You can be on Entrepreneur’s cover!

How to Create an Autism-Friendly Workplace Autistic individuals have attributes that make them great employees. Here's how to create the right environment.

By Lisa Evans

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

While one in 68 children in America ranks somewhere on the autism spectrum (according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention), only 53 percent of autistic young adults are gainfully employed. Washington, D.C.-based mom Patti Pacelli was concerned about her autistic son Trevor's career prospects. Through the course of her research for her book "Six Word Lessons for Autism Friendly Workplaces," she found that in some companies autism is seen as an asset, not a liability.

Software giant, SAP, for example, recognizes the benefits autistic employees bring to their business. The attention to detail, ability to spot imperfections and follow precise guidelines that are common in autistic individuals are rare and valuable assets, especially in the field of software testing. The company even put together a plan to have one percent of its workforce as autistic by the year 2020. Pacelli says autistic individuals are incredibly loyal employees and are often extremely passionate about their job. Since they take comfort in routine and are conscious of time deadlines and rules, they can be some of the most productive and reliable workers, especially in jobs that involve repetitive or detail-oriented work.

Related: The Surprising Benefits of Hiring Your Kids

With more and more companies, especially those in the technology sector, recognizing the advantages autistic individuals can bring to their organization and hiring them, creating a work environment that is autism-friendly will be key to take advantage of the extraordinary strengths and talents autistic employees can provide.

Provide clear, written instructions. One of the most appreciated attributes of individuals with autism is their ability to take direction, but Pacelli warns instructions should be clear, without use of sarcastic language or metaphors. Instead of saying "Don't be late," for example, saying "Be at your desk ready to start working at 9" is a better way to deliver instructions to an individual with autism. Instructions given in writing is ideal, so they have something they can refer back to. Running by their desk and delivering a rapid message is more likely to result in misunderstanding and frustration for both parties.

Provide opportunities for written, rather than spoken words. Autistic individuals will often respond better when asked to write down a thought rather than speak. In an interview, for example, being asked to showcase skills on a written test rather than verbally describe their qualifications is ideal.

Related: The 6 People Every Startup Needs

Provide structure. Autistic employees thrive on routine and structure. "They really like to know what to expect so they can plan out their day," says Pacelli. Avoiding interruptions and changes in routine is ideal. Interruptions to routine, such as an impromptu meeting in the staff room to celebrate a co-worker's birthday, being told to stay late 30 minutes before their shift is about to end, or having a meeting postponed at the last minute can be upsetting to an autistic employee. Giving them a heads up if there's potential for a schedule change can help them to adjust.

Autism-friendly facilities. Autistic individuals have heightened senses, making sitting next to a break room or near a busy hallway extremely distracting. "Hearing people's conversations in the background, while it might not seem loud to someone else, seems really loud [to someone with autism] and cuts into their thinking so they can't focus on what they're doing," says Pacelli. Harsh florescent lighting can also be distracting. Providing quiet workstations and options for dimmer lighting or an escape room where they can get away for short breaks when they require quiet time are some of the accommodations employers can make to help autistic employees thrive.

Related: Do You Have the Right Attitude to Attract the Best Talent?

Lisa Evans is a health and lifestyle freelance journalist from Toronto.

Want to be an Entrepreneur Leadership Network contributor? Apply now to join.

Growing a Business

Building a Culture of Quality — How to Ensure Your Products, Processes and Teams Meet the Highest Standards

Quality should be at the center of your organization. Here's how to define and maintain quality standards in every aspect of your business.

Side Hustle

This Flexible Side Hustle Is Helping Millions Earn Extra Cash — and Might Be 'More Attractive' Than an Office Job

Side hustles remain popular for additional income — and have many questioning the 9-5 model altogether.

Business News

NASA Reveals What the Strange Object Was that Fell From the Sky and Tore Through a Florida Home's Roof

The home's owner, Alejandro Otero, allowed NASA to collect and analyze the sample after attempting to connect with the agency through a post on X, formerly Twitter, last month.


Representation In AI Development Matters — Follow These 5 Principles to Make AI More Inclusive For All

Four out of five leaders and other execs want to learn more about how to use AI in their professional roles, but how can you craft it to also make diversity and inclusion a collective North Star?

Thought Leaders

5 Ways to Move Forward After Shutting Down Your Business

Did you have to make the tough decision to close down your business? Here are 5 ways to help you on the journey of recovery from business failure to your new entrepreneurial adventure.


How Entrepreneurs Can Harness the Power of Stoicism to Build Resilience and Thrive in the Business World

Here's how the ancient philosophy of Stoicism can benefit modern entrepreneurs.