interview with an employee at a majority-autistic company

Symone is a regular reader here, and she works for a majority-autistic company and is autistic herself. I asked if she’d let me interview her about what working there is like, in advance of Autism Awareness Month (which starts tomorrow), and she generously agreed to talk with me.

Some quick background: Her employer is auticon, a technology consulting firm that specializes in hiring people who are on the autism spectrum to work as consultants. They offer what they call an autistic-friendly working environment, and they provide job coaches who work with the consultants and their clients. Here’s a New York Times piece if you’d like to learn more about them. (Note: this post is not intended as promotion for auticon; I don’t know enough to endorse them in that way. What I was interested in was Symone’s experience working there.)

Here’s our conversation.

Hi! Tell me a little about the type of work you do.

I do a lot of organizational work behind the scenes, such as triaging new applicants and records management. I started here shortly into COVID and one of my first projects was getting on top of all of these job applications from people who probably hadn’t even read the posting. While this is normal for big job sites, it’s even worse for us as maybe only half a percent would be autistic. Recruiting can be a challenge as a lot of people in tech (like me) were only diagnosed as adults, or can’t get a formal diagnosis.

Speaking of recruiting, your company has an interview process designed to be friendlier to autistic people. What was the interview process like for you? In what ways did you find the process different from other jobs you’ve interviewed for? 

Job interviews tend to involve a variety of barriers for autistic people (sensory issues such as lighting or background noise, being put on the spot, having to read between the lines, etc.). auticon’s recruitment process is longer, in order to give our job coaches a good understanding of someone’s strengths and support needs. Things are more typical when consultants interview for positions with our partner organizations, but a job coach will help them prepare and sometimes attend the interview. We also do a lot of advance work to match consultants with jobs technically and culturally.

I didn’t go through the full process myself, as I ended up being able to start under an internship – I had a lengthy application form and multiple interviews. I’ve done a lot of work to improve my interviewing skills thanks to AAM, but the stakes felt much lower in my interviews.

You mentioned sensory issues like lighting and background noise, and being put on the spot or having to read between the lines — what do they do differently in those regards?

I can’t really comment on in-person specifics since I interviewed remotely (what strange times we live in!). I would say that the difference here is an awareness and understanding of those sensory and language processing differences, and how they manifest. The job coaches I work with prioritize motivation levels, interest in the field and openness to learning over facial expressions, eye contact or body language. We try to make interviews lower-stress by explaining why we do things, providing some questions in advance, and suggesting supports for people who don’t make it through our recruitment process. I specifically remember talking to the CEO for the first time, which is often a pretty intimidating experience, and he made me feel very at ease.

That makes sense. What it’s like working for a majority-autistic company? What are some of the things that are different from other places you’ve worked?  

Disclosing autism can be detrimental, which I’ve experienced firsthand. There’s a lot of stigma and unconscious bias that leads well-intending people to do harmful things, and it can be a huge challenge to get others to understand my way of thinking. By contrast, my perspective is welcomed and encouraged at auticon. Things aren’t perfect – we’re all human, and the autism spectrum encompasses many traits that can sometimes clash – but there’s an awareness and an openness that I haven’t experienced elsewhere.

There’s also a lot more flexibility – working from home has certainly helped there, but there’s also a culture that prioritizes health and wellbeing. Earlier this week my CEO told everyone to make sure they take their full vacation this year, for instance.

Is there anything specific your company has done that has communicated that your perspective is more welcomed and encouraged — things that were different than what you’ve encountered at other companies?

I like organizing things, so I came along at a good time in the sense that I had a big organizational challenge! auticon has been much more open to the tips I’ve picked up elsewhere – I’d often see the status quo defended in the past. Some of this is a startup thing of course, and some is due to COVID. On that last point, there’s some bitterness in the disability community as many things we’ve been asking for (remote work, flex hours, etc.) has been implemented en masse over the past year, but I’m hopeful that we collectively find a new normal now that we can be flexible and still productive.

There’s also a real focus on working to suit everyone’s strengths. For me, I get a lot of positive feedback and my colleagues have a good understanding of how to give constructive feedback effectively. For our consultants, everyone works hard to find strong fits technically and culturally – these pieces are both important, but cultural fit is where I really find auticon is different. Presentations are held with interested companies on autism before putting anyone forward (to work with them), and the job coaches work both with consultants and a single point of contact at those companies. Neurodiversity in the workforce is a powerful tool of adaptability – not every autistic person is going to be suited for the IT industry, but the work auticon has pioneered has a ripple effect and I am proud to be part of a much bigger movement through it.

You’d mentioned flexibility earlier. Will you say more about what that looks like?

I’m much better writing than talking, so calls are infrequent and people typically ask for permission before calling. Our default in meetings is camera off. There’s a lot of flexibility around hours as well – childcare, medical appointments, productivity at different times, etc. 

Are there specific ways that interpersonal interaction feels different there? Are there behaviors/ways of being that feel discouraged at other workplaces that are fine/welcome there? Or the opposite — things that were fine/welcome in other jobs that are discouraged there?

I’d find a lot went assumed or unspoken in previous workplaces, and impatience was a common reaction when I didn’t pick up on these things the way others were used to. Asking a lot of questions can come off as insubordination, but I do so to make sure I really understand things and can run with them. My colleagues understanding this makes me a better decision maker as I don’t have to second guess myself. Similarly, I explain my perspective to help people understand it, which can come off as egotistical. At auticon my level of self-awareness is refreshing, and it helps to build a safe environment for others like me.

auticon strives for diversity, inclusion, and acceptance from an intersectional perspective as well. Stereotypes against autism in gender or racial minorities are still quite prevalent, so there’s some equity in accepting applicants without a formal diagnosis, for instance. I’m really inspired by BLM, neurodiversity, and the disability rights movement, and I’m grateful for a job where I can contribute to advocacy just by being my authentic self.

Let’s talk physical space! What’s your personal workspace like? Is there anything about the physical set-up there that’s better for you than in other workplaces?

I am 100% remote, but in the office I’ve benefited from a quiet, organized workspace, the ability to wear headphones, and limited interruptions. auticon does have offices in Canada, Los Angeles, and in Europe where the space is designed for people with sensitivity to noise, bright lights, and awkward social situations. There are quiet spaces for privacy. Additionally, job coaches are available for support and help in managing on-the-job stresses.

How has all this affected your relationship to your job / feelings about work overall? Has it changed your quality of life?

Autistic life is often exhausting — we process things differently and the world is not designed for us, plus it’s a constant struggle to convince others that our perspectives are valid. People don’t understand that they don’t understand. This is referred to as the Double Empathy Problem: our traits and methods aren’t wrong, they’re just very different.

Working as an autistic person has meant I needed to accommodate a lot of teaching/explanation and internal bias. That’s a job in itself, and it demands a lot of vulnerability — people take that for granted. At auticon this is recognized, so I have much less stress/anxiety to manage and more capacity to focus on my job.

Further Reading

Symone was kind enough to suggest the following for further reading.

Job Accommodation Network: Autism Spectrum

I Self‑Diagnosed My Autism Because Nobody Else Would. Here’s Why That Needs to Change.

50 Ways Society Gaslights and Stonewalls Autistic People

Lost in Translation: The Social Language Theory of Neurodivergence

Me and Monotropism: A Unified Theory of Autism

Autistic Burnout: An Often-Misunderstood Element of Autism

She also suggests these more general articles, noting “they’re good viewpoints on the internal biases that keep people like me from thriving in many workplaces”:

Validation Is Key: “I Understand Why You’re So Stressed Out”

Laziness Does Not Exist

There’s No Such Thing as Behavior

‘It’s OK not to be OK’: Minnesota psychologists push back on ‘toxic positivity’

{ 160 comments… read them below }

  1. Sylvan*

    Thank you for this informative and detailed post! And the follow-up links!

    I just wanted to highlight one thing: “We try to make interviews lower-stress by explaining why we do things, providing some questions in advance …”

    Holy shit, I would love to interview here. (I’m neither NT nor, probably, autistic.) This would be such a wonderful change from every interview I’ve been to before.

    1. Filosofickle*

      I have a first interview next week and they provided all the possible “tell me about a time” questions in advance! Never seen that before and I appreciate it.

      1. Jaydee*

        This makes so much sense to me. Unless you’re hiring for a job where the ability to react quickly to unexpected situations is a necessity, I don’t understand why most interview questions can’t be provided in advance. If you’re asking “tell me about a time you experienced X at work and how you handled it,” presumably you are trying to understand how the candidate handles X, not how quickly they can think up an answer to a question on the spot.

        If you do want to test the quick thinking thing, have some questions specifically designed to test that and let them know in advance “In order to get a better feel for your thought process and how you handle unexpected situations (as might come up in workplace scenarios A or B) we will also ask 2-3 questions that we’re not providing on this list. We’re not trying to trick you or expecting your answers to be brilliant and fully thought out. We just want to see how you handle situations where you haven’t had time to prepare in advance.” And then have those be based on possible workplace scenarios, like “Imagine a customer calls while your supervisor is out and asks for [thing you need supervisor approval for] or [thing you’ve never done before and maybe aren’t even sure our department does]. They are very insistent that this needs to be dealt with ASAP. How do you handle the situation?” or “Imagine you’re in court and opposing counsel has just made an argument that comes from so far in left field there’s no way you could have prepared for it. The judge asks for your response. What do you say?”

      2. lemon*

        I applied for a (non-consulting) role at a well-known consulting firm, and they provided interview questions in advance, and even had webinars and 1-1 coaching to help candidates prepare. That’s the first time I’ve ever encountered something like that, but it was very much appreciated. I wish more companies would follow suit.

      3. Flora*

        I’ve been making us do this for a variety of reasons on every search team I’ve been on for the last 8 or so years and my opinion is that it has the intended effect of leveling the playing field for for folks who are neuro-atypical/have auditory processing challenges/prefer 2 minutes to make their response cogent over more extemporaneous commenting; however, it ALSO has the knock-on effect of making the interviews richer, more conversational, and just better, for all the applicants. I am thrilled to see that most of the people I’ve been on search teams have also gone on to normalize this for teams I’m not on, and that resistance (what if I want to know how they respond under fire? Me: then you tell them here are 5 of the 6 questions, and the 6th we are asking in the moment because a key component of this job is that you are able to think on your feet. But you only do that if the last part is true. Them, usually: um. nevermind.) has pretty much totally evaporated.

        But like, what I want in an interview is to learn about how this person does when they are adequately supported, because I hope to adequately support everyone who works for me, so I don’t at all understand why some folks think creating some kind of hellgauntlet and forcing people to survive it is a lead-in to a good onboarding process or training experience, since I sort of want my new employee to start from, if not a position of deep trust, at least a position of non-fear.

    2. MissCoco*

      My graduate program started doing this a few years ago as part of their diversity and inclusion policies.
      As a candidate, it was a powerful statement that they were trying to give us the resources we need to succeed, even while still considering us for acceptance.

      I’ve spoken to two professors about it, and they agree the quality of conversations in interviews went up, and they are better able to judge candidates based on their answers rather than how much knowledge/experience they have with interviewing

      1. Washi*

        I agree, I got my last job to do this and the quality of the tell me about a time when…answers definitely went up. But the main benefit was getting closer to comparing apples to apples because everyone got the same information that was really specific about what we were looking for and judging (in addition to a lot of the questions, there was a short guide that was really explicit about being on time, prepping some questions to ask the interviewers at the end, etc.). Before, if someone didn’t have an answer to a behavioral question, it gave us no information because maybe they were just flustered. But being given the questions ahead of time, it was more of a red flag and both the good and bad answers gave us useful information.

        1. BubbleTea*

          I can’t speak for what LTL was referring to, but I would say that the average neurotypical white man in my country (UK, likely similar in most European and North American countries) has been socialised to confidently state things without necessarily having as much empirical evidence to back it up as women or ethnic minority people are required to provide before they’re believed. Neurotypical status is relevant because the standard interview process views confidence and rapid response to questions as a sign of competence and delay, hesitancy or needing time to think as a warning signal for dishonesty, lack of expertise or some other inadequacy.

          A lot of the standards for being viewed as professional are easier to meet as a white man with no disabilities. Just look at all the letters on here from women whose bodies are deemed unprofessional, or black people whose hair isn’t considered appropriate, or autistic people whose stance and level of eye contact is called rude.

          1. irene adler*

            One time when I asked for feedback from a recruiter, she generously graced me with a Zoom chat.

            Boy did I learn a lot about interviewing.

            Your statement regarding confidence and rapid response is EXACTLY what she told me interviewers/hiring managers are looking for in candidate responses. Any kind of delay in the answers or anything less than a full-out “yes I can do that!” in response to their questions is deemed suspect.

            (stupid me- I like to give accurate responses as to my abilities so the hiring manager can gauge whether I have what they are looking for/possess the ability to do the job. I don’t want to mislead anyone.)

            FYI: the hiring manager went with the other candidate simply because I commented “Oh, there’s a lab practical involved? Didn’t know that. Okay!”

            I didn’t know a lab practical was a thing in hiring. And, the recruiter did not tell me about the lab practical when I asked her about the hiring process (FYI: what she did do, prior to the interview with the hiring manager, was prep me on all the questions she figured he would be asking. She was about 50% correct on those. Not bad!).

            I am fine in the lab, so the lab practical was not a problem for me. I just didn’t know how one goes about arranging for this. And the hiring manager did not say anything about what was involved.

            Later, when I asked the recruiter, she told me that she didn’t know the lab practical was part of the hiring process either. And she felt bad that she subsequently was not able to inform me about it.

            1. APD*

              I feel like there’s a lot of “standard” interview questions/practices that are designed to be “gotchas,” rather than allowing for an actually useful, open conversation of requirements/expectations/skills.

              For example, “What is your greatest weakness?” Yes, of course I have several, but that’s why I chose to pursue career paths where those weaknesses are irrelevant. But if I SAY “Complex math takes me a long time to get to the correct answer, although I’ll get there in the end,” the interviewer counters with “This job doesn’t require that kind of math skill, tell me about YOUR WEAKNESS.” And I’m just like… I JUST DID. And there’s a reason I’m interviewing for a job that doesn’t require that kind of math skill!

              I’ve even tried “I have a tendency to not toot my own horn, which sometimes leads to me being taken for granted at work” which is absolutely true, but I STILL got “But NO, tell me about your WEAKNESS.” Apparently there’s a secret list of the only acceptable answers? (Honestly that interviewer was such a disaster — this was the first of several WTF moments — that I wish I had realized that sooner and just asked her what weaknesses were acceptable for me to have, then.)

              Frankly, by now I see an interviewer asking that question as a red flag. It means they don’t know how to interview and are approaching the boss/employee relationship as an antagonistic one.

              1. WantonSeedStitch*

                Ugh, even on the other side of the interview table, I hate that question and would never ask it. I HAVE asked questions like, “what’s been the most challenging thing to you in your current position, and what steps have you taken to overcome that challenge?” Or, “tell me about a time when you had to take on a task or assignment that you didn’t feel you were prepared for. How did you handle that situation? What do you feel worked, and what didn’t?”

                1. irene adler*

                  Yeah, I hate the greatest weakness question as well.
                  Thank you for not asking it.
                  I usually answer “chocolate”. I just don’t think in terms of “what am I bad at?”
                  I do see when I need to learn something and find a way to do just that.

              2. Liz*

                I hate that question. There is no way for me to answer that without exposing my mental health and learning difficulties. I have huge problems with focus and motivation. About 80% of my work energy is spent psyching myself up to do a task and a lot of time in between is spent procrastinating. By the time I’ve managed that much, I’m not really in any state to be assessing how effective I was – in just relieved I got through it. My current employer is quite understanding but I cannot imagine framing that particular weakness in a way that doesn’t make me sound like a huge liability.

          2. Ally McBeal*

            I, too, assumed that LTL was referring to the ability to BS one’s way through a conversation. I worked in PR for a while and most journalists won’t give questions in advance, so I had to research and brainstorm any and all possible questions that might come up based on the interview topic. One exec I worked with (not a white man) required me to draft their answers to those questions as well (whether I knew or not how they actually felt about the issue) and they would tweak those answers during interview prep. I fully believe they went home and memorized those answers. Never have I ever had to go into that level of detail for a white man.

          3. IT Lady*

            Perfectly stated! I would say the same goes for salary negotiations. Neuro-divergent, minority women have been held back by their (low) salary history, and have to provide extra justification for why they’re actually worth the market rate.

    3. Pop*

      I worked for several years at a nonprofit that employed mostly people from the community we served for on-the-ground program staff. Many of them did not have a traditional employment path or had been out of the workforce for many years, and for some of them it was their first ever interview! Providing questions in advance and giving them an overview of what to expect definitely set everyone up for success. It was a great process.

    4. korangeen*

      I would love this so, so much. I’ve even tried asking for questions in advance, never with any success. Why can’t this be the norm???

    5. TardyTardis*

      Me, too! A company where people were clear about objectives and why things are done a certain way? I’d be in heaven!

  2. Rainbow Brite*

    This was great to read! I’m not autistic, but I’ve worked extensively with autistic children as a teacher (in schools that do a great job of inclusion, and at ones that don’t), and I love hearing about spaces and systems that are purpose-built to accommodate neurodiversity.

    1. Selina Luna*

      I’m not autistic, but I’ve been told by several students who are that my classroom is one of the most inviting rooms-I have troubles with high levels of light and there’s plenty of sunlight through my windows, so I never turn on overhead lighting, and while I do have students collaborate, for various reasons, this is almost entirely online, so the noise level in my classroom is generally pretty quiet. I allow for headphones (against the school rules, but I know how beneficial they can be).

      1. Chinook*

        I was one who allowed headphones in the classroom back in 2001 even though most of the other junior high teachers were against it. I pointed out that a) it gave me a great carrot/stick (that could be used both in my classroom or if I heard about students pressuring other teachers for my rule) and b) it allowed students who thrived in quiet to have a quiet classroom while students who needed background noise or had the urge to fill silence with talking something to fill their ears. I know it was successful because students would police each other’s noise level (as the rule was no one should be able to hear someone else’s music) and ensure everyone was paying attention when I did ask for it (by tapping on desks of those absorbed in work/music).

        When asked why, I pointed out that IPP’s allowed it for certain behavioural issues and I hated singling out kids, so I gave them all the same rules and it became no issue. The kids were smart enough to monitor their own behaviour and those that couldn’t had a logical consequence to poor behaviour that was hard to argue. It was literally win/win/win.

  3. Undiagnosed*

    Thank you, this is fantastic.

    For some reason I keep thinking of my first week in a workplace that had a labeled “quiet room”. It was kept pretty dark and was wonderful to be able to retreat to for a few minutes during breaks in overwhelming intro sessions. But on the second day someone reserved that room for a meeting, talking with the lights on, told me I couldn’t use the room and that threw me off so badly. I had been more social and gotten more overstimmed because I was counting on the quiet room. This was typical of that workplace, in fact: they had several useful accommodations that previous employees had worked to have put in place, but they didn’t really get why those things were important so they kept randomly taking them away.

    1. BubbleTea*

      I worked at a place which had a wheelchair accessible toilet. It was used to store staff bikes.

  4. Delta Delta*

    This was very interesting. Thank you to Symone for sharing!

    I would like to ask a question, and maybe Symone can answer. I would not necessarily know that an applicant has difficulties with certain kinds of lighting or background noise unless they mention it. Is there a good way to ask applicants if they need physical plant variations for an interview (I’m thinking in-person interviews, if we go back to those any time soon)? It occurs to me in reading this that someone may not want to reveal if they are on the autism spectrum, but may struggle with something easily fixable, like not turning on the fluorescent light during an interview. I would hate to miss out on a good candidate if they didn’t interview well because of something I could have fixed on my end. Does this make sense?

    1. Less Bread More Taxes*

      Not OP, but I am autistic. Honestly, a short and simple email ahead of time asking for their preferences is a great way to handle this (at least, that’s what I’d want). “Hi [applicant], we want to make our interview experience as positive as possible. If there is anything we can do to make it smoother for you, let us know! For example, let us know if you prefer dimmer lighting, little ambient noise, are sensitive to fragrance, etc. Otherwise, see you Thursday!” I personally don’t have many sensory issues, but just hearing that they care about me as an applicant would make my experience so much better.

      Also, do phone interviews first. You haven’t mentioned this, but I think everyone’s first interview should be a short phone call to suss out any serious conflicts (salary, work schedule, basic job functions, etc.). That way, the applicant already knows that everyone’s on the same page when they come in for an in-person interview.

      1. Admin 4 life*

        I love this answer! I’m autistic and try to extend this courtesy to our applicants if I’m the one scheduling their interviews. We’re all remote now but I feel like mentioning that you’re open to making accommodations is a huge step forward.

        I also bring up accommodations a couple times during a new hire’s first week so they can feel comfortable asking about modifications to lighting, using headphones, etc.

      2. Helena*

        This type of writing is also great for opening up for questions regarding physical accessibility, allergies, if a person is hard of hearing and so on.

        1. LTL*

          This! I’m not autistic but I love the wording! It shows that the company cares about inclusion beyond lip service and requires pretty much no emotional labor on the applicant side to explain themselves.

      3. Symone*

        I would agree with this, with one caveat – start with email and schedule phone interviews. Phone anxiety is pretty common among autistic people and the associated overload/anxiety can come off as a lack of interest – I typically need a few minutes to task switch mentally. Scheduling that time allows people to make sure that they have a private space as well!

        1. Less Bread More Taxes*

          Oh absolutely. There’s nothing worse than getting a surprise phone call that then turns into an interview.

      4. JSPA*

        Every autistic person being different…it’s not terribly unusual for phone calls to be a disproportionate source of stress for some, whether because of auditory processing delays or verbalization delays (that in real life can be elided with a gesture) or because the effort of sounding social and being animated largely wipes out someone’s ability to hold onto the information (supposedly) transferred. (Not that the interview itself is necessarily better in that regard; I’m thinking that a significant subset of people would do better with email, if that’s an option, for what are, literally, facts and figures about the job.)

        TL;DR: asking if people would prefer a phone call in advance is excellent, but making it the default isn’t going to be universally helpful.

      5. Undiagnosed*

        Ooh absolutely give people options. I never ask for accomodations because people freak out if they don’t already know how to accomodate you. For those of us with needs that aren’t full barriers but make things harder, knowing which accomodations are freely offered helps so much.

        And also even for people who may have no choice but to ask, like wheelchair users, ADA compliance can’t be taken for granted. So if you’re doing an onsite I bet it helps to provide a guide to all candidates that says what the parking, elevator, ramps, automatic doors and bathroom situation is like so they don’t have to ask.

    2. Sylvan*

      That’s true, you can’t guess someone’s needs or preferences. I think it’s helpful to give a couple of options and ask which is best — for example, if your office has both a fluorescent light and natural light, you could ask “Lights on or off?” This lets people know what’s available and make a choice without implicitly telling you they have a sensory issue.

    3. BubbleTea*

      I can’t think of a scenario where someone’s interview experience would be improved by background noise or harsh lighting, so one way to make things more friendly to people who deal with sensory overload is to generally reduce the sensory input for everyone. Obviously turning all the lights off and conducting the interview in a whisper would be weird regardless of neurotype, but things can often be more everyone-friendly by being a bit more autism-friendly.

      1. Flora*

        Okay but now I want to read a story/watch a media item where that’s a thing and the cishetwhiteguy interviewees are all WHAT IS HAPPENING HERE.

  5. Keymaster of Gozer*

    On the autism spectrum and work in IT and found myself saying ‘oh goddess that’d be wonderful’ so, so many times during that interview. Additional thanks for the links, very good stuff :)

  6. Less Bread More Taxes*

    “I’d find a lot went assumed or unspoken in previous workplaces, and impatience was a common reaction when I didn’t pick up on these things the way others were used to.”

    I am on the spectrum and holy cow does this hit home. Nothing worse than doing everything you possibly can to fit in and do well – asking questions, taking notes, reading documentation – only to find out that pertinent information is not only missing but that people are irritated with you when you don’t just inherently know that pertinent information.

    I am so glad that there are autistic workplaces out there. I’m going to have to keep them on my radar during my next job search!

    1. AnonPi*

      Or when they express irritation with your asking questions, so you stop asking so many. Then they get frustrated because your interpretation of what they wanted, is completely different than what they wanted, and you end up having to redo stuff.

      1. PX*

        Lol. I’ve never been formally diagnosed and to be honest I think this is just part of a culture clash between my previous and current company, but wow am I going through this right now :/

      2. Frustrated Autistic*

        This is one source of my chronic employment issues. I ask too many of the wrong questions and then mess up the assignment anyway because they won’t just tell me what they want.

    2. Salsa Verde*

      *Asking a lot of questions can come off as insubordination*

      This comment really stuck out to me – it is completely mysterious to me when people get angry when I try to ask clarifying questions! I had this issue at my last job – an office was having software issues and when I tried to ask them questions about it in order to help them solve it, they told me I was rude and disrespectful! I am NT, and I had never dealt with that issue before – how am I supposed to help them with their problem if I don’t have all the information??????

      I thought it was just that one office that felt questions were rude, so I’m sad to hear that Symone’s experience has been that too many questions can be considered insubordinate, because that means it’s more than just the one weird office culture :(

      1. Librarian!with!questions!*

        If I’m asking questions it’s to be sure I understand fully/can do my job well and/or I’m trying to advocate for the population we serve.
        It’s mindboggling to me how often my questions are viewed as challenging authority.

        1. Salsa Verde*

          Ha! I am a former librarian, and so have been trained to conduct a reference interview (with QUESTIONS) before running off to start a task.

      2. Temperance*

        I had an intern that would ask tons of questions in a way that was rude, disrespectful, and insubordinate. I always walked interns through tasks, explained why we’re doing things, etc. I didn’t grow up in a middle class family, so I don’t necessarily expect interns to have that office experience before starting.

        He had some social issues and weird mannerisms in the office, and we had multiple conversations about how he needs to not speak to people “like that”, everyone is important here, etc. But whenever I gave him a project, he had so many questions. Something as simple as “create a spreadsheet with these names, and include this information in Excel and save in our doc management system” either came with 20 questions that were increasingly angry, or he would just do it the way that he thought was the most efficient, even if I specified what program to use. (Example: with the spreadsheet, he decided to use Google sheets. Even though I told him to use a different product; saying “you can’t do that because you’re making confidential case information and client information public” was met with “well you didn’t tell me WHY I should use X program”.)

        1. Salsa Verde*

          I totally, completely get how some questions can be rude, and how tone matters so much, and I really strive to frame my questions neutrally, in content and in tone if I’m asking them verbally, and to preface them by explaining why I’m asking.

          In my example above, this office was calling us to tell us the software was not working, and when I asked them to share their screen to show me, they would refuse, so then I would say, well, is it doing X? or are you seeing Y? and then they emailed by boss to say I was being disrespectful!! I honestly do not know what else I could have done.

          That was the same office where, when I asked clarifying questions, my boss told me that they were worried that I didn’t know what I was doing because I was asking questions. I couldn’t quickly think of a way to diplomatically say that they changed their mind and forgot what they said all the time, so my questions were really about trying to force them to be very clear about what they wanted!

          Oh well. I don’t have to work there anymore.

    3. Arya Parya*

      This! My last performance review my boss told me I hadn’t been proactive enough on a certain project. But he had never made that explicit to me. I had no idea that was expected.

      It’s also pretty annoying I never really know if I’m doing good enough, because I just don’t pick that stuff up.

      So yeah, will also be looking for something autistic friendly in my next search.

  7. Blaise*

    And as usual, what’s best for neurodiverse individuals is almost always what’s best for everyone! Props to this company for making work a comfortable place for all- I would love to see these things implemented everywhere!

    As a teacher, I see this constantly. My classes are all run as if all of my students are autistic. It’s great for my autistic students, but it’s great for everyone else too!

    1. Sola Lingua Bona Lingua Mortua Est*

      And as usual, what’s best for neurodiverse individuals is almost always what’s best for everyone!

      +10. Reading the description of the working conditions, it sounded better for anyone and everyone.

      1. Ask a Manager* Post author

        This stood out to me too. I do think there are people who are exceptions to this (like people who want to process things out loud in conversation, maybe, or who rely on specific types of social connections to feel connected to their work), but a lot of it sounds like it would be helpful to nuerotypical people as well.

        1. Ask a Manager* Post author

          … which is so often the case about inclusive practices! As another example, the stuff that’s good to do to combat racial or cultural bias in your organization is pretty much always really good management for everyone (examples: not assuming everyone knows your shorthand or the playbook for success there and instead making those things explicit, being really clear on the must-have’s for a job you’re hiring for and not screening for other traits/experiences, being transparent about how decisions are made and who gets to make them, and on and on).

        2. Lucette Kensack*

          Hmm, I’m not sure I agree!

          Lots of folks process out loud, do their best thinking in unstructured conversations, are more focused when they have more sensory stimulation, prefer quick phone calls to emails, get pleasure and meaningful professional connections through small talk, like bright lights, etc.

          1. Your Local Password Resetter*

            Which you can figure out by asking them about it and then arranging things accordingly. Just like you would with people who don’t like those things.

            It’s often just about giving people options and figuring out what works best for any particular person. Which helps pretty much everyone.

            1. Lucette Kensack*

              Sure, of course. But it would be a mistake to — as folks have suggested — build your workplace as though every employee is ND, just as it is a mistake to assume all employees are NT.

          2. Flora*

            But in an interview? IDK, I don’t know if I think even my most think-out-loud colleagues would feel like they were lacking that in an interview.

            (But, I have had conversations with some of them to help us not conflict, because the talk-it-outers tend to overwhelm them think-it-throughers by having so many sometimes conflicting ideas, and also the think-it-throughers tend to frustrate the talk-it-outers by not providing input. This is solvable by explicitly identifying what’s happening: The talkers can say, I need to talk about this for a minute until I come to a conclusion; I’ll let you know when we get to the part where I feel like I’m actually asking you for something. The thinkers can say, I do have some input about the llama part of your plan, but it’s not particularly coherent. I’ll be back in half an hour after I noodle on it a little.)

            1. Lucette Kensack*

              Oh, I wasn’t talking about interviews, but rather workplaces in general.

              Blaise commented that accommodations for neurodiverse folks make workplaces better for everyone; I don’t agree. (I do, of course, agree that having a workplace that invites and makes accommodations for varied communications and work styles IS good for everyone. It’s just not a given that super-quiet, dark, meeting-free workplaces are what’s best for all employees.)

              1. Symone*

                Accommodation for neurodivergent people doesn’t mean that every space is super-quiet, dark, and meeting-free. These things specifically come up because of how common the opposite of that has become. Flexibility is the most important accommodation for me, and that benefits everyone.

                1. anon for this one*

                  And as someone with audio processing issues that would hit my ability to lip read/hear (whispers and especially quiet speech drive me NUTS), still not inclusive to everyone.

                  Bright lights, speak up, turn towards me, don’t dock me if you catch I’m looking at your mouth not eyes (most people don’t).

                  I’m allistic but not neurotypical.

              2. Blaise*

                Someone else already said this, but I think it bears repeating: creating an inclusive space for neurodiverse people does not mean dark, silent, lonely places. Please read more on autism (written by autistic people- this is key!!!).

                I stand by what I said. What’s best for neurodiverse people is almost always what’s best for everyone. I did say “almost”, both in my original post and now, so of course I am aware that humans prefer different things, but when you’re creating a shared space for many people, at some point you have to go with what works for the majority, and compromise on the rest.

        3. Machiamellie*

          Just look at all of the companies that adopted the “open floor plan” and hoteling setups for their workspaces. I believe the majority of people don’t like them. I know my company does an open floor plan and has bright glaring colors at their home office. Thank goodness I’m remote! I wouldn’t be able to work in that kind of environment without dark glasses and noise cancelling headphones.

    2. Elenna*

      Yes! Basically everything in this post is things that neurotypical people would also prefer, although often not as strongly.

    3. Properlike*

      Teacher here too, and it explains a lot about why neuro-atypical me (parent of neuro-atypicals, none of us with autism) was able to be accidentally supportive of my students with autism! NT students are frequently put off by my directness; students with autism LOVED it.

      I would appreciate working in a place like this too. The “our policy is this, but what we really want you to do is not this” has always been my downfall in professional situations.

    4. I need tea*

      Any chance you could elaborate on the specifics of running autistic-friendly spaces like classrooms? I’m autistic and I want to teach primary school, and my goal is to make my future classrooms as neurodivergent-friendly as possible. I plan to do things like using dyslexia-friendly fonts (sans serifs are good), making fidget toys accessible, building in quiet spaces and offering alternative communication methods and avoiding grading based on eye contact in presentations etc. If you have any suggestions of other specifics that help to create autism-friendly spaces I’d love to hear them.

      1. Blaise*

        Absolutely! It’s something I’ve been working on for all 10 years of my career. No promises this is comprehensive, but here are some things that come to mind:
        1. YESYESYES to sans-serif fonts. The easiest change ever to implement
        2. Also yes to fidgets, available to all and not just kids with IEPs
        3. Building off of #2, teaching lessons on E.V.E.R.Y.T.H.I.N.G. lol. So many teachers get mad at kids for doing dumb things, but kids do dumb things because they genuinely don’t know they’re dumb things to do! The number of times I give a lesson on how to use an electric pencil sharpener every year lol… but it’s so important to keep doing the lessons over and over again until they stick! A lot of teachers just give up and sharpen pencils for their students, for example, but it’s a bad idea to save time now and have students not develop important skills for later. This includes teaching lessons for literally anything that comes up in class, like how to use a fidget appropriately, how to push in chairs and line up, how to check their work, how to tell someone that you want them to stop doing something, etc.
        4. Building off of #3- giving kids scripts to use instead of solving their problems for them. If Tommy comes to me and complains that Jimmy kicked him, I say absolutely nothing to Jimmy unless the script I give Tommy doesn’t end up helping. Instead, I tell him “did you ask him why he did that? (The answer is always no lol.) Tell him that hurt; don’t kick me!” It sounds crazy but little kids genuinely don’t think about the fact that what they did hurt someone; they’re only thinking about their own anger/frustration/whatever.
        5. Seating! NO ONE likes sitting on a hard plastic chair for 7 hours. Everyone deserves to be comfortable! I also have no assigned seats, so everyone can choose wherever works best for them.
        6. Giving multiple warnings to count down to the end of an activity so kids know when a transition is coming.
        7. Explaining the “why” behind things as often as I possibly can, even when it seems obvious. For example, EVERY TIME we watch a video, I don’t just tell them to listen, I remind them to listen so that everyone else can hear.
        8. Routine. This can be difficult depending on your subject, but for me it’s super easy to keep the same basic routine almost every day: first we sing a song, then review vocab by acting it out and then looking at a PowerPoint and telling me what they see, then we do some kind of activity (I teach Spanish). So even though I mix things up every class, it’s also very predictable at its root.

        I also should say that this stuff isn’t just for little kids- I teach every grade K-8 and I do all this stuff across the board!

      2. Blaise*

        I also don’t believe in grading at all in the traditional sense, but that’s a whole separate post for another day lol!

    5. Jaydee*

      As a teacher, I see this constantly. My classes are all run as if all of my students are autistic. It’s great for my autistic students, but it’s great for everyone else too!

      Oh wow, someone must have just chopped a whole bunch of onions in here because my eyes are sure leaking.

    6. Anon Today*

      I agree! Most of this sounds fantastic. Except for the lighting. It’s hard for me to see in dim lighting and it hurts my eyes to work in dim lighting. I would love to see softer and warmer lighting in workplaces… but not people just turning the lights off. That sucks for me. I dream of big windows with sheer curtains/shades diffusing the light, warm lights set in recesses, overhead lighting chunked in such a way that people can adjust the lighting directly above their workspace without affecting others’ lighting… etc.

      1. ThatGirl*

        Yeah, that’s one thing – I don’t want to work in a dark room. Though I do prefer softer or more natural light as opposed to fluorescent lighting.

        1. allathian*

          Yeah, me too, and I’m NT, if introverted. I can read people pretty well, but too much chatter shatters my focus and I’m far more productive in a more quiet environment with fewer interruptions. I’ve realized that I vastly prefer the led lights at home to the fluorescent lights at work. I had at least weekly headaches in the office that I attribute to over-stimulation and fluorescent lights. I haven’t had them for as long as I’ve been WFH. Given that I live at 60 N, for much of the year for much of the day, indoor lighting is a necessity.

    7. Hrodvitnir*

      Belatedly: while I absolutely believe strongly that accounting for neurodivergence helps everyone, and the need to qualify as different “enough” to get accommodations is totally unhelpful when you could just give your staff the tools to succeed regardless (there are some significant accommodations that are more difficult but many are not), neurodivergences are absolutely not all the same.

      So even within neurodivergence conflicting needs are a thing. I’m not disagreeing with your core point (at all, I was definitely thinking that), I just couldn’t leave the statement “what’s best for neurodivergent individuals is almost always what’s best for everyone” to stand, because as a standalone statement that’s not only too reductive but also lumps together all neurodivergence in a way that makes me cringe.

  8. Llellayena*

    I have to figure out a way to get this article to my cousin (not sure he’s got email). He’s autistic, homeschooled and due to that has never accessed the local support network (what there is of one) for disabilities/neurodivergence. He’s expressed concern that he’d never be able to hold down a job, and this might give him a series of resources to start with. If anyone has suggestions for the Maryland/north of Baltimore area for autistic young adults with no work history, please let me know!

    1. OtterB*

      Try People on the Go of Maryland at They are a network of self-advocates of people with developmental and intellectual challenges. They don’t provide direct help with employment issues but can probably connect him with resources and other people in the same boat. He might also check with the League for People With Disabilities at

      I have not worked directly with People on the Go but have encountered their members at some planning and advocacy events. My daughter has participated in recreational activities with the League for People but not employment (we’re not near Baltimore), but I know they do some things in that way, and they’re great at what we’ve done with them.

    2. Kim*

      Can’t speak to that far north but there is an active community in the DC area. You don’t say how old he is but the schools might be able to provide some support even if he’s over 18. Also check out the local community college for supports.

      1. Llellayena*

        Late 20s, so older than the schools would get involved. Since he was homeschooled he was never registered for services through the school system, so they won’t provide them now. He was never really encouraged/supported in trying to be independent, so he’d need some pretty intense coaching to start out.

        1. Eirene*

          What about The Arc? I know there’s a branch oriented to Baltimore/Harford/Cecil Counties, and they’re a great resource.

  9. Sarra N. Dipity*


    Thank you for sharing your experiences. My 13-year-old is autistic and regularly I worry about him being able to cope in the adult working world. Knowing that there are companies like yours out there gives me hope that he’ll be able to independently support himself some day, and do so while being treated respectfully and continuing to learn and grow and enjoy his life.

  10. ShortT*

    As someone in her forties who’s seeking a second assessment because the first assessor was grossly incompetent, I’d like to see April renamed Autism Acceptance Month. Simple awareness is meaningless. Until autism is accepted, IMO, determining whether or not one is autistic will be unnecessarily difficult and traumatic and emphasis will remain on masking the neurodivergence (not offending the sensibilities of neurotypicals) rather than supporting autistic people and finding a “cure”.

    1. Admin 4 life*

      I second this. I’m constantly dreading the autism puff-pieces that come out in April and this interview with Symone was such a wonderful thing to find in a sea of PFL, light it up blue, and non-profits that will go unnamed.

    2. Keymaster of Gozer*

      I’m all for it being ‘acceptance’ instead!

      (I don’t need a cure for autism. I would like one for my mental illnesses but the autism thing… nah. Just don’t make me look people in the eye all the time and try to force me into brightly lit and loud situations)

    3. Client*

      Awareness Month is also an initiative of Autism Speaks, which makes me puke.

      I think the Autistic Self-Advocacy Network (or other autistic-run org) has run a concurrent Autism Awareness Month in the past, with a red theme (as opposed to Autism Speaks’ blue.)

      1. BubbleTea*

        Yes, and no flipping puzzle pieces! Autistic people do not have pieces missing, and are not puzzles to be solved!

    4. Symone*

      I would love Autism Appreciation Month! We need more acceptance, but that’s not enough in the grand scheme of things either.

    5. biscuits*

      What if we go all out and have Autism Pride? Awareness (and acceptance) are about what other people think of us, whereas pride is more like “we’re here, deal with it”.

  11. Chilipepper*

    Thank you Symone and Alison for this!
    I have a question that Symone might be able to answer (or anyone else!).

    My son and nephew might be autistic. I’d like to share your company name with them but:
    1. we never have gotten a diagnosis for our son but I suspect some form of autism or what used to be called Asbergers. My brother and his wife seem to have refused to get a diagnosis for their son (my nephew) but the entire family has always just assumed autism (I mean, it seems really clear!). Does this lack of diagnosis matter to the company?
    2. I know how to bring this up to my son, but I am at a loss when mentioning it to my nephew. It feels like it would be, “hey, I have armchair diagnosed you as autistic, maybe you want to work at this cool place?” He is really struggling to find a place for himself in the world, bouncing around jobs and schools and apparently his parents are in denial or something. He really likes me and my husband (hello, we have experience with autistic-like people – as part of our son’s journey, several therapists pointed out my husband’s issues which they labeled Asbergers). So I have some relationship with him but have no idea how to bring this up.

    Any advice from anyone?

    1. Properlike*

      I can only speak from a neuro-atypical perspective: avoid diagnosis, name and normalize the experiences. There is so much overlap between sensory processing disorder/ADD/Autism-autism spectrum/etc. Talk about shared reactions and experiences, what you’ve discovered about yourself, the misdiagnoses, what works and what doesn’t. As the article points out, not everyone with an autism diagnosis is the same, and that’s true of all non-NT people.

      Like, how many people are buying weighted blankets right now? But when my child was first diagnosed with a sensory processing disorder and we were told to get one, they were really hard to find and really expensive. Others have pointed out: we all have divergent neurologial needs.

      1. Chilipepper*

        We do avoid a diagnosis with our nephew and I think he enjoys the way we talk about the challenges he faces just as we all face them. But it feels like I have to focus on a diagnosis if I am going to suggest a company like this as a possible place for him to get a job? That’s the part that seems awkward to me.

        Do I just say I heard about this place, it might interest you (he does have a tech interest)? And then what will he think when he sees that their home page says they offer “autistic strengths for your IT and data projects.” Will he think I am armchair diagnosing him?

        I could just say, hey nephew, this employer focuses on hiring people who are neuro- atypical and as we have talked about, you, my husband, my son are similar this way, this company might work for you?

        I don’t know how to suggest a company like this without addressing the fact that a specific diagnosis is front and center on their website.

        1. JJ Bittenbinder*

          Is it possible to state exactly what you did to us? “I don’t want you to think that I am armchair diagnosing you, so I am hoping you will see what they offer as an employer to mitigate potential barriers and preferences, rather than focus on the fact that the word ‘autism’ is front and center.”

          Or, something like that. Starting from a position of strength (the company has a great approach) while asking him to please be patient with what he might find challenging (the word autism front and center, as you put it).

    2. J.B.*

      How old is your nephew? I think you can continue to support him. Focusing on the behaviors is really best no matter what the diagnosis.

      1. Chilipepper*

        He is 20, I should have said that.
        I think we do a good job supporting him by just being a good aunt and uncle, listening, talking, and watching the shows he likes (and most other adults in his life cannot stand). He visits us (pre-pandemic, from another state). And his mom always calls to tell us how much he loves visiting us and our conversations.

        But if I want to suggest a company like this, how do I do that without addressing the fact that a specific diagnosis is front and center on their website?

        1. J.B.*

          So both of my kids are going through (re-) diagnosis now. One is being assessed for ADHD and the other for autism. I talk about brain wiring without bringing a specific diagnosis into it. My kids are not that different in their behaviors. For us diagnosis is valuable for which specific accommodations we can get the school to give and what medication will tackle the biggest challenges.

          I mean, if you come from a quirky family you usually know it. I talk with my older daughter about having a job that provides a lot of variety but that I need to make myself checklists for the boring stuff I will skip otherwise. You might take a look at the blog “Black girl lost keys” – it is focused on ADHD but maybe there would be some stuff that overlaps enough to be worth talking about.

    3. MommaCat*

      “Hey, this seems like a cool company that’s sensitive to the needs of its employees, even the ones without autism, and I thought you might want to check it out.”

      That’s how I’d approach it with my ASD cousins if they weren’t already diagnosed. As it is, I texted this link to my neuro-atypical aunt and can trust it will get to my cousins.

    4. Symone*

      A formal diagnosis can help but it can also hinder. I sought one out (and actually went through the process twice as I was told I couldn’t be autistic based on stereotypes the first time) for legal recognition in the workplace. It’s also necessary if you want to apply for disability benefits (not that they’re great in many places!). I’ve heard of it being held against people looking for health/life insurance or child custody, however. I’m a big proponent of self-diagnosis myself, and I will say that a formal diagnosis didn’t teach me anything about autism, but it validated my drive to learn. Circumstances around diagnosis can vary a lot, so the best way to find out on any individual basis would be to apply!

      In terms of how to discuss your nephew – and this is my opinion, nothing to do with my employer – I’d want to see him identify as autistic first. I can see an in to discuss that with your son, depending on his comfort level sharing: if he shares traits with his cousin, and those traits connect to autism, then it can help his cousin connect to autism. Many parents discover they’re autistic this way, through their children. Thanks for being supportive parents!

      There’s room for a general discussion at any point – I’m not sure what the ages are here, but talking about what you read and how people feel about it could be a good starting point without getting into why you think it would be good for him.

    5. Admin 4 life*

      It can be tricky to navigate. I had to personally unpack a lot of internalized ableism (my son was diagnosed and then I was diagnosed). I will point out that this company requires a formal diagnosis for the majority of its job roles but not all of them. It’s listed in their FAQ section.

      I would bring up being neurodivergent first. Autism can have such a stigma attached to it whereas I’ve had more success telling someone they sound like they could be neurodivergent and suggesting a few traits that might resonate with them.

      There are a lot of actually autistic and neurodivergent Facebook groups too.

      1. Bear Shark*

        I will point out that this company requires a formal diagnosis for the majority of its job roles but not all of them.

        I’ll admit, my initial thought about that is that could be discriminatory on the basis of gender and financial background.

        1. Admin 4 life*

          I thought that too. It would skew to white male which makes me curious about their diversity. I only received a diagnosis because I was persistent, my son was diagnosed, and my ex husband provided details saying my sister is clearly autistic too. My outlined childhood history and my list of traits were not enough, but being connected to other people who are autistic was what tipped the scales for me—and it cost me about $2,300 for my diagnosis but only $200 for my son’s.

          I am also curios about why a diagnosis is NOT required for administrative roles.

    6. JSPA*

      Everyone’s on every spectrum; that’s the definition of a spectrum. End-to-end, lots of variability in the middle.

      multi-factorial genetics (and life experience) being what they are, by definition, most people who have one or more predisposing traits for one (or more) “atypias” will not reach the point of a clear diagnosis for any of them.

      It makes perfect sense to talk about the full, broad spectrum, and to acknowledge that many people who are not only “not diagnosed” but “not diagnosable by strict criteria” still operate with a) some of the same genetic predilections and b) some of the same learned assumptions and learned coping patterns as people who are diagnosable.

      Families really differ (above and beyond cultural differences) on whether they expect eye contact, whether they enjoy jokes of the “category error” variety, whether strict truthfulness or “white lies” are more polite, how directly one can speak one’s mind, how self-involved one’s expected to be, how much self-explanation one’s expected to give, how much precise guidance people give each other on everyday tasks.

      Some of that presumably aligns with intentionally accommodating people who need it. Some of it presumably aligns automatically with one’s own genetic predilection. Some, automatically to fit the predilection of other family members.

      And of course, absent arranged marriages, people are free to find, date and procreate with people who operate similarly.

      If someone comes from “an aspie family”–such that they were raised with those expectations and experiences–then in some very real way, that’s their normal. Regardless of their own status.

  12. Bananas*

    This is fantastic!

    The president of our company is autistic and it is undeniably one of the reasons why we are successful. We are hiring now and hoping to hire another employee on the spectrum. I am NT and some of the tasks that are not in his comfort level are right up my alley so it works.

  13. Chauncy Gardener*

    This is so very helpful. Thank you!!! I’ve seen quite a few autistic folks in Accounting and IT (doing really well, I might add.) and this interview and the links are really useful in trying to make my workplace more accommodating. Good to know about laying off the camera during video calls and using email vs phone. I will work to make our interviewing process more inclusive as well.

  14. This Is My Day Job*

    This is fabulous! I’m in the process of being diagnosed (yay NHS waiting lists) and trying to work out what adjustments I need to make to my work life, so it’s great to hear what others have done and how it’s helped. I don’t have many sensory issues but the whole issue of subtext, reading between the lines, and unwritten rules has seriously stressed me out at work in the past!

    In fact, rules in general are a bit of a minefield. It’s a massive problem when there are rules, but they aren’t clear, or they aren’t followed, or they only apply to certain situations. It would make me incredibly happy to have rules that are clear, logical, there for a good reason, and are enforced!

    1. BubbleTea*

      I’ve been on the NHS waiting list for two years now, sigh. This is my third attempt – twice before I’ve moved out of area before getting an appointment. Solidarity, friend!

      Something that is very useful to know is that Access to Work support doesn’t require a formal diagnosis. I got workplace coaching funded through them despite not having a label for my neurodivergence, and it was hugely helpful.

    2. nearly dx autistic*

      Hey Day Job! I’m also navigating the NHS ASD diagnosis journey at present (should be seeing the psych and OT in the next few weeks, so you can imagine how many months have already elapsed).

      In therapy it’s been really freeing to reframe memories or experiences through a ND lens and be able to say, “I didn’t do anything wrong: we were both making assumptions and they didn’t line up” or “huh, that person was probably angry/frustrated because” or “wow, I never could have guessed xyz for myself, people are weird”.

      I’ve been able to reassess my career goals understanding that I will never want to “go with the flow” or to have to come up with mission critical solutions on the fly. I will always want clear job descriptions, timelines and task allocations. I’ve also embraced any solutions commonly recommended to autistic people such as noise cancelling headphones, fidget toys, clothes without tags, and what turn out to be super common autism stims.

      My (assumed, semi-diagnosed) autism manifests as a strength in certain work tasks that are very useful to my employer:

      * close interest in and attention to numbers and dates, esp in databases, tables and spreadsheets
      * happily running a procedure exactly the same way over and over (having designed or optimised the procedures in the first place if needed)
      * indepth research into specific topics everyone else finds boring but needs to know about
      * hawkeye for inconsistencies or errors
      * clear documentation

      It’s only learning that I might be ND and not everyone thinks this way that has helped me to identify these as non-universal skills.

      Knowing what I know now, I would absolutely advertise a similar position with an autism-focused recruiter as well as the usual channels.

  15. Moose*

    As someone with autism, I don’t think I would like this very much and I’m struggling to figure out why.

    I guess it’s because I’m used to the “typical” workplace by now. Yes, it’s very hard at times, but I guess the devil you know is sometimes better than the devil you don’t.

    I also find some other autistic people sometimes assume we share the same struggles and try to limit me based on THEIR limitations. Like saying I shouldn’t go to a concert because THEY can’t handle the loud noises. I worry about how that could limit my growth at work.

    I don’t know. I don’t think that quite covers why I’m uncomfortable with it. A lot to think about. Thanks Symone for sharing.

    1. Chilipepper*

      I think those are really helpful points.
      And I think its a reminder about the ways everyone actually does that with others – I think we all sometimes assume that our way to do something is the right way. Its a reminder to watch for ways we do that and work on it.

    2. J.B.*

      I see where you are coming from, and maybe part of the problem is that it stands out as one company doing this. If companies in general were more flexible, such as with answering questions. I am not autistic, although I do have anxiety and perhaps a touch of ADHD. But I have been smacked down before for asking clarifying questions. Many times this has happened because others are insecure, and often for things that really have not been thought through. If they took the time to explain, operations in general would improve.

    3. Symone*

      That’s okay! I really structure and routine myself and sometimes that’s meant just being used to non-optimal circumstances. I hate the phone but I can do well working with it all day with the right environment, for instance. I’ve had those same worries where disclosing leads to infantilization. Hiding or masking isn’t the answer for me in the big picture, though – the more diversity in autistic individuals the world sees, the weaker the stereotypes and stigmas against us. We still need to put our health, safety, and wellbeing first, though, and sometimes that means masking.

    4. Anon for this*

      Yes. So long as I was “the top-of-class ivy league gal who cared about weak spots in abstract arguments,” people treated me with deep respect.

      Once I was “the socially awkward female who seems aspie and admits to being from an aspie family,” I morphed into, “the person who should be given rote tasks and not expected to do abstract thinking.”

      Talk about a career blocking shift.

    5. Your Local Password Resetter*

      This would make me uncomfortable as well.

      I think in my case part of it is the heavy focus on the autism. It shifts the focus away from my proffesional character and onto something very personal, something that my employer frankly has no business diving into. It feels like a big boundary crossing somehow, even if it’s well-intentioned.

  16. Greengirl*

    This is really great and helpful for me to consider how my office can be more supportive of autistic colleagues.

  17. Can Man*

    Another organization worth looking up is the Autism Self Advocacy Network, an organization that tries to further autism acceptance and get autistic voices heard (however they communicate best).

  18. Rage*

    This is so great! I work at a residential school for children impacted by Autism and similar developmental delays. I’m going to share this post around with some of my team members.

  19. Princess Deviant*

    An absolutely brilliant and sensitive interview. Thanks Symone for sharing your experience (with which I identify a lot!) And thanks Alison for publishing it.
    I’d love to work somewhere like here, and absolutely LOVE to face the interview questions ahead of time.

  20. KL*

    Love when neurodivergence comes up on this site, Alison handles this well. I’ve noticed that a lot of autistic adults like myself enjoy AAM and Captain Awkward as a sort of cheat sheet on social dynamics, interactions, and conventions. I love the way Allison spells out subtle social things like how to implicitly set boundaries or convey intentions.

    1. Watry*

      This is exactly why I read AAM (aside from my inner drama llama). I’ve handled several situations in my current job with so much more finesse than usual, thanks to Alison. Just having a script is amazingly helpful.

    2. Your Local Password Resetter*

      Goodness yes.
      Allison laying everything out, explaining her reasoning and then giving concrete examples has helped me so much in understanding all the various work dynamics.

  21. Harper the Other One*

    Thank you so much for this! Both of my kids are on the spectrum, and I can foresee one struggling more with entering the working world than the other. Knowing what changes have helped others is so helpful in giving us a place to start!

  22. Baron*

    Thanks for this post, Alison! I’ve applied to work there. As a person on the spectrum and with a physical disability, my concern is less on-the-job accommodations than facing discrimination in the hiring process. I can usually get an interview, but then they get one look at me and it’s, “Oh. You’re…not the right fit.” A place like this could be much better for me.

  23. JJ Bittenbinder*

    So very grateful to Symone for sharing her experience and to Alison for a thoughtful interview. My son is autistic and I lie awake many nights worrying about his future. Will he be happy? Will he find a job where people value him and treat him well? Will he feel proud of himself? Yes, I’d love it if he could support himself financially, but we’ll figure that part out.

    I can’t actually continue this post because I’m getting weepy and need to pull myself together before my next meeting, but I love feeling some hope. Thank you.

    1. Practical Criticism*

      Obviously every autistic person has different skills, strengths and weaknesses, but I wanted to stop by and say that my husband is autistic and has a career doing something he loves. There are parts of the workplace he struggles with, but he’s found a great mentor who has really advocated for him and helped him along the way. He’s also come across quite a few other people in his line of work who he’s pretty sure are on the spectrum, and there are some clients he’s been especially good at working with for the same reasons (he understands their motivations, strengths and weaknesses).

      My husband is hard on himself and often anxious if he’s doing well enough, but on good days he’s proud of his achievements. He’s also a great husband and a great father. Best of luck to your son, he sounds like he’s got a great family behind him.

      1. JJ Bittenbinder*

        Thank you so much. I appreciate the validation and reassurance, as well as your kind words.

  24. Amber Rose*

    I wanna work for you too. *sigh*
    What we really need is a manual: “how to create a workplace where we pretend everyone needs accommodations for autism even if they don’t.” A lot of the crap neurotypical people CAN put up with isn’t necessarily stuff we enjoy putting up with or want to.

    Isn’t this tricky to navigate when you’re not allowed to ask about certain things like disabilities during interviews?

  25. AutisticMuseumPerson*

    As an autistic longtime reader who has used your site to help navigate workplace social norms, thank you so much for doing this! Great resource for my own work advocating for autistic representation in my field.

  26. Texas Librarian*

    Thank you for this informative interview. I think a lot of neurotypical workplaces could learn a lot from auticon.

  27. Canadian Girl*

    This was an interesting read. I do have a question about making interview spaces where they don’t look/ feel like the typical working environment. I know the interview process is more stressful so it can help with that but if for example you use a quiet office space that the candidate wouldn’t actually be working in on a regular basis and where they would be working would be noisier. How do you know they can cope in the different environment from where they’re interviewed? Obviously you could ask them but some people will over estimate how they would do or not be able to answer appropriately because they don’t have a frame of reference on what they would be dealing with. I know I usually tour my final candidates around explain more about what we do and how we do it see how the culture is and I can see their reaction and ask specific questions but I’m sure not everyone has that ability and not everyday would be the same level of noise.

    1. Symone*

      auticon conducts site surveys to understand the physical environment someone would be working in (pre-pandemic), and spends extra time getting to know consultants to understand their environmental needs and preferences. It’s not so different from what you’re described, just with someone who can help to advocate.

      1. Canadian Girl*

        Thanks. I was more thinking for other business to help put into practice not necessarily what auticon does just because they have such good supports in place to make those accommodations.

  28. 1qtkat*

    Thank you so much for speaking on this topic! I am a neurodivergent working adult and this really spoke to my difficulties in the working world. Even though I have had a diagnosis since I was a child, I can’t explain it without multiple sentences. It’s just hard to define with one word and if you spoke to me in person, you probably couldn’t tell because it’s not that obvious. I’ve become very good at compensating for it.

    I just wish employers were more open to people who are capable, but think differently. Like I prefer written communication because I’m not very good at thinking on the spot.

  29. Sharon*

    Alison, thank you for elevating #ActuallyAutistic voices on your platform, especially this month.

    1. nearly dx autistic*


      Too often, articles about autism are “them” articles, not “I” or “we”. Even more often, the articles are about autistic children, as though it’s something you can grow out of and isn’t relevant in adulthood.

      1. Liz*

        Oh the focus on children is maddening. I’m just starting the diagnostic process at 36 and can relate very strongly to the Pathological Demand Avoidance subtype. I find transitioning between (or rather INTO) tasks extremely challenging and get frustrated with my own inability to get started. All the resources are like “how to get your ten year old autistic kid to do homework”. Some of it is kind of useful in that some of the steps are things I can eventually do myself FOR myself, but I’m a grown adult, functioning on my own, and I no longer have a parent around to say all the right words and phrase the reminders and encouragers correctly and set the room up just right. There are no resources for me. I’m trying my best to modify the guidance and effectively parent myself into getting tasks done, but each one of those aids is now an additional task I have to push myself to do. There’s practically nothing out there for adults with PDA.

        I found one resource written by adults on this particular wavelength of the spectrum, and it was extremely validating and contained some useful info, but some of it was “let yourself do nothing for a few days after you’ve met a demanding task”. That would be great, but I need to work. Is there a cheat sheet for this? My brain is taking too long and I have deadlines.

  30. Ciela*

    I’m wondering how this is legal? If employers did NOT hire people based on a disability, even if they could do the job with reasonable accommodations, they would be in trouble. But if OP’s company was rejecting over 99% of applications because the applicants were not on the spectrum, how / why does that work? Or if they never even interview NT candidates is that not a problem?
    I understand that schools with a specific religious affiliation would likely attract many candidates who share that religion, but that is not the case here with only attracting candidates on the spectrum.

    1. Ask a Manager* Post author

      The law prohibits employers from discriminating against a person because of their disability. It does not prevent them from creating specific programs like this for people with a specific condition, or from saying “we want to hire people with disabilities, or with a specific disability.”

  31. EchoGirl*

    (I want to preface this by saying that I’m not trying to criticize Symone or the company, just jumping off the post to talk about a wider situation.)

    I love the idea of this kind of thing, but the one thing that drives me absolutely crazy is how sect0r-limited these kinds of initiatives are. Because of what those specific fields are (technology and other STEM sectors), I often feel like a lot of it is still down to stereotypes about Autistic people and what kinds of things they (as though it’s a monolith!) are supposedly good at. It’s frustrating to be constantly hearing about initiatives that are supposedly tailor-made for people like you… except they’re actually not made for people like YOU at all because they’re all in fields that you’re not particularly good at. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t want the existing initiatives to stop, I’d just like to see them broaden their scope to help people who would also love environments/processes like this but aren’t STEM people.

    1. lilsheba*

      It would be nice if ALL companies did this. Especially typically difficult places to work in like call centers and retail.

      1. EchoGirl*

        I agree with you on that when it comes to the work environment, but I’m also thinking more about the little leg up that some of these programs give to Autistic potential employees in going out of the way to recruit them, etc. It would be nice if there was more of that available for Autistic people for whom STEM isn’t a strength.

        (Incidentally, I have similar thoughts about some of the “women in STEM” initiatives — like, it’s great that that exists, but why is there not also something in place for women trying to break in to other equally male-dominated industries?)

  32. Anonynonymouse*

    This could not have come at a better time, as my young teen (assigned female at birth) had a very long in-person evaluation for autism today. We’ve always known he’s a little “different,” and the more we are exposed to information directly from the autistic community and those with autism, the more we’re having the moments of, “Ohhh… this makes so much sense now.”

    Symone was talking about life in the working world, but there is so much that we can apply to these middle and high school years we’re facing now. Thank you both so much!

  33. Bob*

    This sounds like an awesome place to work!
    Frankly there is a lot here that could help “traditional” workplaces with neurotypical employees if they would adopt it.

    Thanks so much for this interview!

  34. Victoria*

    Thank you so much for this! I’m autistic and in the job market, so I sent off my resume to auticon this morning!

  35. NotMyRealName*

    This is a wonderful read, thank you Alison!

    Autism Awareness Month was started by Autism $peaks, which is an organization universally loathed among autistic people. You might consider changing your second sentence to Autism Acceptance Month or Autistic Appreciation Month, which are the community’s preferred terms for April. :)

    1. NotMyRealName*

      And thank you Symone, of course. I’m sorry I neglected that, wish there was an edit button!

  36. Sun Tzu*

    THANK YOU Alison (and Symone, of course) for this great post. I’m somehow between neurodiverse and neurotypical (self-diagnosed) and this kind of resource is greatly valuable for a lot of people!

  37. Fae Kamen*

    This sounds very cool! I’m curious about recruitment and the part where Symone expresses a challenge in having too few autistic applicants. How does the company advertise as majority autistic, and maintain that majority, without violating anti-discrimination laws? (To be clear, this question is only about legality and not about morality! The project sounds great, just wondering how it might be limited, or not, by our legal structure.)

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