Autistic people thrive on being in a familiar environment with routine and structure and can find any kind of change or transition difficult. Sometimes, changes that are apparently small and insignificant may cause more difficulties than a significant change, such as moving offices or a change in manager. It can often take time to adjust, so you may notice a few problems to begin with. However, if you prepare the person well for the change and keep things as structured as possible, it will be easier for them to adapt.
Here are some considerations you can make to support your autistic colleague when considering change:
- As soon as you know what the change involves, start to prepare them. Give information about changes to the workplace or tasks well in advance and the reasons why this change is happening. Suddenly moving a deadline could be stressful even if the deadline has been suddenly extended. Do not underestimate or assume that a change will be insignificant. A sudden rule around uniform or moving someone’s pigeon hole may cause that person huge distress so try to plan ahead. If you are concerned that the autistic person may become particularly anxious about the change, make sure you give them the opportunity to ask questions to help with their concerns about the change. Explain the benefits of the change.
- If an autistic person is moving to a new office, consider visiting the new site or providing pictures and as much information as possible. This change will mean a new routine, sensory experience, travel planning and may take some time to adjust to. Reassuring your colleague that they will also still have the same adjustments that they had before is important too. It may also be worth considering a phased introduction to the new office. If introducing hot desking to an organisation, consider the significant stress this could create for that person and consider a static desk as a reasonable adjustment.
- When meeting new colleagues make sure that your employee is prepared. You can explain who the new person is, their role and a little bit about them. You may be able to see what they look like from their LinkedIn profile to alleviate some of the anxiety. Introductions should take place in a quiet environment and be expected. Meeting the person in a 1:1 or small group setting can be useful and a positive introduction to a new working relationship.