Onboarding autistic staff

Autism is different for different people, so every autistic individual will need different accommodations. Onboarding is your chance to set the right way of working with your new autistic staff.

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Induction and onboarding

Don’t forget all the little details. Induction and onboarding is not just for day 1.

The first day on a job is nerve-wracking for anyone. Employees on the autism spectrum can experience even greater anxiety due to uncertainty and previous negative experiences in the work force or a lack of prior experience. The way to make accommodations for this anxiety is to be prepared. Consider all the small logistical details, that when provided in the right way, will lessen anxiety and provide a sense of familiarity.   

Induction and onboarding shouldn’t end after the employee’s first week on the job. The process should continue over several months (depending on the role and the individual’s needs). Onboarding should include regular conversations with the individual to find out how they are progressing.

Even though we recommend a structured induction plan or process, make sure you individualise it for the unique needs of your employee. For example, different people prefer different communication and management styles. Get to know your new employee and observe what works for them. Make sure you ask for their input on the onboarding process. 

Here’s a list of things you should have ready for the first day on the job:

  • Induction/training schedule – provided to them prior to starting if possible
  • Induction checklist – explain the process and step them through the checklist at a pace that works for the employee
  • Communicate to colleagues that the employee is starting so they’re prepared to welcome them. However, it is important to give the new employee space when they start so they are not overwhelmed by all the new people at once.
  • Workspace orientation: name badge, workspace with computer, email accounts, phone, locker etc.

Ask the autistic person what they need

Your new autistic employee will have the best understanding of what they need to thrive at work, so ask them.

Support your new autistic employee to drive the ongoing conversation around reasonable adjustments in the workplace.

Communicate clearly 

The onboarding experience can be overwhelming because there is a lot of information to process and absorb. 

Consider giving written instructions and onboarding materials to your new autistic employee.

Provide a mentor

Give the autistic person someone they can ask questions of and gain insight from as they transition into the job.

Let the autistic person customise their environment

Sensory differences are common among people on the autism spectrum.

Sound, lighting, temperature, textures and smells can negatively impact on productivity. Talk with your new employee about what adjustments (such as a fixed desk in a hotdesking office) will help them perform at their best.

Be flexible

Flexibility for the autistic person includes how, where and when they perform their job role. 

Autistic employees may work better if allowed to work from home more regularly, or with flexible to start and end times. 

Always get consent from the autistic person before telling others in the organisation about their autism.

Even if your intentions are good, this is a breach of privacy and trust.

For an in-depth look at onboarding autistic employees, read our detailed guide: