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Dougal Sutherland: Neurodiversity and ASD in the workplace

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Sat, 2 Dec 2023, 1:30PM
(Photo / NZ Herald)
(Photo / NZ Herald)

Dougal Sutherland: Neurodiversity and ASD in the workplace

Author
Newstalk ZB,
Publish Date
Sat, 2 Dec 2023, 1:30PM

A few weeks ago we discussed ADHD in the workplace and how this is beginning to show up a lot in recent times. Following on from that, we are seeing a lot more people in the workplace with ASD (Autistic Spectrum Disorder). Together ASD, ADHD and Learning Disabilities are sometimes referred to as “neurodiversity”. ASD now the term used for what used to be call Autism or Asperger’s Syndrome. A stereotype would be Dustin Hoffman’s character in Rainman but really important to note that the difficulties are experienced on a spectrum.

We're now seeing more adults diagnosed in adulthood for much the same reasons as ADHD (i.e., missed during childhood, not enough services out there, have had a child diagnosed with ASD and now wondering about it for themselves).

The main difficulties for people with ASD in the workplace are around social relationships, a strong need for routine and sameness, and sensory hypersensitivity (e.g., very sensitive hearing). There are other symptoms which include very strong “obsessional” interest in specific topics (e.g., being an expert on the French revolution) and some unusual behaviours (e.g., handflapping when distressed). 

People with ASD report not having the natural understanding of how social relationships work. They might find it hard to keep eye contact and have difficulty balancing conversations (e.g., they talk too much about themselves and not ask anything of the other person or barely participate in a conversation, might take things very literally). Expressing their emotions might be difficult because of the difficulties in social interactions. Hypersensitivity might make working in certain environments very difficult.

 

What can be done to help?

Recognition and understanding always hugely important for both the employee and employer. Work out together what can be done to the work environment to reduce stress. It may also, with permission of the individual, be useful to educate the wider team about ASD.

Work out best ways of communicating with the person.

It may also be useful to get a professional assessment to help guide employee and employers in what steps to take.

 

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