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After it completes its project with SAP by the end of 2014, Specialisterne hopes for more buy-in in Canada. It aims to capitalize on its successes in the Netherlands and other parts of Europe, where it has been a source of IT staff for a number of large food, telecommunications and cable companies. “Our mission is to enable 10,000 jobs in Canada,” says Alan Kriss, head of strategic development at Specialisterne. “Our primary objective is to bring Canadian employers into the (ASD) comfort zone.”

HOW TO MANAGE EMPLOYEES ON THE SPECTRUM: FIVE HR POINTERS If you’re seeking to hire employees on the spectrum, you need to be aware that the Canadian Human Rights Act and the Employment Equity Act state that Canadian employees who are disabled should have the same opportunities as other employees to have their needs accommodated – without being hindered by discriminatory practices. That means you can’t ask a prospective employee whether they are disabled during a job interview – or whether they are seeking accommodation – and you need to be prepared to modify or adjust your workplace to ensure a person with special needs can do their job fully. Unless you’re working through an organization that has actively identified the employees as being on the spectrum, tread carefully when it comes to ASD employees – and educate all levels in your workforce about what to expect. zz Get your team onboard before you hire: Ostertag says SAP is currently holding sessions for its workforce to prepare them for the hiring of employees with ASD. “We ensure the whole team is briefed and trained,” she says, adding that a big part of those educational seminars is managing expectations about behaviour, performance and conduct. Managers are taught how to create an “early warning system” to let them know if ASD employees aren’t happy and thriving. “We don’t want to make mistakes,” she says. zz Determine what individual accommodations might be necessary. Ask the employee how they’d like to work—whether it’s surrounded by others or in a quiet, solitary environment. Or observe their patterns, advises McIntosh. “Not all of us require accommodations for lighting, sound, or other sensory issues,” he says. “Some of us might like to be near a coffee room, so we can be part of a workforce without constant pressure of direct interaction.”

I tried to emulate (my co-workers)— but was still different Chris McIntosh

zz Keep stress to a minimum. Sure – you have targets to meet. But managing change is critical in ensuring your employees with ASD don’t get stressed—and begin to underperform. “It’s not that we don’t like any change, and can’t handle it,” says McIntosh. “It’s social change that causes us the most grief.” He says if a new operating system or technological platform is installed, the change will usually create the same amount of stress for an ASD employee as it would for a staff member without the condition. But “if a new reporting relationship is put in place, perhaps have us report one day a week to the new boss, then two days a week, prior to the shift, to ease us in.” zz Be consistent and straightforward. Choose your words carefully. “Avoid sarcasm,” says Kriss, as ASD employees will simply interpret it at face value. “Be consistent and predictable.” He says ASD employees don’t like to be surprised socially, so it’s a good idea to email them before arriving at their desk with an assignment. zz Forget traditional team building. “Don’t have expectations of social encounters,” says Kriss, as many employees with ASD don’t feel comfortable in social situations that others enjoy, such as retreats, parties and retirement send-offs. “When you’re asking them about going to a bar, give them the option to opt-out,” he says. If their attendance at a meeting is critical, give them a task that requires technical skill, such as setting up a projector, suggests McIntosh. That way, they can feel included but not pressured to engage in small talk. Ostertag says though it’s still early days, she’s buoyed by the successes she’s witnessed in Europe and India with the integration of staffers with ASD into SAP’s workforces. “Our message to other companies is ‘Why not give it a try?’” Kriss certainly feels Canadian employers are ready. “People are understanding autism now and beginning to learn more about what the possibilities are,” he says. “There’s a language there now.”


One in 88

children are diagnosed with ASD


Canadians live with the disorder


jobs: Specialisterne’s target for Canadians with ASD

JANUARY 2014 | 9  

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10/01/2014 2:15:43 PM

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