Almost everyone uses tools at work: cash registers, computers, the Internet, heavy machinery, pens, hammers, paintbrushes – the list could go on forever. We use these tools to perform our jobs to the best of our ability, so we do not hesitate to request them if we do not have all the ones we need. Our employers gladly provide these tools because they want us to be successful and productive employees.
For autistic adults, the list of tools they need to be successful may look a little different, but the reasons they need them are the same: to be successful at their jobs. Many of these are called accommodations, but truly, they are just tools needed to perform successfully.
Title I of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires an employer to “provide reasonable accommodation to qualified individuals with disabilities who are employees or applicants for employment, except when such accommodation would cause an undue hardship.” Of course, autistic adults will have to disclose their diagnosis to the employer to cite this law, and that is a personal choice. (If you would like more information on whether to disclose your diagnosis to your employer (and how), please see our article here.)
In some cases, autistic adults might not know what accommodations to request but do know the areas in which they are having challenges. Therefore, we offer this list of accommodations grouped by the issues they address. Some of these accommodations can be acquired by the employee themselves or sought without disclosing the diagnosis.
We encourage you to ask for the tools you need to succeed! If you need assistance, please contact our Autism Resource Specialists. You can be connected to an Autism Resource Specialist in your area by filling out the form on this page.
Potential Reasonable Accommodations
To help with sensory issues
- Noise-canceling headphones or earbuds
- Modified workspace or work location (examples: less busy area, quieter area)
- Alternative lighting
- Temperature control (example: closing vents or ability to adjust thermostat)
To help with executive functioning
- Written instructions
- Written communication (example: text or IM rather than phone calls)
- Timers, organizers, calendars
- Flow charts
- Labels/bulletin board/white board
- Visual cues
- Structured schedule
Assistance from other people
- Job coach on-site
- On-site mentoring
- A “go-to” person for when you need safe space to talk
- Networking tree or other visual to show who is in your network, who can you reach out to
- One-on-one communication and training
- Supervisory feedback
- Additional time to complete duties
- Additional training or training refreshers
- Job restructuring or modified job duties
- Apps for anxiety or stress
- Modified break schedule
- Flexible or set schedule
- Assistance with the hiring process and documentation/orientation
- Scripts (for networking, follow-up, work tasks such as phone calls or greetings)
Frequently Asked Questions
I am not sure which of these might help me. Where can I get advice?
You can still request a “reasonable accommodation” even if you are not sure what accommodation you might need. You and your employer can discuss potential options. If you need assistance prior to approaching your employer, please contact our Autism Resource Specialists.
Who do I ask for the accommodations?
Sometimes you can make the accommodation for yourself. For example, you can creating a checklist to help manage your work, take notes, or use a calendar or organizer for planning and reminders of deadlines and important dates. However, sometimes, you may need to ask someone for an accommodation, and with different employers, who you ask can be different. With some employers, you can simply request an accommodation through your direct supervisor, but other times, your employer may require you to go through Human Resources. If you are not sure who to ask, it is best to start by notifying your supervisor that you need a “reasonable accommodation” due to medical reasons. Your supervisor should either assist you with implementing an accommodation at that time or direct you to Human Resources.
What do I say when I ask for the accommodations?
Let your employer know that you need a “reasonable accommodation” at work due to medical reasons. This can be done in writing or face to face. However, having your request in writing can be helpful for documentation purposes.
How do I explain the accommodations to my co-workers?
You are not required to disclose to any of your coworkers that you have received an accommodation. Neither your manager nor your employer can disclose that you are receiving an accommodation because that would essentially disclose disability. If you wish to tell a coworker about an accommodation, that is at your discretion, but not necessary. Sometimes an accommodation is obvious, and co-workers may be curious. For example, if you wear noise-canceling headphones, someone may ask, “Why are you wearing those headphones all the time?” You can answer their question and share how the accommodation helps you, without disclosing your diagnosis if you wish. For example, you might say, “These headphones keep out distractions and help me better focus on my work.”
What can I do if my employer does not want to give me the accommodations?
The first step is to ask your employer why they are denying your request. If it is because you need more documentation, you may be able to provide it. If it is because it causes undue hardship to the employer, there may be alternative accommodations that would be more reasonable for your employer to provide. If you need help or advice, please contact our Autism Resource Specialists. Another good resource is the NC Client Assistance Program.
If your employer still refuses to provide accommodations, you could file a complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. Another helpful resource for legal matters is Disability Rights North Carolina.
ASNC Employment Supports: https://www.autismsociety-nc.org/employment-supports/
JobTIPS Classes: https://www.autismsociety-nc.org/job-tips-job-skills-interest-form/
Article on disclosing your diagnosis at work: https://www.autismsociety-nc.org/wp-content/uploads/Disclosure-at-work.pdf
LiNC-IT internship program for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder: https://linc-it.org/
NC Vocational Rehabilitation Services: https://www.ncdhhs.gov/divisions/vocational-rehabilitation-servicesTags: autism, autism advocacy, autism communication, autism employment, autism resources, Autism Society of North Carolina, Autism spectrum, autism support, Developmental disability