In a recent Autistic group discussion, someone suggested to our group that advancing in the workplace is a popularity contest. We were originally discussing disclosure and Autistic survival in the workplace. One person shared their experience with HR, said that unless a company is inclusive, HR will protect the company, rather than the employee. So, if an employer terminates an Autists’ employment because the Autistic employee broke imaginary social rules, HR likely won’t help that employee.
If disability is based on how society is designed and how people operate within those designs, one aspect of disability I experience as an Autist is an inability to understand neurotypical social rules. This means that in an organization where advancement requires me to participate in popularity contests, I am disadvantaged.
Neurotypical behavior disables me in large part because I don’t understand social language: small talk, etc. I also don’t see hierarchy, and am unimpressed by the things most people find impressive. I treat everyone similarly, no matter their social or company status.
Hardly anyone would go to work if they weren’t paid, yet many people behave as if other people (should) come to work to socialize with them, rather than to sell their labor for money. If you’re someone who enjoys impressing and entertaining your bosses and colleagues so that your bosses and colleagues will in turn impress and entertain you, you shouldn’t penalize someone for not participating in that game. Even if I knew how to play that game, I wouldn’t play.
Whether people love their job or simply go work to earn a living, no one should have to play social games. Every time I hear of an Autist who has been fired because they broke a social rule or is harassed because they don’t socialize with their coworkers, I’m reminded that discrimination against Autists is widely accepted practice.
If you claim to be an employer who knows how to work with disabled people, yet you train Autists to accommodate their workplace rather than the other way around, you have failed. You have failed as an inclusive employer if you drop hints about harmless behavior you don’t like, then fire an Autist for not taking the hint to change their harmless behavior.
Always, you should assume competency, but don’t assume everyone understands the “unspoken” social rules and how to play social games. Focus on work performance rather than social performance and everyone benefits.
While I’m not interested in masking, in changing myself to behave less Autistically, I sometimes think a rulebook explaining social norms would be helpful in workspaces. I’m not referring to an article titled “How to Act Like a Neurotypical”. I never benefitted from masking, whether or not I masked well, and I don’t believe anyone truly benefits by giving into pressure to mask or play office politics. But knowing what the social rules are would help many of us.