How to Advocate for Yourself in the Workplace 

August 1, 2023
Angie Kujath

A shared work environment can be a minefield for those on the spectrum, sometimes because of the ignorance of others, which can result in “othering” those with autism. Factoring in varying learning differences among colleagues, it can be tricky to work within an employer’s framework. However unintentional, leadership and coworkers can carry misconceptions about neurodivergent employees, making it important to know how to represent and assert yourself, for better parity in the workplace, and better outcomes for the organization.   

Wherever you feel safe to do so, talk openly about autism. 

As with anything that lives in the shadows, inaccurate perceptions of those on the spectrum can lead many to isolate out of fear. While going public with one’s neurodivergence can be intimidating, shining a light on your own experience yields benefits both to those with autism, and those without. Educating your team with a valid definition of neurodivergence, as well as your individual strengths and challenges, helps release stigma while opening the door for others with autism to self-disclose as well.

By creating an alliance supporting other autistics, you are also building an advocacy base for management to learn from, with whom to develop protocols moving forward. Participate in trainings with the goals of:

  • illuminating communication and processing differences
  • be available and open to questions from others hoping to learn more, and 
  • stand up when you see a colleague being met with prejudice. 

Being an open book comes with boundaries, however. Your personal and health history are yours to disclose to only trusted individuals, just as is the case with your neurotypical cohorts.

Request clearly defined guidelines and expectations. 

A challenge for those on the spectrum can be a vague or subjective set of directives from management. Rewarding an employee for being a “superstar” might seem nice, but unless the exact reasons for such accolades are spelled out specifically, someone with autism could be mystified by what prompted the acknowledgement. It can be difficult to know exactly how to be a stand-out performer as someone with very fact-based and highly logical thinking.  

For this reason, requesting consistent and clear communication on your leadership’s measure of success will help keep your work progress on track. Ask for as many metric-based measures as possible to be factored into promotions, compensation considerations, and regular coaching. Predictable work schedules with lots of advance notice are helpful wherever a workplace can adhere to them. And set an expectation of flexibility with extracurricular social hours, since a day full of masking, and what many others may see as a moderate amount of friendly interaction, often leads to autistic burnout.

Seek Human Resources support when needed.

Many organizations with a formalized structure are buoyed by Human Resources representatives that operate well beyond hiring and on-boarding. Oftentimes diversity councils and support groups originate from this team, so engage and align with them to learn more. This is a great place to learn about external resources, such as therapists or groups that specialize in autism anxiety, that might be extensions of your benefits offerings. Human Resources might also assist in linking you with any potential mentors who have excelled while managing their own external stressors, or ideally, navigating your work environment as a neurodivergent. 

If you are experiencing any sort of harassment or bullying, your leadership and Human Resources needs to know about it. Discrimination policies should protect all employees, and if no set policies are in place, discussing your own experience with it could be an avenue toward making autism awareness part of your company’s fabric. Disability harassment is a serious offense that requires investigation and remediation.

Diversity is a proven good in any workplace. Within all neurotypes lay a range of performers. There are visual learners and audible learners, introverts and extroverts, team players and deeply focused independents, people who grasp things immediately and others who benefit from a lot of repetition. All of these traits deserve inclusion, and production only improves when broad talents converge. Taking control of your success might require flexing beyond your comfort level, but advocating for yourself should serve you and the greater good. 

We use cookies to enhance your experience. By continuing to visit this site you agree to our use of cookies.

linkedin facebook pinterest youtube rss twitter instagram facebook-blank rss-blank linkedin-blank pinterest youtube twitter instagram