World Autism Awareness Day

Inclusion in the workplace: challenges and opportunities in a post-pandemic world

World Autism Day is held annually on April 2 and was established by the UN in 2007.
The aim is to raise awareness of autism spectrum disorder, to advocate for equality, and also to point out how important research is in terms of early detection and development for it.

A short excursion: What actually is autism?
Autism = “autos” = “self” and “ismos” = “state/orientation”.
Autism is defined as a profound developmental disorder and means that the brain processes information differently. This is particularly evident in social interaction and communication, but also, for example, in motor skills, habits and interests, which can bring strengths and weaknesses in equal measure.
In Germany, autism is currently still subdivided into different manifestations, while internationally it is already spoken of the autism spectrum disorder – this reflects the diversity and especially the fluid transitions of the forms.
In the media, rather clichéd portrayals of autism are often shown, however, the reality is different: because we are first and foremost human beings, and therefore individual and different.
Our goal is to educate in order to achieve more understanding and acceptance in the long term.

Each year, World Autism Day relates to a new topic:

2012: launch of the official UN stamp “Awareness Raising”.
2013: Celebrating the abilities within the disability of autism
2014: Opening doors to inclusive education
2015: Professional activity: the autism advantage
2016: Autism and the 2030 Agenda: inclusion and neurodiversity
2017: Toward autonomy and self-determination
2018: Empowering women and girls with autism
2019: Assistive technologies, active participation
2020: The transition to adulthood

The topic on 02.04.2021:
Inclusion in the workplace: challenges and opportunities in a post-pandemic world.

This year’s theme shines a spotlight on lessons learned from the current situation, and more importantly, highlights options for employers to not only include people with autism spectrum disorder, but also appreciate the benefits in doing so.

Covid-19 has been a huge transformation for many companies; never has more thought been given to how to efficiently redesign workplaces so that they can be implemented with as little contact or from home as possible.
What was harmful to the economy and made life more difficult for people nevertheless also provided fertile ground on the other hand, so that new ways of thinking and approaches to solutions could emerge from it.

This also meant a departure from routines and familiar environments and situations, a sudden change of habit that is so important for people on the autism spectrum.

At the same time, however, it also provided an opportunity for many people on the autism spectrum to blossom, to rediscover their abilities, and to participate in society in ways they could not before, despite the distance.

For World Autism Day 2021, we surveyed our community users; today we present voices from our community on the following questions related to this year’s theme:

  • What benefits resulted from the pandemic-related changes?
  • What disadvantages in everyday life and at work have resulted?
  • Where is there a need for improvement?
  • Independently, what are the desires for inclusion in the workplace?

This is what the community has to say:

What benefits resulted from the pandemic-related changes?

“I am not expected to sit in the office non-stop every day. I can better manage my home and office hours.” – Sarah W.

“Less contact with people. Fewer social obligations.” – Steffi

“More undisturbed work due to increased home office and thus eliminating double occupancy. Fewer meetings that take place in presence, causing travel.” – Nichi

“No mimic masquerade required in public due to mask requirement, able to talk to self undisturbed by mask, one extra home office day, greater physical distance from fellow employees acceptable, fewer colleagues when present in office.”

“Home office is much less stimulating than office! Less social pressure to meet people.” – Sarah

“Elimination of touching: no hugs/kisses to greet people.
Reduction of social contact due to home office and online meetings
More undisturbed work in the home office
Overall less exhaustion at the end of the day
Employer will concede permanent home office opportunities”

“No one understands a no handshake as rude
Small talk is no longer forced on me
Doctor’s offices are no longer crowded & if they are, I’m allowed to leave the waiting room without feeling guilty and I’m not “weird” about it
Large events such as family celebrations do not take place
Team meetings are held with sufficient distance in large rooms
Trainings only take place in paper form and no longer in person in large groups” – Carmen S.

“Distance, no shaking hands, no compulsion to constantly have to do something and explain yourself. Life is decelerated and wonderfully easy.”

What disadvantages in everyday life and in the workplace have come as a result?

“More pressure from company management to perform, no matter what.” – Sarah W.

“Homeschooling which is now very exhausting since the kids and also I can’t do it anymore. Some free time would be nice.” – Steffi

“More video and phone conferencing, this leads (for me) to a significant overload. I never know when to speak, can hardly distinguish different voices.” – Nichi

“Mask triggered depression in the beginning, but after a few weeks actually only benefits me.”

“Changed routines, hobbies can no longer be done. Lack of compensation. Uncertainty of planning.” – Sarah

“At work:

  • Procedures were changed abruptly and not constantly.
  • The behavior of all employees changed due to their altered mood and was thus no longer interpretable or comprehensible to me…I could no longer fall back on my patterns

In everyday life:

  • My daily structure and routines were changed
  • Shopping became even more stressful because of the hygiene measures, because I could not follow my habits
  • The aggressiveness of people made me feel uncomfortable.”

“Technically worse equipment in the home office
Hardly any activities outside the home – probably increased sensitivity further.”

“There is mandatory mask, which makes me even worse at assessing situations.” – Carmen S.

Where is a need for improvement?

“The lack of perspective is frightening.” – Steffi

“Overall, more attention should be paid to the needs of autistic people or interaction with autistic people should become normality for companies. For example, trainings and seminars could be held that provide more knowledge about autistic people.” – Nichi

“For me personally, nowhere at the moment.”

“I don’t know how the problem of the pandemic could have been solved better. Definitely not so much back and forth.”

“All sorts of disabilities are supported with appropriate conditions and technology and called for by the Disability Council – but autism is sadly absent from this.”

“Medical practices should handle their organization better and equalize appointments to

  1. to be able to keep the distance rule and
  2. shorten waiting times.” – Carmen S.

What are your requests for inclusion in the workplace?

“Not constant radio sound reinforcement. From the breakdown: home office, office hours, it can happily stay the way it is now.” – Sarah W.

“Understanding by colleagues. But first I have to figure out for myself what I need.” – Steffi

“Fewer meetings with colleagues*. More tolerance for direct communication. Possibility of permanent home office and less social pressure.” – Sarah

“Increased understanding of the needs and concerns of autistic people. E.g. clear communication language, specific work instructions, or following rules (for everyone).” – Nichi

“None for me personally.”

“More openness and naturalness to diversity.”

“Quiet zones/retreats:
Acceptance – smoking break is tolerated, brief eye closure is considered laziness even on unpaid break.”

“I want to be allowed to “come out” and talk openly about my “self” – just like everyone else – without being judged or condemned.
I don’t want to carry around a lifelong secret, which to me involves dishonesty and is almost a lie.
I don’t want to have to worry anymore that if someone knows about my autism, it could result in termination in the worst case scenario.” – Carmen S.

We sincerely thank you for participating, and hope that the points raised will make our readers think. While some things are long-term goals that the world currently needs to work on together and reflect the goal of Autism Day, others are just small changes in habit for non-autistic people that mean much more to people on the autism spectrum.