Day #16 of our #AsIAmChallenge is about preparing for autism-friendly interviews.

Businesses have begun to recognise the valuable skills that autistic employees can bring to the workplace. A meticulous attention to detail, excellent memories and task-driven minds are traits any employer would love to have! However, entering the workforce remains a huge challenge for many on the spectrum. Up to 80% of autistic adults are either unemployed or underemployed, and this often comes down to how they are interviewed and assessed by potential employers.

By developing an autism-friendly interview process, you will not only be actively promoting autism inclusion, but also adding to your own business’ productivity by adding an exciting set of unique skills through an autistic employee. Check out our tips on how you can conduct an autism friendly-interview 

ELIMINATE ANY UNPRECDICTABILITY

The unknown is a source of major anxiety for autistic people at the best of times. Anticipating what could go wrong or changes in routine are common thoughts which occur in their minds. Situations like job interviews are especially tough this way because the process’ success is dependent on the person performing their best in front of a group of total strangers.

Providing social stories to applicants well in advance of their interview date is a helpful tool in filling in any possible gaps in how they might imagine the exchange will occur. Many autistic individuals are visual thinkers who respond well to pictures and clear instructions. Including images of what room in which the interview will take place within the social story, when it will happen, what building it is in, as well as pictures of the panellists will provide the applicant with a better sense of what to expect and how to prepare.

Providing the interview questions is another way of alleviating anxiety. Autistic people are intelligent, but often take longer to form their responses. By including the questions, you will have enabled the person to develop a response that will demonstrate their true capabilities.

USE CLEAN, CLEAR COMMUNICATION

Autistic individuals are known for being direct and honest in their answers, sometimes bluntly so. It’s important to remember that this isn’t because they might be ignorant or cannot understand empathy. Autistic people think in very literal terms and this is reflected in their interactions with other people. They may struggle to understand vague terms, generalisations and sarcasm.

When speaking with an applicant who is autistic, use plain language as much as you can. Include as much detail as you can when asking questions and ensure that you clarify what you mean. Address them calmly and clearly. Avoid using slang or making jokes.

TAKE CARE WITH BODY LANGUAGE & VOICE

Challenges with social imagination and context blindness can complicate how an autistic person might read another person’s demeanour. A job interview is a serious process and so most people taking part in it will reflect the situation’s mood, consciously and subconsciously. Basic social norms and customs will not always be followed through by an autistic person for a variety of reasons. Handshakes, for instance, can make many on the spectrum very nervous because of hyposensitivity to touch.

Be open-minded when interviewing an autistic applicant. Do not place any judgement on their body language and behaviour if they do not accept your handshake or avoid making eye contact when speaking. Keep your voice pitch level throughout the process as much as you can.

BE MINDFUL OF THE SENSORY ENVIRONMENT

An interview environment can be very overwhelming for an autistic person’s sensory processing. One person may be wearing especially strong aftershave, the lighting may be too loud or too strong, or someone might be excessively tapping their fingers as they ask questions. All these things, in a tense setting where a person’s senses are heightened more than they ever are, can cause an autistic individual to lose focus during critical moments.

Conducting a sensory audit of your interview room is an ideal way of preparing for an autistic applicant. By doing so, you will have identified potential obstacles that may interfere with their concentration. It will also help for you to make adjustments to the area if needed which will enable the applicant to not only relax, but perform at their true capabilities.