Neurodiversity in the Workplace: Promoting Inclusion and Understanding of Autism

Autistic people have just as varied experience as people with any other disorder. What works for one person may not work for another, and each person has individual needs when it comes to comfort and environment.

Key Highlights

While we look for new ways to treat different symptoms associated with autism, we must also find better ways to accommodate and understand people with ASD. At PRA, we work to create a more inclusive environment for neurodiverse employees to let their skills shine.

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PRA Health Sciences
PRA Health Sciences

Autism Awareness Month promotes understanding of autism so that we can foster a more inclusive society. Autistic people often experience discrimination in the workplace because of their disorder, even if they have the same capacity to do the work. Approximately 85% of adults with autism remain unemployed, mainly because people do not understand how autism looks or how to accommodate people who have it.

PRA’s HI*PRA values promote inclusion in the workplace. We give equal opportunity to autistic job candidates and strive to create an environment where all employees feel comfortable and can use their skills to further clinical trials development. Part of that mission includes participating in awareness events like Autism Awareness Month and offering educational resources to the community.

Awareness is Inclusion

Giving people accurate information to help them understand what it means to have autism is one part of awareness. Another part is knowing how to accommodate people with autism and break down the stigma associated with neurodiversity. While many autistic people can live independently, it becomes much more difficult for them to do so if employers do not hire them.

Promoting inclusion in the workplace means understanding how autism looks and what it means for employees. Many autistic people have expertise in their fields but get passed over due to a lack of soft skills and characteristics that deviate from neurotypical experiences.

When it comes to autism spectrum disorder (ASD), we cannot group everyone under a single umbrella or assume that meeting one person with ASD equates to understanding all people with ASD. Additionally, people with ASD assigned female at birth are typically understudied, which means that much of what we know about the disorder comes from studying people assigned male at birth.

Autism can come with a wide range of symptoms in adults, including:

  • A focus on a few specific interests
  • Discomfort with eye contact and other social cues
  • Sensitivity to smells and sounds
  • Difficulty with figurative language
  • Difficulty reading or responding to emotions
  • Social anxiety
  • Discomfort with small talk and similar types of conversation

This is not an exhaustive list, and not everyone has these signs. ASD often is accompanied by co-occurring mental and physical disorders, including:

  • Seizure disorders
  • Sleep disorders
  • Gastrointestinal disorders
  • Hormonal dysfunction
  • Metabolic dysfunction

Many people with ASD are capable of living and working independently, which means that the high unemployment associated with the disorder is likely due to discrimination rather than the person’s actual inability to do the work. Making resources available to autistic people in the workplace and educating employees on creating more inclusive environments are key to combatting this discrimination.

Building Human-Centric Policies and Cultures

Building a better workplace environment means looking at what people need and creating an environment that supports everyone. We must deviate from a one-size-fits-all culture and develop solutions designed to respect everyone’s needs. This approach means valuing empathy and learning how neurodiversity presents itself in the workplace, and treating it as an asset rather than a problem to solve. Workplaces should ask what people with autism and other neurodiverse disorders need to be productive and feel valued at work.

Francisca Burtenshaw, Senior Director – Human Resources at PRA says, “A human-centric approach to work helps everyone because it redefines the definition of what society says creates the ideal worker. This type of approach helps us see people for who they are and what they bring to the table. It gives people a safe space to succeed and shows all of us that success can take different approaches.”

With HI*PRA, we focus on five core values to create the best possible workplace environment:

  • Human-centricity
  • Integrity
  • Passion
  • Resourcefulness
  • Agility

We use a combination of these pillars to inspire, drive, and improve work and life for our employees by being flexible and challenging each other. We also understand that unique methods work for different employees and we alter our approach to fit everyone.

The Future of Autism and How We’re Contributing

HI*PRA helps us go beyond drug development. Our goal is to make workplace opportunities available to people living with chronic illness, neurodiversity, and other conditions that can affect how they function at work. We take a holistic approach that accommodates and advocates for the autistic community.

When it comes to the future of autism, both accommodations and treatment vary when it comes to managing symptoms. Some people benefit from psychiatric therapy while others maintain a better quality of life with drug treatments, like those with epilepsy alongside autism. Autistic people may use medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), anti-anxiety medications, anticonvulsants, and psychoactive drugs to help manage their symptoms.

Studying autism generally focuses on understanding the connection between the posterior brain network and the prefrontal cortex. It also involves learning more about the excitatory-inhibitory (E-I) system. At this point, we do not know exactly what causes the response differences with the E-I system, but Riluzole, a neuroprotective drug, has had some success with establishing a connection between the brain networks autism affects.

Learn more about our neuroscience expertise

While we look for new ways to treat different symptoms associated with autism, we must also find better ways to accommodate and understand people with ASD. At PRA, we work to create a more inclusive environment for neurodiverse employees to let their skills shine. To find out how we’re contributing to the future of autism research, contact us.

We’re a human-centered healthcare intelligence partner committed to creating the greatest opportunities for patients’ health—but our goal to improve lives is not limited to improving healthcare options. We believe in improving the holistic experience and care for every human being.

Learn more about our efforts to promote Diversity, Equality, and Inclusion at PRA.

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