Persever8 self-proclaimed March workplace etiquette month. We made our social media posts this month relevant to the topic of workplace etiquette. This topic is important to us because we know that keeping a job is just as hard for a person on the spectrum as getting that job in the first place. Most people on the spectrum don’t lose a job because they can’t fulfill the requirements of the position. It is their behaviors that generally trip them up and cause them to lose their job.
It occurred to me that if we practiced mutual accommodation more, that is, each party meeting the other half way, there would be less misunderstanding and less reason for a person to lose their job simply because they don’t understand the social rules, or find it hard to follow social rules that don’t make a lot of sense to them.
Since my children were diagnosed with autism 20 years ago, I have been on a one-woman quest to educate the people around them about their disability so that their behaviors and statements will be understood from the perspective of autism. I have found that this has helped them in immeasurable ways, especially for my younger son, who is less able to speak up for himself. Since he was in the third grade, we have made brochures about him and his autism and shared it with classmates, teachers, therapists, babysitters and anyone else he comes in contact with. For the past several years he has been involved in putting it together so that it truly reflects who he is and not just my perception of him. He gives it to his professors, counselors, the RAs in his dorm and the people he works with. Sharing this information with the people around him takes the “mystery” out of who he is and makes everyone, including him, more comfortable.
My son has a part time job in data entry and recently his supervisor left to take a new job. When I found out about this, I was concerned that his new supervisor might not know how to react to sharing an office with someone who may or may not answer her questions, who might make noises while he works, or fail to greet her when he gets to work or leaves work. Since I work in the same building, I went to introduce myself to the new supervisor and dropped off one of my son’s brochures so that she knew what to expect when he arrived for work later that day. When my son was finished working for the day, he dropped by my office and gave me a piece of paper. On it was essentially his supervisor’s “brochure”, with details about herself and she pointed out the things that she and my son have in common. They both like the Simpsons, mythology and cats, among other things. He was so excited to know this about her and it made him feel comfortable with her from the first day. I don’t believe anyone had ever taken the time to share information about themselves in this visual way to him to make sure that he also felt comfortable. This wasn’t a person with a lot of understanding of autism, simply someone who took the time to make sure that they were on the same page. He didn’t have to be apprehensive about her and she didn’t have to be apprehensive about him.
I truly believe if more employers would meet people who are different half way, there would be fewer problems on the job for people on the spectrum. I’m sure that my son doesn’t have perfect workplace etiquette – he doesn’t understand all the rules – but at least the people around him have an understanding about why he doesn’t always do the exact right thing, and they also know that he would appreciate help with what he doesn’t understand.