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Autistic Employees Want More Learning Opportunities

Autistic employee works on laptop while sitting on leather couch

The conversation around autistic employees often involves creating a more inclusive environment for their talents to thrive.

However, a new survey of nearly 1,000 autistic professionals around the globe by consulting company auticon in Berlin identified an often-overlooked aspect of inclusion that employees with autism are increasingly wanting.

“An important part of creating more inclusive work environments is making sure autistic employees have pathways for career growth and leadership opportunities,” said Louise Stone, director of recruitment and neuroinclusion at auticon.

The report, released during National Autism Acceptance Month, found that 65 percent of employees with autism said they enjoyed learning opportunities, a sense of challenge and the ability to innovate in the workplace.

Professional development opportunities can support the careers of autistic employees, many of whom don’t know how to network or proactively ask for growth opportunities, Stone said. Companies should enable people to explore different roles to grow their skills and find out what is best aligned with their natural talents.

She added that learning opportunities should be the same as what’s available for all staff—trainings, certifications and opportunities to attend professional development events.

“On top of that, make sure the employee knows what opportunities are available,” Stone said. “And check in periodically to understand what their interests and professional goals are so you can support them.”

Role Models Make a Difference

One way to support the professional development of employees with autism is by having other autistic people in leadership positions who can serve as role models. However, the auticon report found that only 17 percent of autistic professionals in junior roles had a role model who is autistic. Conversely, 45 percent of those in senior roles had an autistic role model.

“Role models that are relatable are extremely important. There’s plenty of research out there supporting this in regard to women and people of color, and it’s exactly the same with autism. It shows that you can not only get to that level and have that success, but you can do all of that while having support and being open about your autism.”

Research has shown that role models can provide valuable insights, advice and mentorship, helping employees navigate challenges, develop new skills and advance their careers. The presence of role models has been shown to promote collaboration, learning and personal growth.

[SHRM Online: Autistic Workers Often Avoid Disclosing Their Condition to HR. Here's Why]

The Benefits of Developing, Promoting Autistic Workers

Matthew Kenslow, author of Unstoppable: How One Person with Autism Is Never Giving Up on His Lifelong Dream to Become a Teacher and Worldwide Influencer (River Birch Press, 2023), said supporting the career growth of employees with autism enables them to succeed in the real world and provides a sense of worth, value and self-esteem.

“It will give us a chance to make substantial income and might help us build camaraderie with our co-workers,” said Kenslow, who is autistic.

He recommended that employers provide a thorough run-through of each procedure of the job. Afterward, allow them to practice once or twice and ask any questions that they might have. Build from there one piece at a time until they master all the duties required of them for the position.

“After a substantial amount of months or years, see if they would be open to a challenge such as a promotion and its respective task,” Kenslow said.

Aleksander Oleszkiewicz, director of auticon labs, offered five additional ways that employers can support career development for autistic professionals:

  • Help them identify their strengths.
  • Provide opportunities for nonstandard career paths.
  • Allow employees to explore different roles to grow their skills and find out what is best aligned with their natural talents.
  • Have inclusive internal processes, provide accommodations and support employees in areas that are more challenging for them.
  • Include neurodivergent employees in all decisions related to programs and initiatives geared toward neuroinclusion.

Oleszkiewicz said that autistic employees who ascend into managerial roles often use facts to inform their decisions, evaluating people purely on their performance and not taking into consideration any factors that are commonly connected with discrimination.

“They follow clear and written rules and are open to the individual needs of each person, which creates a great foundation for healthy and high-performing teams,” he said. “I see autistic managers as being very inclusive, not only in the space of neurodiversity but generally across all areas.”


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