When you think of your company’s workplace structure and policies, how much do you know about who they were designed for? Does your company consider the impact of its work culture on Neurodivergent people, people who are sick/have chronic fatigue, and Disabled people?
In our article, “Disablist Myths in the Workplace” we discuss how we need to restructure our workplace policies to reject the idea that certain behaviours and thinking are or are not ‘normal’.
- Myth 1: Autistic people cannot succeed at high-performing jobs.
Many people assume that all individuals with autism have mental disabilities that prevent them from working, but the reality is that like any individual, people on the autism spectrum have a range of intellectual abilities. People conflate intelligence problems with how autistic people can come up against expected culturally defined “norms” or “social skills”, making them more likely to be discriminated against in a workplace. But instead of placing the burden onto autistic individuals to perform in the same way as non-autistic people, our workplaces can create environments that encourage clarifying social cues and welcome a diversity of communication styles.
- Myth 2: Autism is caused by vaccines.
While a 1998 study was published making this very claim, it was retracted because there is no evidence to back it up. But we also need to unpack why it is problematic: it positions disability as something to be fearful of, or as a tragic reality, which are both untrue. In our workplaces then, we should be considerate of how we talk about this, and not throw it around in debates over vaccines. There are plenty of people on the autistic spectrum who do not disclose this information, meaning we could be having quite a negative impact on our autistic colleagues by inferring that this is the “worst thing” that could happen to someone from using a vaccine.
- Myth 3: Autistic people have higher than average intellects.
This myth often places a significant burden on autistic folks, and perpetuates a disablist narrative that treats disabled people like they are heroes who have “overcome” their disability.
This notion may prevent autistic folks from being supported in their work, if it is assumed they will be able to figure it out themselves. It may also mean their failures are viewed more harshly.
This might show up in work delegation, if autistic people are only assigned tasks that are supposedly their “special talent” and not actually given opportunities to grow in other types of work they may be interested in.
If we are to meaningfully disrupt disablism in the workplace for our autistic colleagues, we will invest in debunking these myths and creating support systems instead.