Potential solutions for better integration of neuro-atypical employees

More and more people with Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD) or Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are claiming their place on the job market. As employers, how are they to be brought on board? Marie-Ève Cantin, an educational specialist and one of the initiators of the L’Aut’Lieu project, offers some ideas.

Today, accessibility often comes down to adding a ramp for people in a wheelchair. Marie-Ève Cantin wants to take accessibility to a new level by offering companies a tool box to help them better integrate neuro-atypical employees. This is the idea behind L’Aut’Lieu, a social economy project that she launched with two educator friends and whose activities will start during next year.

In the meantime, the specialist has shared some tips acquired over the last 15 years spent working with this clientele. But above all, remember that adapting your workplace is part of a process. “It doesn’t happen overnight and all these initiatives are good,” she insists. You will have to start somewhere. According to the special educator, the first step is to become aware of your work environment.

Adapting the work environment

Annabelle has her meal at her workstation while Edith and Nathan are having an animated discussion at the other end of the office and the ceiling lights are flickering. These distractions can quickly become anxiety-inducing factors for people with ADD or ASD.

The solution to this is simple: the employer makes headsets or ear plugs available.

As for the lighting, Marie-Ève Cantin suggests,“If the space is lighted by fluorescent lights it can be aggressive for a neuro-atypical person. They flicker and the light is bright. We’re not asking the employer to redo the entire lighting system, but there is the possibility of adding fluorescent diffusers.”

The special educator reminds us that identifying these risks before a meeting, for example, can allow everyone to anticipate the need. Marie-Ève Cantin strongly encourages this type of preventive transparency in communications.

Watching your words

There are two golden rules to follow to favour integration of neuro-atypical employees in your communications: eliminate all innuendos and describe expectations clearly.

For example, when a new meeting is added to the calendar, Marie-Ève Cantin suggests clearly describing what is asked of the employee.

“What is expected of him at this meeting? Is there a dress code? What should he bring? These are all questions that can be answered beforehand. Making the PowerPoint presentation available before the meeting is also an option to give everyone a better chance of having a productive meeting,” she explains.

Raising awareness

Identifying one or more resource persons who know a little more about the issue can be an interesting avenue. A colleague who does not understand certain jokes or another who does not pay their full attention in important discussions can be irritants for neuro-atypical people. Under the circumstances a team member could defuse misunderstandings by helping to understand certain behaviours better.

“It is important to educate employers, but colleagues need it as well,” Marie-Ève Cantin says. Why not offer a lecture on the subject to break down prejudices against them?

With these tools in your pocket, your workplace already promises to be more pleasant and welcoming… for everyone.

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