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Elizabeth Fuss Arnott, SPHR  I have been working in Human Resources for 23 years. Since 2011, I have been certified as a Senior Professional in Human Resources (SPHR).  I have a BA in English and a Master of Jurisprudence in Labor and Employment Law from Tulane Law School. I live in the Pacific Northwest with my husband Luke and our cat, Poirot. I write about HR, non-profits, the art of managing people and Neurodiversity in the workplace. I'm available for employment, contract work, consulting, coaching and training virtually and in the Portland, OR area. Please email me at for more information. 

  • Writer's pictureElizabeth Arnott, SPHR

Five Tips for Managing An Autistic Employee

Updated: Feb 16, 2023

Managing someone on the Autism Spectrum can be a challenge, especially if your employee isn't communicating to you what they need. With a little preparation and strategy, you can make things a little easier for both of you.

1. Set clear expectations. Don't give wishy-washy deadlines. If you don't have a specific deadline, set one for the employee that will meet the company's needs. Instead of "When you have time, could you complete this spreadsheet?" try "Could you please complete this spreadsheet by Thursday at 5 pm?" Provide clear instructions. Put specific instructions in writing so that the employee can refer back to them as much as they need to.

2. Practice what you preach. Follow the policies that you put in place for your staff. For example, if you have a rule that employees need to call on the phone (not text) if they are going to be out sick, don't text them back. That kind of inconsistency will be confusing and will indicate to your employee that it IS okay to text. Managers will sometimes need to do things differently in the course of business. If that happens in a situation where it's affecting your employee, the best way to avoid confusion is to explain why you are doing it differently, and reiterate the policy that you normally follow.

3. Explain why. Most Autistic people are not motivated by things like pizza parties or other random non-job-related prizes. However, when they understand WHY something needs to be done, they will usually be incredibly focused on getting to that end result. So avoid, "If we get this data entry project done by Friday, we'll order pizza for everyone!" and go with "The reason we need to get this data entry project done by Friday is because Monday is the deadline for us to submit a proposal for a grant that we are applying for and we need to access the data for that proposal."

4. Assume competence. Autistic employees are like everyone else in the sense that they want and deserve to be taken seriously. If you've hired them for a job to be done, trust your hiring skills and assume that they are competent. Forget any pre-conceived notions about Autism. Autistic people are incredibly loyal and dedicated if they have the right manager and the right company, who will appreciate their strengths.

5. Be flexible in cases of sensory overload. There may be times when your Autistic employees experiences sensory overload, be it from a large gathering of people, unexpected loud noises, bright lights, unexpected changes in their schedule, etc. The employee may become agitated. Allow your employee to take an unscheduled walk around the building, or go to their car for a few minutes to calm down. They know what they need to do to regulate their emotions enough to come back to work. Know that. Be aware of it. Be flexible. They will return to their job with a much better ability to focus and get things done.


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