How can employers and businesses become more autism-friendly? I thought about this after the human resources department at the hospital I work at failed to post a reminder for due dates for their CPR and Non-Violent Crisis Intervention (NVCI) training. HR used to remind hospital staff of the due date. But this past year, I was late on my NVCI because HR didn’t send out a reminder.
I received a final written warning because my NVCI had expired. I met with the new director of human resources and explained to her how autism causes me to follow set patterns, and how HR in the past informed me of my due dates. The new HR director looked at me and said, “Is it safe for a person with autism to be working in a hospital with patients? I’ll have to inform the director of nursing that you have autism.”
I was furious and I felt totally humiliated, but with full restraint, I held back my tears. When I was hired seven years earlier, I informed the HR director and my supervisors about my Asperger’s and turned in documentation on my disabilities. Instead of transforming into a honey badger, I gently educated her on autism and explained my mind’s unique neurological processing system.
So how can businesses become more autism-friendly? For the answer to this question, I interviewed Dr. Donna Beegle, whose daughter, Juliette, has nonverbal autism. They were escorted from a United Airlines flight in May after their plane made an emergency landing in Salt Lake City due to a passenger with “behavior issues,” news outlets reported. I also received feedback from my Facebook friends who have children with autism and researched books and articles about autism.
1. Learn basic information on autism and sensory issues.
2. Ask the person with autism, parents or caregiver how you can best offer accommodations for their needs.
Dr. Beegle shared, “We always carry a travel go-bag for Juliette, but on this occasion after a rough day, she needed warm food to soothe her. A little warm rice is all it took.”
3. See the individual with autism as a person. Get to know him or her.
Jerry Newport, author of “Your Life is Not a Label,” wrote, “I know of nobody who is purely autistic or purely neurotypical. Even God had some autistic moments, which is why the planets all spin.”
Also, the articles on Juliette failed to personalize her by telling readers of her love for Disneyland and her musical talent. Dr. Beegle stated, “Juliette loves to hug random people in the mall. She hugged an elderly woman, and the woman joyfully responded, ‘I just received a hug from God.’”
4. Have compassion for the family and child with autism.
Traveling and shopping can be extremely difficult for both the parents of a child with a disability and for the child. “Taking Jack and his autism on vacation is like bringing a fragile, anxious little fish out of a tiny backyard pond and throwing him into the ocean,” Carrie Cariello wrote on The Mighty. “You just keep your fingers crossed that your child can handle a different schedule and change in scenery without getting swept away in a riptide of tantrums, meltdowns and anxiety.”
5. Use universal precautions with all people — not only those with visible or physical disabilities.
Universal precaution is an approach used in regard to infection control to treat all human blood and human body fluids as if they were known to be infectious. Businesses can use universal precautions by treating every customer or employee as if he or she might have a hyper- or hypo-sensitivty to sound, light, touch or taste.
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