Help! Redux: The Return To The Workplace
(This article is a follow-up to a previously released article titled “Help!” and the discussion of a presentation done at the University of Illinois by Dr. Jonathan Pierce about Autism in the workplace.)
Set the stage: Everyone who is reading this article is currently navigating a challenging world and searching for ways to cope with its many curveballs and mountains that are seemingly unclimbable. Some find refuge in video games, movies, books, outdoor activities – anything to get their mind off the world and let it relax. For some, it can’t be done: the stimuli far outweigh the simplistic interactions of life. This was the focus held prominently in the previous article “Help!,” which detailed UIS’s Dr. Jonathan Pierce and his presentation on autism in the workplace. However, there was much left to be learned from the 90 minute chat with students and members of UIS. It was decided to interview Dr. Pierce to fill in the missing pieces and shed more light on a subject that requires it.
Autism, by definition, is a barrier that segregates no one and will take anyone that it can get. It impedes connection with friends, family, and – as the calendar flips eighteen times – co-workers/employers. The stark difference between these three groups is that friends and family have had the time to understand the person who is locked away. Employers don’t have that luxury. This was something not stressed within this humble writer’s original article, and I will make that correction now. The workplace is on an imposed time limit with an ever-changing background of supporting characters. If one cannot get on board the ride in time, then they are left behind. This was Dr. Pierce’s purpose for his original dissertation and subsequent presentation in late September of 2023. Instead of leaving workers with Autism in the dust, there needs to be an effort to understand and potentially help them. Sooner or later, the workforce will be impacted by the “Autism Tsunami,” and the more prepared companies and businesses are, the better it will be for everyone. It should be noted that this dissertation and study were done pre-COVID-19, and as such do not have currently updated statistics for the impact it caused on the workplace. As such, the “Autism Tsunami” was only postponed – but no living person can hold back the tide forever.
In the original article, several questions were posed regarding Dr. Pierce’s presentation, most notably the exclusion of workers who don’t have autism but would most likely benefit from the use of decompression rooms. Dr. Pierce kindly responded that everyone should have access to these helpful tools as everyone deals with stress. He was merely pointing out the disconnect of leaders from those with autism, yet for a workplace to work at maximum production, everyone needs a clear mind and the ability to function without stress. It is the hope of both Dr. Pierce and your humble reporter that this comes to fruition. In fact, it was during the interview that a proposal for a decompression room was in the works for UIS, spearheaded by Melissa Mlynski, Associate Vice Chancellor of Human Resources, so look out for that in the near future.
Another question was in relation to an autistic person’s skill set and the repetition of certain tasks given to them. The initial implication was that those with autism liked to do repetitious work that others without autism didn’t. It’s a common stereotype that is implicit to those with autism, but Dr. Pierce wanted the focus to go a different way. He agreed that those with Autism might not like the repetition of a single task, but that they had the skillset to go past the typical breaking point of workers who felt they had accomplished their work. That they would continue to find issues within their given assignment and attempt to fix them, well past the call of duty. There is still that glimmer of perceived stereotyping infused within this idea, but should not distract from those who go the extra mile and want to better their work.
At the time Dr. Pierce granted this interview, there were no current plans to create a follow-up study for his original dissertation. The feeling was there to do so, but time had become a limited resource for him. There is, however, an off-chance that he would turn his dissertation into a series of short books that leaders of companies can look upon to help not only those with autism enter the workplace but also the leaders themselves in acceptability and responsibility. “Check your ego at the door” as Dr. Pierce would say.
The saga of learning about autism and how those with it will impact the workforce should not be swept under the rug. We tend to shy away from the unknown until it is too late, and once the tsunami hits, there is no going back. Leaders in the workforce need to be ready for what lies ahead – but it’s not just them, that also includes you, the reader. Sometimes, at the end of the day, we forget about the ones who surround us, who love and care for us. We are in a day and age where we are able to help those who are challenged by everyday life. So next time you see someone having a bad day, and you have happiness to share, check in with them and see if there is any way to help, as sometimes, we can’t say what we really want to say.
Thanks to Dr. Jonathan Pierce for his time, and his access to his Word Cloud from his dissertation and presentation as the leading photo for this follow-up.
Note to the Readers: There was an update in regard to the last article HELP! It was mentioned that workers can be involved in a paid three-week program to see if they are viable for the company’s workplace. This was partially incorrect. It was found to be a two-week, non-paid opportunity to see for viability. The rest of the article remains the same. Apologies for the misinformation.