January is National Mentoring Month, a time to “celebrate the power of supportive and meaningful mentor relationships.” We’re taking this opportunity to share our experience around successful approaches to mentoring autistic employees.
As a majority-autistic company, we’ve seen first-hand how our colleagues benefit from meaningful support and mentorship in the workplace. We also know that autistic and neurodivergent professionals benefit from a tailored approach to mentorship that takes into account each individual’s style of thinking, communicating, and working. The goal of this approach is to help the employee thrive, and not to enforce compliance with a pre-existing set of workplace rules.
Typical workplaces can often produce barriers for autistic people, resulting in unduly high unemployment rates. Some of these workplace challenges include:
• the sensory environment (e.g., fluorescent lights, noise, interruptions).
• vague or ambiguous communication.
• pressure to make small talk and follow unwritten rules on how to connect with colleagues.
Here are five tips to keep in mind for starting and maintaining a mentorship relationship with an autistic colleague:
1. Establish a strong relationship from the start
Establishing trust and comfort from the start is vital for creating a positive and trusting working environment. When mentees do not feel comfortable with their mentor, they may be less likely to open up about their challenges, making the mentoring process more difficult.
2. Understand common mentorship topics
It is common for autistic mentees to request guidance on topics related to organizational and time management techniques, including developing organization skills, managing deadlines, breaking down tasks, and prioritizing them. On the interpersonal side, mentees might request guidance on issues related to workplace communication, including understanding expectations, communicating their needs, and resolving misunderstandings with colleagues.
3. Share your experience
The famous artist and inventor, Leonardo Da Vinci, once said that wisdom comes from experience. Autistic mentees find great value in hearing about the experiences of others in their field. These stories of success and failure can provide insight into how factors such as resilience, motivation, and personal growth are linked to these experiences.
4. Recognize that needed support levels will vary
Mentees may require varying levels of support from their mentor depending on the stage of their project or role. While some may require more assistance in the initial stages, others may find it more beneficial to have less frequent support as they progress.
5. Remember that each autistic person is unique
Each person on the autism spectrum has a unique perspective and way of understanding, learning, and communicating. Tailor your mentoring approach to match their individual needs. Be respectful of their preferred communication style, as some autistic individuals may prefer non-verbal communication.
In conclusion, establishing any successful mentorship relationship takes time, but by following these tips for mentoring autistic employees and continuing to learn as you go, you’ll be well on your way to providing useful and appreciated support to your colleague.