how to be a Kind coworker to an autistic colleague?

Clipart version of office interior: a desk with books, a lamp. There is a chair behind the desk. There is a chest of drawers with lamp on top. The wall has three frames and a clock. There is a window behind the desk with city line visible.
  1. Is it autistic/ person with autism/ on the spectrum?
    • While majority of the people in the community prefer “autistic”, there may be some who prefer otherwise. So, just ask what they prefer.
  1. Written communication is preferred over “quick calls”, zoom or video calls, chats. It allows autistic folks to process things at their pace and revisit when they have doubts.
Four people sitting at a table working and chatting
  1. Keep communications straightforward and clear. If you are being sarcastic, clarify that it is sarcasm.
  2. It is always safe to steer clear of pranks, sarcasms, innuendos and the likes. Autistic folks tend to take things literally. It will lead to confusion if you say something, but mean something else.
  3. Autistic folks have a life time exposure to mocking. So, may be don’t mock?
  4. If you have the culture of hanging out after work and if they say “No”, do not take it personally. Office spaces are very overwhelming which requires us to mask (knowingly or unknowingly). By the time work day is over, we simply want to go home. Sometimes if we have more spoons left over from the day and we do not have a heavy duty day coming up, we may agree to stay back. But just because we always say no, don’t stop inviting us or get annoyed when we say “No”.
  5. The same applies for “Watercooler chats”. We understand that it is a quintessential part of workplace bonding. But small talks are not really our strong suite.
Two people sitting on armchair facing each other and chatting
  1. If you are a line manager,
    • make sure you do not put vague and ambiguous metrics for performance evaluation.
    • don’t “sandwich” reviews. It is very obvious and unnecessary. Get to the point.
    • give clear, and detailed instructions breaking down each tasks into small steps – preferably in writing. Eg. Autistic brain does not process directions the same way. Break it down to simple steps. Or use alternative ways like: share location on maps?
    • when you are scheduling a meeting, send a brief agenda along with the email. It will help your autistic team mate prepare for the meeting and also not panic or spiral.

There is no single formula or mantra on how to be a good coworker to a fellow autistic colleague. It depends from person to person. The needs of one autistic person is very different from another (just like any non autistic people). It is always safe to ask your colleague what they prefer and build from that.

If you really want to be an ally, follow #ActuallyAutistic hashtag on any social media of your choice. This will give you true insight on life of an autistic person.

You will notice that some of these things are general good practices for everyone.

And you are right!

The idea is: when you create accommodations for disabled folks, even non-disabled people can benefit from it.

A person looking at the laptop. There is a cup of tea next to the laptop

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