Managing Sensory Issues in the Workplace: Careers with ASD

Managing Sensory Issues in the Workplace: Careers with ASD

The workplace can be a symphony of sensations and stimuli that many neurotypical folks are primarily unaffected by. The buzzing phones, clacking keyboards, bright fluorescent lights, and ongoing chatter feel normal and tolerable to many. Still, for some, the presence of these everyday stimuli, including sounds, touch, taste, smell, and various scents, pushes the volume on life to an uncomfortable extreme, like those with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) or other sensory challenges, making managing sensory issues in the workplace feel at times unbearable.

Fortunately, acknowledging the challenges and strengths of neurodiversity while providing suitable accommodations and an inclusive atmosphere for every employee, including those with ASD and other conditions, can make all the difference in helping many manage sensory issues in the workplace for much better days and long-term careers.

This blog by ABA Centers of America discusses sensory issues in the workplace for individuals with ASD and how employers can support their employees to create a more inclusive environment so those on the spectrum can play more prominent roles in shaping businesses and changing the world for the better, by participating in more significant ways.

So, keep reading to learn more about managing sensory issues related to autism in the work environment for a more robust workforce that benefits everyone!

Click here for more information about ABA Centers of America serving the New Hampshire and Massachusetts region or to read more blogs by us about autism and ABA therapy.

Understanding Sensory Issues Related to ASD

Autism is a condition that affects how an individual processes neurological information and is characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, and often sensory sensitivities, according to Autism Speaks.

Individuals with autism often experience sensory issues due to differences in their brain functioning that affect how they process sensory information, making everyday stimuli seem overwhelming and disruptive. Some individuals may be hypersensitive to specific sensations, while others seek out these intense sensory sensations. These sensory differences can cause difficulties in regulating emotions, behavior, and attention in the workplace, according to autism experts.

For many individuals on the spectrum, sensory challenges can turn the workplace into an environment that hampers rather than harbors productivity and growth and may even become destructive to personal well-being.

Sensory Issues Impact on Employment

Sensory issues can have a considerable impact on an individual’s ability to thrive in a professional setting. These sensitivities can manifest in various ways, such as difficulties with concentration, organization, and social interactions. Some individuals may also experience high levels of anxiety or frustration due to sensory overload. These sensory experiences include hypersensitivity (an overreaction to stimuli) and hyposensitivity (an under-reaction or a need for specific stimuli for sensory input).

Hypersensitivity

Hypersensitivities can present in numerous ways, each of which can lead to significant discomfort and distraction in a work setting. They can include:

  • Visual: Difficulty with bright or flickering light or visual clutter.
  • Auditory: An intolerance of sudden or loud noises that may seem innocuous to others.
  • Touch: Aversion to specific textures of clothing or difficulty with physical contact.
  • Smell: Overreaction to typical workplace scents or smells that coworkers find neutral.
  • Vestibular: Challenges in body awareness and movement, which is crucial for roles that require physical agility for safety or precision.
  • Proprioceptive: Difficulty holding the body in distinct positions or manipulating small items.

Some with hypersensitiveness engage in sensory avoidance to limit sensory exposure that others may rule out. 

Hyposensitivity

Hypersensitivity can also affect an individual’s experience in the workplace, as coworkers may misunderstand the sensory needs of others, and their needs may go overlooked, including:   

  • Visual: Difficulty with depth perception, visual tracking, or detecting subtle changes in a scene.
  • Auditory: Impaired ability to screen out background noise and focus on essential sounds or an attraction to loud stimuli.
  • Touch: Insensitivity to high heat or cold, pain, and touch.
  • Smell: Difficulty discerning smells, leading to issues in tasks such as cooking or cleaning.
  • Proprioception and Vestibular: Intense physical sensations to move, including behaviors like spinning or jumping—but potentially feeling dizzy, clumsy, or uncoordinated when walking or sitting at a desk because of lack of bodily awareness.
  • Interception: Difficulties regulating hunger, thirst, body temperature, or bowel and bladder control, according to the National Autistic Society.

Individuals who experience hyposensitivity related to sensory needs may begin displaying sensory-seeking behaviors to receive more sensory input from the outside world, as explored earlier.

Sensory Sensitivities Affect Well-Being and Productivity

Sensory challenges are more than just irritating and can lead to stress and a considerable drain on the individual’s cognitive resources over time. For someone with autism, simply navigating the sensory aspects of a typical workday can be exhausting. By understanding the unique sensitivities of each individual and how they impact their work habits, employers can dramatically improve daily work practices and productivity through accommodations and company policies that foster inclusivity.

Accommodating Sensory Issues in the Workplace

Some accommodations that could be helpful for those experiencing sensory issues include:

  • Provide noise-canceling headphones or designated quiet spaces for individuals sensitive to auditory stimuli.
  • Allow employees to wear comfortable clothing that accommodates tactile sensitivities as long as it’s appropriate.
  • Offer flexible work schedules to accommodate for sensory overload or underload, meaning adapting as needs change or allowing remote work when the office environment may be particularly challenging.
  • Adjust workplace lighting to reduce glare and flickering lights.
  • Provide visual supports such as written instructions or optical aids for individuals who struggle with processing verbal instructions.
  • Offer training programs that can create awareness and teach colleagues how to best interact with and support their neurodiverse peers.

Establishing an Inclusive Work Environment

In addition to accommodations, creating a culture of understanding and acceptance in the workplace is crucial in supporting individuals with autism, including educating coworkers on sensory issues, promoting open communication about accommodations, and fostering a non-judgmental environment where individuals feel comfortable expressing their needs and feel safe being neurodivergent in the workplace.

Collaborating with HR Professionals for Better Workplace Outcomes in ASD

Human Resources (HR) personnel have a significant role to play in creating a sensory-friendly workplace culture, which they can achieve by implementing policies and practices that support diversity and address concerns related to sensory issues and ASD. Furthermore, employees on the autism spectrum should familiarize themselves with the company’s policies and procedures and reach out to HR for assistance in dealing with any uncertainties or anxieties they may have regarding their acceptance or accommodations in the workplace.

It is also essential for HR professionals to keep themselves updated with the latest best practices for accommodating the sensory needs of employees and providing them with the necessary resources and support. Ideally, HR will collaborate with managers to evaluate and address the specific sensory requirements of their employees, thus creating a work environment that is inclusive and supportive for everyone.

ABA Supports Better Outcomes in Adulthood, Including Workplace Integration

Applied Behavior Analysis or ABA therapy helps individuals manage their response to sensory input and thus equip them with tools to navigate the workplace effectively while teaching other valuable tools, typically in early development, that support healthy adulthood in ASD.

This area of treatment also explores executive functioning and social cognition by utilizing positive reinforcement and behavioral techniques to teach helpful processes, including sensory regulation, social skills, and workplace behaviors. Best of all, ABA tailors to everyone’s specific needs, making it highly effective in preparing individuals for the workforce and other community settings.

The Workplace Benefits from Neurodiversity!

It is critical to recognize that accepting and accommodating autism in the workplace is not just the right thing to do. Autism acceptance and inclusion are crucial to promoting a healthy work environment for everyone, limiting discrimination, and promoting a better world overall. When employers consider an individual’s sensory needs and practice accommodating differences, employees can channel their energy into the tasks at hand, leading to a more efficient workforce and their ability to provide valuable insight to advance their industries.

With this guide as a starting point, let’s continue the conversation and act toward more substantive workplace sensory awareness and support. Ultimately, everyone, including individuals with autism, deserves to come to work and feel their atmosphere empowers rather than impedes them.  

More About ABA Centers of America

ABA Centers of America offers a range of ABA therapy options and autism diagnostic services for children and teenagers with autism spectrum disorder. Our team of highly-trained and experienced ABA professionals supports individuals on the spectrum in achieving their full potential and integrating successfully into all aspects of life so they can live their dreams and continue being valuable players in the workforce.

Early intervention through ABA therapy shows long-lasting positive impacts on the development of individuals with sensory issues related to autism. By addressing sensory needs early through compassionate ABA care like ours, individuals can have a better chance of developing coping mechanisms and acquiring skills to succeed in adulthood, including in the workplace.

Contact us today at (844) 923-4222 or via this online link to learn more about our services and how we can support your child’s journey towards sensory inclusion and better outcomes on the spectrum.

Let ABA Centers of America help your child find their path to a better future with greater participation and opportunities.

Discover how our autism treatment services can help you.

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