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Supporting Individuals With Autism and Anxiety in the Workplace

Therapist Talking to Parents

Individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) often also receive an anxiety diagnosis. Managing ASD and anxiety can feel overwhelming, especially at work. It can be hard to get comfortable in the workplace, which can be overstimulating with all the new people, places, tasks, sights, and sounds. However, with the right resources, you, your loved one or your employees can better manage these stressors.

Individuals with ASD have many skills that can contribute to a highly effective workforce. Taking the time to create autism accommodations at work helps these individuals succeed, impacting their confidence and workplace abilities.

Challenges Faced by Individuals With Autism at Work

For individuals with autism, entering the workforce can be challenging. The workplace is an unfamiliar space with many social situations and tasks that need navigating. For many people with autism, understanding these new hurdles can become stressful. Interpreting nonverbal cues, understanding new work tasks and working in a loud environment can all increase stress. As a result, individuals with autism and anxiety can get overwhelmed at work, making it harder for them to feel comfortable.

When dealing with these challenges, it might be more difficult for individuals with autism and anxiety to reach their full potential. Certain strategies can help the transition to the workplace. Workplaces can provide accommodations, and individuals can also prepare themselves. Preparation allows them to grow at their own pace. It also allows them to be more confident when experiencing something new.

Strategies for Reducing Anxiety in the Workplace

Dealing with workplace anxiety can be a big stressor. When faced with stress, it can be challenging to get through the day. However, individuals with autism can use strategies to prepare for work, and employers can also offer workplace accommodations to help.

These strategies can help individuals navigate the day-to-day surprises that they’ll face. If you are preparing to enter a new job or are looking to improve your workplace accommodation policies, these strategies can help individuals with autism and anxiety in the workplace.

1. Offer Flexible Work Arrangements

Starting a new job can be stressful for anyone, but people with autism and anxiety might face more stressors coming into a new environment. People who deal with anxiety and sensory sensitivities can benefit from flexible work arrangements that help ease some of that worry. We all have preferences — recognizing our unique needs can make work significantly easier.

Flexible schedules and workplaces let people with autism avoid busy commutes and noisy workspaces. Some organizations may allow individuals to work remotely for some or all of the workweek, which allows them to enjoy a controlled, familiar space and feel more secure. With a more comfortable headspace, they’re free to complete their work more effectively. Flexible start and end times are also helpful for people with autism and anxiety. They get to work around their body’s rhythm and establish a routine that works best for them. And the better they feel, the better they’ll work.

2. Encourage Routines

Unpredictability can be stressful, so establishing a routine is a great strategy for individuals with autism and anxiety. Employers and individuals can work together to build a daily and weekly schedule that works with the individual’s job requirements and personal needs.

Creating and sticking to a routine helps with managing negative emotional states, time management and reducing uncertainty. When people know what to expect, they can easily follow their routines and complete tasks. Even small things like consistent breaks or designated quiet spaces can get incorporated into a routine. With a stable routine, employees will feel a sense of security and improve their confidence. Work with your team to create good routines — you’ll help reduce employee stress levels to maximize productivity.

3. Establish Clear Communication

Adults and children with ASD can have communication challenges, and they often need clear communication to navigate the workplace. You can establish clear communication practices for a more transparent environment. Reducing ambiguity helps people with ASD improve their workplace communication.

You might provide written instructions, clarifying guidelines and visual aids to help employees understand different tasks. You should also set up regular check-ins and feedback sessions to improve open communication. Employees will get to ask questions, express concerns and enjoy positive support. With communication clarity, individuals with autism can feel more welcome and comfortable in their workplace.

4. Address Sensory Accommodations

Addressing sensory sensitivities is another key strategy for reducing workplace anxiety in individuals with ASD. Many people with autism experience increased sensitivity to textures, lights, and sounds. In the office, consider adding sensory accommodations to help employees feel more comfortable at work. Quiet spaces, noise-canceling headphones and lighting adjustments can make a significant difference in comfort.

Also, encourage employees to communicate their sensory preferences to see other ways you can help. They may recommend light-tinting screens for computers or dictation applications. These can reduce visual and physical fatigue and help prevent overstimulation during a long day at work. Getting these sensory accommodations can help individuals with autism work more effectively and enjoy their time at work.

5. Encourage Time Management

Encouraging effective time management is another great way to help individuals with autism feel less anxious at work. A structured schedule offers clear guidelines that help individuals achieve success — they know what they need to do, how long to spend doing it and what comes after. You can also encourage the use of tools like planners, calendars, apps and even alarms if they’re not disruptive to help organize tasks and deadlines.

Another helpful strategy to encourage involves breaking tasks into smaller steps to make them feel more manageable and less overwhelming. Realistic goals are also important to make everything feel more systematic and less stressful. Encouraging time management goals helps individuals avoid stress at work.

6. Work Through Setbacks

Getting through setbacks is an essential part of managing workplace anxiety for individuals with ASD. It’s important to recognize that setbacks are normal when working, and learning to adapt to these challenges will help employees reduce stress and work more efficiently. Managers, co-workers or assistance programs can also offer support. These available resources help individuals develop a growth mindset.

Organizations can set up open communication lines for talking with employees about challenges to help them get the support they need. During these conversations, managers should acknowledge that setbacks are temporary and can be overcome and learned from. Getting through challenges lets employees build confidence, and more confidence lets them work through anxiety more easily. With an open mind and practice, individuals with autism can transform challenges into positive experiences.

Prepare for Your Future With Kids SPOT

Individuals with autism can discover more strategies for managing workplace stress and preparing for the job world with Kids SPOT. With over 15 years of experience transforming lives, we offer comprehensive pediatric therapies tailored for children from birth to age 21. We offer a range of treatments — speech, physical, occupational, and applied behavioral analysis (ABA) therapy. Let us help you or your loved one build essential skills for enhanced health, behavior, and functional performance.

Our mission is family-centered, emphasizing empowerment for all our clients. With a long-standing dedication to personalized patient care, you can trust us to recognize every client’s unique needs in our treatment process. Let the expert team at Kids SPOT help your child reach their fullest potential. Contact us today to learn about our transformative services!