SPECIALISTERNE NETWORK

International Specialisterne Community

Specialisterne Canada

Specialisterne Canada Inc., a charitable not-for-profit Canadian organization, focused on building a bridge between neurodivergent job seekers and employers. We support employers to tap into the talents of a neurodiverse workforce and build inclusive organizations through education, training, and advisory.

Specialisterne Foundation

Specialisterne Foundation is a non-for-profit organization that works to enable one million jobs for people with autism and similar challenges.

Has this ever happened in your office? You’re sitting in the meeting room, going over the projects to be completed for the month, and that one employee who always raises a question, an objection, or points out how something could go wrong–is at it again?

Perhaps you find it annoying, even offensive. You may believe the employee is trying to undermine your authority, or they don’t trust you. Or maybe, you think, they’re just a negative person who tends to catastrophize everything.

What if we reframe that? What if, instead of perceiving these questions, objections, or observations as disruptive, we see a more positive intention behind them–and how they can actually benefit your bottom line?

Autistic Pattern Recognition Strengthens Your Team

Many autistic people excel at pattern recognition because of the way our brains process information. As a more detail-oriented neurotype, it can be easier for us to imagine multiple outcomes of a project before we get started, including what would speed up the process, what would slow it down, and what might cause it to go completely off-track.

Being able to “see” these possibilities ahead of time is a strength you can utilize when you’re still in the planning stages of your project. Allowing your autistic employees to give feedback and ask clarifying questions without seeing them as negative or offensive can help you streamline your process before taking the first step.

Spending more time in the planning and brainstorming stage can help save time and resources by making the execution of the project itself more efficient. Not to mention, a collaborative approach, where everyone’s honest input is welcome, helps strengthen employee morale and makes each person on your team feel valued as an individual.

An Ounce of Prevention

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” – Benjamin Franklin.

This timeless quote still rings true today and can be applied to multiple situations and industries. Spending extra time upfront sussing out the most practical, efficient way to move forward with a plan before getting started–while also being honest and direct about potential pitfalls–exhibits strong leadership and provides a sense of safety to your team.

Many autistic employees, myself included, don’t even consider that speaking directly about how something might go wrong is viewed as negative until we’re explicitly told, or until someone gets upset with us.

Your autistic employee likely isn’t trying to sabotage the project or put doubt in anyone’s mind, but rather attempting to prevent something from going wrong by pointing out the possibility ahead of time. This way, the whole team won’t have to redo all or part of the assignment later on, thus wasting valuable time and energy while stressing everyone out in the process.

The Emperor Isn’t Wearing Any Clothes–And He Needs to Know That  

As an autistic person, the story of The Emperor’s New Clothes has always resonated with me because it highlights a common and striking difference between how I view and respond to social hierarchy and how non-autistic folks view and respond to it.

Simply stated, I had to learn about social hierarchy by stumbling upon it and then researching it. The idea of treating or speaking to someone differently based on their perceived social status was completely foreign to me until I was in my mid-twenties. I had no idea it existed, and it got me into a lot of trouble that I didn’t understand.

If you’re unfamiliar with the folktale, The Emperor’s New Clothes, the story talks about an emperor, obviously the highest of the high in terms of social status, who walks out amongst his people in brand new clothes. His subjects admire the clothes, comment on the quality of the fabric, and praise him for his exquisite taste.

The only problem is, the emperor is parading around in nothing but his birthday suit! While the adult subjects are nervously scrambling to compliment his fashion sense, a child in the throng yells out, “What’s wrong with everyone? The emperor is naked!”

I’m that child, I’ve always been that child, and I always will be that child–no matter how old I get. In fact, the way my brain and nervous system work, even thinking about praising someone for their new outfit when they haven’t got a stitch of clothing on makes me a bit queasy.

Your autistic employees may have a similar relationship with social hierarchy and lying, and while their direct way of communicating may feel off-putting at first because they’re not following neurotypical social rules, it doesn’t make them (or what they have to say) inherently negative.

The Takeaway

Your autistic employees may point out pitfalls, errors, and potential disasters before you get a chance to leave the meeting room and dive headfirst into a new project, but that’s not a bad thing. In fact, when you realize the long-term benefits of this approach, you’ll see why it’s important that all brains feel like they belong.