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Author's profile photo Cayo Betancourt

Autism: Driving obsessions to excellence


Neurodiversity. Image: SAP Image Library (Royalty Free)


Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) is related to repetitive behaviors, communication, social skills, and restricted interests that challenge people’s interaction. Not all behaviors are the same, nor are the level of visibility. Hence, people diagnosed with ASD interact with others and the environment differently; this unique wiring pattern is called neurodiversity, wherein no right or wrong way to interact exists, like a car trip; some people follow the known route, others a map, while a third group drive though their most comfortable places, finally all of them reach their destination.

The people within the spectrum face employment engagement difficulties, directly impacting career prospects and social inclusion. Unfounded prejudices generate exclusion and require special attention, especially during early career engagement and transition tracks to unknown destinations. The term neurodiversity is commonly used for people diagnosed with Autism but not exclusively used for them; individuals that face attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) or learning disabilities become part of the neurodiverse population as well.

Repetitive behaviors are common for people within the spectrum. In contrast, a common mistake indicates that obsessions with trains are expected traits of them, mainly because early studies showed that kids who participated in the research’s data collection informed that attain to trains was more common than other focal points.

During early life stages, the parents and teachers involved in their education play a fundamental role in social inclusion and peer interaction, generating friendly and regular environments where creativity and self-regulation work together to enhance their skills. At the same time, freedom permits deep exploration, keeping frustration behind. For example, when a kid looks for information related to insects, nurturing their interest and supporting the focus increases the possibility of walking an early path within the entomology; on the other hand, a restrictive learning experience that forces deviation from student’s interests creates frustration while increases their stress and anxiety.

The restricted and repetitive behaviors (RRBs) become a focal point to enhance the interaction and development based on self-initiated interests and the fundamental concept of being focused on an idea, technology, or narrow area. Repetitive behaviors and recurrent routines are pleased activities for people within the spectrum, a perfect set of components to increase productivity and labor engagement. However, it could be a challenge to drive the person’s interests within a specific area in the company when the background is different compared with job expectations; the driving experience during college or university is crucial to achieving learning paths that drive them within expected activities in the industry or profession.

The obsessions are cyclic, and for some persons, an extraordinary long-term memory provides support to easily engage with a topic researched in the past. However, there is a difference between interest and obsession; the first could be something superficial that people read about a topic to know some context and then return to daily routine; the second becomes a whole self-immersed experience where diverse sources are read, digested, and collected to achieve a broad knowledge creating a micro-expert in the matter. Another consideration about people within the spectrum is the need to show how much they know about the topic; far away from narcissism, the need to show low-level details, chosen information, and specific facts becomes repetitive and might create uncomfortable environments for surrounding people.

Self-awareness becomes crucial for people immersed in deep dives on a topic because reading, writing, and creating cycles could take several hours or days, where lack of rest, sleep deprivation, and ergonomics produce secondary and unexpected effects. The support circle created by family, friends, and colleagues becomes a support for safe psychological areas where neurodiverse people can thrive without being judged, labeled, or questioned.

A self-stimulatory behavior called stimming usually companies the success, excitement, or frustration during self-initiated research activities, including routine changes or positive stimulation. The stimming could be present in different ways, like hand rubbing, shaking, flapping, or spinning, among others; it is commonly observed that during periods of high productivity or concentration, the stimming becomes a stimulatory behavior that increases the sensorial stimulus through bodily movements that comfort the person.

Obsessions watched in people diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder are different from those present in people diagnosed with Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD); the upper is focused on topics and learning behaviors whose intense practice aims to know more profound a matter and the latter increases the worries across the time, growing the disruption and becoming activities related to counting the number of times people wash their hands, touch the door knob or jump the junctions on the pathways among other non-rational rituals.

The result of obsessions and more profound knowledge of a topic could create unique answers to complex problems. Balanced participation without power relationships increases the team’s success expectations when organizations are inclusive and incorporate neurodiverse individuals to make additional value and perspectives within their teams.

The inclusion team plays a fundamental role during the onboarding process because not every job fits like a glove for a person diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder, and the accommodation to routines, new team, corporate culture, and specific job activities increases the support needs for accompanying during the early stages at the new job. The inclusion team does not replace the organization┬┤s procedures to support its employees; it becomes additional support to create adaptation to a new environment.

Finally, the manager and the team are fundamental to increasing the comfort and inclusion of new members. Direct communication without workarounds improves message reception, avoiding literal interpretations derived from sarcasm or euphemisms. As a result, there is no additional workload for managers nor specific skills to onboard neurodiverse persons. At the same time, communicate transparently with the employee’s team, and provide direct feedback about the new employee’s requirements and behavior; enforces the input to create strong and solid engagement to support future career development.

Read more:

The SAP’s autism inclusion pledge

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