Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Accommodation is a Two-Way Street

Dr. Suzanne Gosden Kitchen has given us an excellent resource: a set of accommodation strategies for Aspies in the workplace. (It's the Accommodation and Compliance Series document in the resource list on the right.) Dr. Kitchen's work is designed to address various issues including memory, social skills, concentration and time management.

Some of the accommodations are easy, such as providing advance notice of topics to be discussed at meetings. Aspies and autists do not like change, but can adjust to it much better the more advance notice they receive, and the more detailed the information in the notice. Also, providing written agendas in advance is often a good idea for everyone, because it helps meetings run more smoothly and more efficiently for everyone, NT and Aspie alike. Thus, these accommodations do not take much trouble, and can even benefit NTs too.

Other accommodations are different, such as redesigning an Aspie's workspace or moving him to his own private space, so that he can avoid distracting noises such as fax machines and office chatter. They take much more time and expense. They also do not benefit NTs, and may even be at their expense.

They may also be perceived as special privileges, since many NTs would also like their own private workspaces; among other things they may see them as marks of high status.

If a given accommodation is needed for a given employee, it may have to be implemented even if it is expensive, whether in terms of money, time or something else.

However, we can try to avoid the perception of special privileges for Aspies by keeping in mind the mutual nature of accommodation. Another way of putting it is this: if a set of accommodations is like a bill of rights for the Aspie, then we should embrace the model of rights and responsibilities.

For example, if an Aspie needs interpersonal skills training or coaching, he may be required to undertake it at a set pace - consistent with his abilities, of course. And if an Aspie's understanding of behavioral norms isn't yet enough that he can reasonably be held accountable to, say, not tick off clients at company events, then he must take the responsibility to comply with strict monitoring at, or even to stay away from, those events.

Especially if the Aspie's colleagues have to be involved (eg, if they need to be coached not to take a lack of eye contact personally or to accept that he will take longer to do his part of a job since he has difficulty multitasking), they should also know that the Aspie is being required to do his part to make the accommodation work.

The most successful and popular assistance programs of all kinds, such as education and job training, do not simply give benefits but also require the recipient to work. Job accommodations for Aspies will turn out much better if they do the same.

What do you think?


Mama Mara said...

I love the idea of reframing accommodations as an issue of employee rights and responsibilities. My one question is this: This model requires aspies to be "out of the closet" with coworkers who otherwise won't have a context for the rights and responsibilities of their aspie coworker. What of the employee who doesn't want to disclose his/her aspie status?

Casdok said...

This has got people talking, which is a good start.

suzanne.gosden said...

For Mama Mara from Dr. Suzanne Gosden Kitchen: To receive job accommodations from the employer, the employee must disclose the disability and provide documentation of disability from the appropriate professional. Employes with disabilities who do not want job accommodations or who do not need job accommodations do not have to disclose.