Managing Employees On the Autism Spectrum: A Fictional Example

We previously talked about what to do if you think an employee may be on the Autism Spectrum and, related to this, one trend I’ve seen over the last few years is a sharp increase in requests to intervene on the behalf of clients in the workforce.

A Fictional Example: Simon

Simon’s employer contacted my office in the hopes of preventing disciplinary actions and potential dismissal due to a number of challenging behaviours. Simon had difficulty arriving to work on time, failed to follow certain procedures, had been upsetting some of his coworkers with his ‘rude’ and callous comments, and was not very popular with his peers. When his employer formally outlined these complaints, Simon did not seem surprised and revealed that he has a diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome.

Sympathetic to Simon’s specific needs, his employer was hopeful that we could provide an intervention to address Simon’s workplace challenges. In meeting with Simon, although it was clear that he was open to admitting to the complaints, he seemed somewhat unclear as to why they were being taken so seriously by his employer.

Understanding Simon’s Challenges

Simon’s case is not atypical by any means. Individuals with ASD often tell me that they struggle to make sense of the neurotypical world and all of its subtle variations. For example, Simon’s ‘rude’ comments are likely a case of saying-it-like-it-is.

Co-worker: “Hey Simon, check out this picture of my nephew”

Simon: “Wow, he’s really fat!”


Supervisor: “Any thoughts on the new system we brought in last week?”

Simon: “I think the system is garbage, we should go back to the old one.”

In Simon’s mind, he is following one of the guiding principles of ASD…speak the truth. While most of us try to uphold the truth, we are also keenly aware that the truth may require some subtle tweaks or rewording depending on the situation. In this case, Simon simply gave the answer that he had been thinking and did not necessarily reflect on the context of the situation or take into consideration the other person’s perspective.

Unfortunately, individuals with ASD are often described (accused!) of having no empathy. If we follow Simon’s examples, it is easy to see why many feel that way, however, in Simon’s mind, the truth is preferable and he did not see the need or want to ‘lie’ or change the way he responded.

By the same token, I often hear the exasperated calls for honesty with my ASD clients as they try and navigate their social worlds. One of my highly articulate clients lamented: “I just want truth over tact!” For him, having to weave through what might be implied in a non-reply or in a vague statement was crazy-making! “Why can’t people just say exactly what they’re thinking!”

Finding Solutions for Employees Like Simon

At Spectrum Works Consulting, we know that adults with autism spectrum disorders have unique skills to offer—the challenge is understanding and accepting the way they view the world. We help employers build this culture of acceptance and find “best fit” jobs for individuals on the autism spectrum. Contact us to find your solution.

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