In recent years, there has been growing awareness of autism in the workplace. Employers are increasingly recognizing the value of employing individuals with autism and other special needs, as they can bring unique skills and perspectives into the workplace. However, many workplaces still have a long way to go in terms of understanding and accommodating the needs of employees with autism. We explore key considerations for promoting autism awareness in the workplace.
What is Autism?
Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects communication, social interaction, and behaviour. It affects approximately 1 in 54 children in the United States, according to the Centre for Disease Control and Prevention. Autism currently affects 1-2% in the United Kingdom – that is 1 per 100 children and 2 per 100 adults.
In the UAE, local data on autism cases is limited and it is believed the total diagnosed autism cases stands at around 5,000 as of 2022 – the figure of actual autism cases may be higher. While autism is typically diagnosed in childhood, it is a lifelong condition that can impact individuals in their daily lives, including in the workplace. The UAE’s National Policy for Autism ensures that all residents with ASD have full and equal access to the resources they require to achieve their full potential. Under this policy, the UAE has several initiatives aimed at improving the health and well-being of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), supporting caregivers and upgrading the skills of personnel working at ASD centres and raising the efficiency of the services offered.
Here, we explore ways UAE companies can support ASD to create an inclusive environment for all employees, particularly those who are autistic or have a family member with autism.
Education and Training
Employers should provide education and training to all employees on autism and other special needs. This can include information on the challenges that individuals with autism may face. It may also include strategies for creating an inclusive and accommodating workplace. Providing regular training and information can help to promote greater awareness, understanding and empathy among co-workers. Dubai Autism Centre, one of the oldest centres in Dubai supporting autism, works with businesses through its Autism-Friendly Program to help workplaces and public spaces be more accessible to individuals with autism.
Individuals with autism can be particularly sensitive to sensory stimuli, such as bright lights, loud noises, or strong smells. Employers can promote a sensory-friendly environment by providing adjustable lighting, noise-cancelling headphones, or designated quiet areas where employees can take a break. Additionally, employers should be mindful of strong scents from cleaning products or perfumes, which can be overwhelming for some individuals with autism.
Clear communication is key to promoting a positive and productive work environment for individuals with autism. Employers should be direct and concise when communicating with employees, and avoid using sarcasm that may be confusing or difficult to understand. Additionally, it can be helpful to provide written instructions or diagrams to supplement verbal communication.
Flexibility and Accommodations
Individuals with autism may benefit from certain accommodations or workplace adjustments such as a flexible schedule or the ability to work from home. Employers can also consider providing specialized equipment or software that can help individuals with autism perform their job duties more effectively.
Leadership plays a crucial role in promoting autism awareness and inclusion at the workplace. Managers and supervisors should be trained on how to communicate effectively with individuals with autism, as well as how to recognize and respond to signs of stress or overload. Additionally, leadership can play a role in promoting a culture of inclusion and acceptance to create a more welcoming and supportive workplace for all employees. Dubai recently hosted Autism-friendly Awareness Ride to educate the community and continue a culture of inclusion. The aim was to provide people with autism with a safe and friendly environment in public and private institutions.
Positive Feedback and Recognition
Individuals with autism may have unique strengths and abilities that can be leveraged in the workplace. Many exhibit above average abilities to solve complex problems. Employers can help to promote a positive and supportive environment by recognizing and celebrating the contributions of all employees, including those with autism. Positive feedback can help to build confidence and motivation among employees, and can also help to promote greater understanding and acceptance amongst co-workers.
Employee Resource Groups
Employee resource groups can provide a valuable source of support and community for individuals with autism and other disabilities. These groups can provide a forum for employees to share their experiences, offer support and advice, and advocate for greater inclusion and accommodation in the workplace. Employers can support the creation of these groups and encourage participation among all employees. The Ministry of Community Development in Dubai offers individuals with autism, training, job opportunities and career development advice by collaborating with like-minded and CSR-led businesses. UAE residents with autism faced bleak futures after completing their schooling. Now the government is taking steps to work with companies to support the integration of individuals with autism into society.
Autism Awareness Groups in UAE
The United Arab Emirates (UAE) has a growing number of autism awareness groups that provide support, information, and resources for individuals with autism and their families. Many of these organizations rely on volunteers and donations to support their programs and services, so individuals and businesses can get involved by donating their time or resources. Here are some of the autism awareness groups operating in the UAE:
Emirates Autism Society: The Emirates Autism Society is a non-profit organization that provides support and services to individuals with autism and their families in the UAE. The organization offers a range of programs, including therapy services, educational support, and advocacy.
Autism Support Network UAE: The Autism Support Network UAE is a community-based organization that provides support and resources to individuals with autism and their families in the UAE. The organization offers a range of programs, including social activities, workshops, and parent support groups.
Dubai Autism Centre: The Dubai Autism Centre is a non-profit organization that provides support and services to individuals with autism and their families in Dubai. The centre offers a range of programs, including therapy services, educational support, and vocational training.
Special Needs Future Development Centre: The Special Needs Future Development Centre is a non-profit organization that provides support and resources to individuals with special needs, including autism, and their families in the UAE. The centre offers a range of programs, including therapy services, educational support, and vocational training.
Promoting autism awareness in the workplace is a crucial step towards creating a more inclusive and accommodating environment for individuals with autism and other special needs. Additionally, leadership plays a critical role in setting the tone for a culture of acceptance and inclusion. By working together, employers and employees can help to build a more diverse and productive workplace environment.
This article is for informational purposes only. It is not, nor is it intended to be, a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. To the extent that this article features the advice of physicians, medical practitioners, or industry experts, the views expressed are the views of the cited expert and do not necessarily represent the views of Gaggler.