In my coaching practice, I occasionally work with clients who are autistic. Before this, I was only familiar with autism as a form of neurodiversity with implications for how people interact with and see the world. I had met autistic people before, and have autistic friends, but I didn’t have a deep understanding of it and how it impacts (and marginalizes) people in the workplace.
It’s important that I work effectively with all of my clients, so I did some research on the topic to be equipped with techniques for conversations, communication between sessions, etc. I found a lot of useful information, but one of the best resources I discovered was a trove of insightful articles by Ashlea McKay. She is not only autistic, but she is also a user experience researcher, an [excellent] writer, and a speaker.
Ashlea is a self-described “self-advocate for autism and neurodiversity inclusion in the workplace and beyond, and an an autistic person, not a person-who-keeps-her-autism-in-her-purse.” Her reflections, thinking and recommendations are a bingeworthy resource for autistic professionals, managers, people who have autistic colleagues, coaches, and other people who seek to understand, empathize, and work effectively with autistic people.
Ashlea’s eye-opening pieces originate in her personal and professional experiences, and provide solid advice for how to design for, hire, and work with autistic people. I am inspired by her resilience after her experiences with bullying and exclusion at work (she was once banned from practicing research!), and discrimination by employers. I shared her blog with one of my autistic clients and she found it to be insightful, and validating.
We all interact with autistic and other neurodiverse people, but we may not realize it. We also live in a terribly ableist society that is designed without consideration for different brains. More people are being diagnosed each year because our tools for diagnosis are improving. People who are not autistic may not have the ability to recognize autism, empathize with autistic colleagues, and engage in a supportive and inclusive way.
Ashlea sums it up well: “We’re just as capable, talented and educated as anyone else, but stereotypes and stigma form barriers that prevent autistic people from entering, participating and thriving in the workforce and it’s not OK.”
Here are a few of my favorite articles from Ashlea:
7 myths about autistic people in the workplace that need to be squashed
The Autistic UXer: Understand, research for, design for and make a meaningful difference
Dear recruiters, hiring managers and decision makers: An open letter from an autistic job seeker