Onboarding Practices for Employees with Autism

You’ve taken the first step and hired a person with autism. Congratulations! Your next challenge is to ensure that the transition into the organization is as smooth as possible for both the new employee and your existing staff.

There are four key steps to onboarding an employee with autism – training, preparation for the first day, the first day, and the probationary period. How you approach each step will directly impact the autistic employee’s performance and integration into the company culture.

Here’s a quick overview of what you need to consider at each step of the onboarding process:


STEP 1 – Training

The very first thing you need to do – and I can’t stress the importance of this enough – is educate your current staff about autism and the spectrum prior to the start date of the new employee. This will help them be more understanding about the challenges and behaviours of people on the autism spectrum, and be more welcoming to their new team member.

Everyone who will interact with the autistic employee, including management, direct team members, human resources, security and cafeteria staff, should be trained. At Focus Professional Services, we offer “Autism in the Workplace” training that’s enlightening, practical and effective. It typically takes about an hour to complete and is conducted onsite.

Like any new hire, the employee with autism will require training on both the job-related functions such as processes and tools as well as Human Resource policies and procedures.


STEP 2 – Preparation for the first day

People with autism can be challenged with instructions that are vague or ambiguous. Prior to their first day on the job, be very specific: tell them exactly what time to arrive, where to go, who to ask for, and what to wear. It also helps to have their workstation set up before they start.


Keep in mind that anxiety about the first day can be overwhelming for an autistic person. Some may have a personal “job coach” accompany them to the first day’s orientation.


It is recommended two key contacts are assigned to the new employee – the person they report to for work assignments and a “buddy” who can walk them around the workplace and be their go-to person about office protocols, like whether it is acceptable to take personal calls or drink coffee at their desk. Both roles are proactive in that the individuals in these roles will need to check in regularly with the new employee, as people with autism spectrum disorder may have difficulty seeking assistance even when it’s needed.


STEP 3 – The first day

Familiarize the new autistic employee with the workplace. Introduce them to their work supervisor and buddy, explaining the difference between the two. Let them know exactly how, when, and where they will be trained.


Provide them with the company’s HR policies and procedures, with instructions to read them within a certain timeframe. And be sure to outline your productivity expectations for the first day, week and month. This is extremely helpful as employees on the autism spectrum will expect to work on their first assignment upon arrival on the job and become anxious if they are not immediately productive.


STEP 4 – The Probationary Period

The probationary period can be an anxious time for an employee with autism; the job is very important to them and they will be concerned about their productivity and quality of work. To diffuse this inevitable anxiety, make sure they receive regular feedback, even if it is just a few words every few days.


If they are not performing work to expectations or there are unwanted behaviours, provide them feedback that is direct and respectful. Remember that “direct” does not mean “unkind”. It means “saying what you mean and meaning what you say”. If there is a job coach, you may want to discuss your approach with them before talking to the employee.


Make sure that the assigned office buddy is checking in with the new employee and providing appropriate support. Jokes and sarcasm, for example, may be difficult for autistics to process and a buddy who is inclined to engage in such communications is not a good fit and appointing another individual to take on the role should be considered.


With the use of these onboarding tips, you are much more likely to have a successful probationary conclusion whereby you now have a productive new team member on the autism spectrum.


For more practical tips on how to successfully onboard people with autism into your place of business, contact Carol Simpson at carol@focusps.ca.