what the reason may be.

How liberating it is to at times be at the mercy of the immensely powerful universe that surrounds us. To just simply be, and to take breaks on whatever route you may be on to admire all that you come to encounter.

If there ever was a key to existential freedom, it would be to simply not resist.

Stay Strong,

Russell

P.S. Have you checked out my new book? Powerful poetry and emotional stories shed raw, transparent insight into life on the spectrum. Find it here!

Interested in working together? Shoot me an email here!

© 2019 Russell Lehmann: Speaker, Author, Poet, Advocate

You Matter

Russell Lehmann - You Matte and You Are Loved

 

“Do you ever wake up, wishing to stay in bed?

Your head is clouded, you dread the day ahead?”

©Lehmann

I often do, and the best thing I can do for myself is to get up, look in the mirror and say “Russell, you matter”.

Of course, this phrase is much more powerful coming from somebody other than ourselves. So today I just want to simply tell you:

YOU MATTER, YOU ARE LOVED and YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH EACH BREATH YOU TAKE

We don’t hear these words enough. When we have a challenging day, society has conditioned us to wear a mask, and cover up our struggle. We fight through the day in silence, wishing for someone to take our mask off for us and to simply let us know that we’re not alone.

And so I say to you again, no matter who you are, what you’ve been through or what you are going through:

YOU MATTER, YOU ARE LOVED and YOU ARE MAKING A DIFFERENCE WITH EACH BREATH YOU TAKE

“It’s okay to let the pain show, to fail…to cry…to be in woe

These plant the seeds that in turn proceed to grow

A fervid force within you, that you would never know

Has the power to bring this world together, bonding in sorrow for a better tomorrow”

©Lehmann

On May 11th I'm heading out to Cambridge to take part in LEAD20 @ MIT (https://lead20mit2019.rudermanfoundation.org) then I’m heading straight to London to present for King’s College.

As always, thank you all, from the bottom of my heart, for supporting me and following my journey as I use the lessons learned and insights gained from my painful experiences to help make this world just a little bit better.

If you haven’t checked out my new book yet, find it on Amazon here, and if you have enjoyed reading it, I would greatly appreciate an Amazon review!

Sending Strength & Love,

Russell

 

 

Autism and Mental Health Advocate Releases New Book

Russell Lehmann releases second book chronicling a life with Autism

Rusell Lehmann_MediaPhoto
Reno author and autism activist, Rusell Lehmann, debuts his second book about life on the autism spectrum.

 

(RENO, Nev.) – Author and internationally recognized speaker Russell Lehmann debuted his newest book, “On the Outside Looking In: My Life on the Autism Spectrum,” (Lucky Bat Books, 2019) on Wednesday, March 27, 2019 at Lark & Owl Booksellers in Georgetown, Texas, an Austin suburb.

The event began at 7 p.m. and featured Lehmann reading excerpts from the new book as well as a group conversation about Autism in our society. In addition to purchase availability for the book at Lark & Owl, copies may be purchased on Amazon or at local independent book sellers.

“On the Outside Looking In” is Lehmann’s story of overcoming the odds and achieving immense personal growth. Exposing his vulnerabilities, naiveties and painful personal experiences, Lehmann relays the many lessons learned and insights gained throughout the circumstances in his life. Emotionally powerful stories and intense poetry give a raw and transparent insight into Lehmann’s life on the autism spectrum.

This is Lehmann’s second book. His first book is entitled “Inside Out” and features his gripping and personal poetry.

About Mr. Lehmann:
Russell Lehmann was named a 2018 “Most Outstanding Young Professional” in Reno-Tahoe and has been featured in the Los Angeles Times, NPR, USA Today and numerous other national publications. He is a globally recognized motivational speaker, poet and advocate who happens to have Autism. He is a member of the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities and an ambassador for several national Autism programs. He speaks to organizations around the world.

Why We Compare Ourselves to Others on Social Media and How to Stop

“The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind-the-scenes with everyone else’s highlight reel.” ~Steve Furtick

We all have certain triggers that can cause our confidence to take a sudden nosedive.

For some, it’s a trip to the gym. If you’re self-conscious of your body, watching fit people strut their stuff in their tightest fitting gym clothes likely has you over analyzing your every body part.

For others, it may be a certain individual—a family member, friend, or enemy that, for whatever reason, leaves them with the dreaded feeling that they just aren’t enough.

We all know the gut wrenching feeling that arises when we see or hear something that immediately has us second guessing our appearance, personality, or skill set.

Unfortunately, social media provides us with numerous platforms that help to quickly trigger that unpleasant self-disdain.

Facebook recently reminded me of just how powerful a determinant it is to my confidence level.

I found myself comparing all aspects of my life, both internal and external, to a person I had never met. She was a stranger in every sense of the word, and yet somehow, her profile page caused me to question my accomplishments, appearance, and even personality traits.

I didn’t realize just how illogical this was until I explained it to someone, and, now as I type, I’m reminded even further.

Regardless of how illogical these comparisons may be, our emotional responses to such images can be so strong that they completely overpower our sense of logic.

The reality is, people are constantly showcasing the best aspects of their life onto social media.

The arrival of a new baby and a recent trip to the Caribbean are both ideal picture-posting occasions. But do these same people post photos of 2 a.m. feedings or lost luggage? Not often, because that wouldn’t show them in an ideal light, but it would provide a sense of reality.

Reality is what is lost on social media. We emphasize the best versions of ourselves instead of the real versions.

Life can be hard, ugly, and downright depressing at times. But those likely aren’t the adjectives most of us would use to describe the photos we post onto our accounts.

The feeling of lack and dissatisfaction that we feel when scrolling through our newsfeed often results from comparing our true reality to our “friends’” idealized, perfectly Instagramed realities.

We are using the same scale to measure two entirely different realities.

However, we fail to step back and recognize just how wildly unfair and unrealistic these comparisons actually are.

So how can we stop ourselves from making them?

1. Reduce your time on social media.

This can be a challenge since we live in a culture that puts such a high value on social media outlets. But that doesn’t mean it’s impossible.

Allow yourself five to ten minutes a day to check your social media accounts and then be done with it. Especially avoid looking at profiles of people who trigger thoughts of comparison. You have nothing to gain in doing so besides anxiety and sadness.

2. Redirect your focus on the things that really matter.

When you direct your attention toward the real world, you have less time and energy to direct toward meaningless activities such as social comparisons.

Focus on a high-energy work out at the gym or finishing a book you’ve been putting off. Immerse yourself in activities that leave you feeling better for having engaged in them (versus Facebook stalking, which leaves you wishing you hadn’t).

Make a list of activities and then schedule them onto a calendar. Since we often spend time on social media when we have little else going on, having scheduled plans will reduce the time we are sitting idle.

3. Assess where those negative comparisons are stemming from.

As unpleasant as these comparisons can feel, they can serve a positive purpose in that they inform us of an area of our lives that may benefit from some improvement. The incident served as a reminder that I want to be secure enough in who I am and where I am in life that I don’t feel the need to measure it in comparison to anyone else (least of all, a stranger).

After my strong reaction to a stranger’s Facebook profile, I decided to work on developing a stronger sense of confidence and self-worth. I’ve done this in a number of different ways such as:

  • Putting a higher value on my relationships. I have amazing friends and family, but I admit that I often take them for granted. I’ve tried to become more present in my interactions with them, as well as in encounters with complete strangers.
  • Valuing my time more. In the past, I’ve been much more cognizant and respectful of others’ time than my own. I’m practicing putting my needs first and learning to accept that it is okay to do.
  • Doing more of what I love. Sounds simple, but I’ve really made an effort to go on quiet walks with my dog more or allow myself an hour to read a book. Doing things simply because I like to do them has given me an increasing amount of self-value.
  • Eating well and moving. I make sure to put my body in motion for at least thirty minutes a day (even if it’s just walking the dog), and I eat small, healthy meals throughout the day so I don’t find myself snacking mindlessly on junk. Putting a higher value on my body by eating clean and getting exercise has naturally given me a higher sense of self worth.

So, next time you make an unfair comparison, instead of allowing it to make you feel poorly about yourself, view it as an opportunity for a little self-evaluating.

Ultimately, social comparisons aren’t indicative of what others have that you don’t, but rather what you already have but aren’t quite aware of yet.

About Emily Holland

Emily, M.A. is a freelance writer and Certified Health Coach. Her curiosity for people, personal growth, and healthy living led to a Masters in Psychology and a certification in Health Coaching. She is constantly researching news ways to live a healthier, happier lifestyle and is passionate about sharing her insights through writing. Visit Emily at curiouscoffeedrinker.wordpress.com.

My Name is Russell Lehmann

I have come a long, long way in life. When I was 12, at the height of my distress, I was pretty much non-verbal. I was too afraid of the outside world to speak to anyone other than my parents. I stayed inside my house as much as possible, clinging to my parents’ sides, terrified of any external stimuli, such as the doorbell ringing, the TV being on, or the microwave going off. I was a prisoner inside my own body. I would have multiple meltdowns every day, curling into a ball in the corner of a room, just crying for hours. I was extremely low-functioning, and could barely take care of myself.

Now, however, I’m a successful, confident man who travels the country spreading a message of hope, awareness, understanding and acceptance about autism and other disabilities.

I happen to not only have autism, but anxiety, depression, OCD and a previous battle with anorexia.

I am a member of the Nevada Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities, I sit on the board for the Autism Coalition of Nevada, am the Youth Ambassador for the mayor of Reno, Nevada, am affiliated with the renowned Kulture City organization which spreads awareness and acceptance about autism, and have written a book that earned an honorable mention at the NY Book Festival. I also happen to be a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT).

As I mentioned before, the amount of personal growth I have experienced has been astronomical. The catalyst behind this growth is not due to some secret pill or “cure”, but rather due to pushing myself outside of my comfort zone on a daily basis. Every single day I take every chance I can to push my mental abilities to the test, whether it be pushing myself to the limit at the gym, initiating a conversation with a stranger, placing myself in the middle of a loud crowd in order to expand my sensory processing capabilities, or just simply making full eye contact with an individual I’m talking to.

I do this not only to further grow and develop into the best person I can be, but to also conquer the remaining demons that I do still deal with. It is this drive that keeps my symptoms in check. If I were to stay inside my comfort zone, and not push myself out into the extremely frightening outside world, I would eventually regress back to where I was when I was 12: a low-functioning individual with autism who is pretty much non-verbal.

My progress in life may seem like a miracle on the surface, however everybody and anybody can attain this type of personal development. With regards to individuals on the spectrum, we can conquer our disability and turn it into an extraordinary ability. I like to say that autism is a gift, you just have to figure out how to open it first.

My advice? Run towards, and not away, from your fears. Fear, firstly and foremost, is nothing more than opportunity disguised as risk. Behind every single fear in your life is a wondrous reward that you will only attain if you push through what frightens you. It is a fact that when you push yourself outside of your comfort zone, your chance for personal growth increases exponentially.
Failure is another factor of life that we all need to embrace. If we were to never fail, we would never know what we need to improve upon, and we would never be aware of what we are truly capable of. When there is a chance you may fail at something, you either succeed or you learn. There is no losing when it comes to failure. Think of failure as a trampoline: You are going to fall, but you will bounce back better because of it!

I chose to become a self-advocate and speaker in order to help others not have to go through the unnecessary pains and struggles I’ve been put through. I take pride in being a voice for the unheard, for I know how frustrating and challenging it is to go unnoticed. I’m honored and humbled to be able to give hope to families and parents who are concerned with their child’s future, just as my parents once were.

I have a raging fire within me to help others succeed no matter what obstacles or hardships they may be faced with. I sincerely hope this article aids in this all-important endeavor of mine.

Police officer helps boy with autism find lost teddy bear after 911 call

By Ashleigh Jackson,

Police officer rescues teddy bear for boy with autism

(Meredith) - A 12-year-old boy was reunited with his lost teddy bear after a New Jersey police officer helped him find the beloved toy.

Ryan Paul, who has autism, called 911 last Wednesday when he needed help finding his small stuffed animal named Freddy, WPIX reported.

"My teddy bear fell down again. Don't worry I'll rescue you again. Goodbye again. See you again!" Ryan is heard telling a dispatcher before hanging up.

His father, Robert Paul, told the New York Daily News that he was initially shocked to learn his son had called the emergency line.

“I said ‘Ryan, did you call 911?’ and he said ‘Yes,’” the dad said. “I said ‘Why?’ He said ‘Teddy bear rescue.’”

Woodbridge Police Officer Khari Manzini located the stuffed animal a short time after arriving to the home.

"We found the teddy bear, the teddy bear was OK," Manzini said. "He was in safe hands, no injuries, nothing like that."

"Whenever we could use that training to make sure to not only keep ourselves safe but those folks that we're helping safe, you know it makes a great difference," he told the station.

Ryan's father applauded the officer for his kindness, and said he's proud to have "such a fine and caring police department."

"You know he couldn't have been more accommodating and understanding. It was really great," he said.

Russell Lehmann Autism Research

March 3, 2019 via Instagram @BiteSizeAutism

Research with 70 Taiwanese autistic adults found that sensory avoiding was associated with greater loneliness and anxiety. The relationship between sensory avoiding and higher anxiety was moderated by loneliness - this means that loneliness is key to sensory avoiding and anxiety being related. How do the results fit with your experience? Comment below!

READ MORE:
Syu, Y. C., & Lin, L. Y. (2018). Sensory Overresponsivity, Loneliness, and Anxiety in Taiwanese Adults with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Occupational therapy international, 2018.