Last summer I had the opportunity to begin mentoring within SAP’s Autism at Work program, which looks to integrate people with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) with the rest of the workforce. People with ASD can have challenges making eye contact, picking up on social cues and body language, and other communication barriers, which can make it difficult for them to interview and integrate into business environments. According to a Microsoft blog, “an estimated 80% of people with an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) are unemployed.” Companies like SAP and Microsoft, however, are beginning to recognize and employ the strengths of neural-diversity within their organizations.
Since people with ASD communicate differently, it is important to understand what methods of communication work best. In my work as a mentor, I began to ask questions about this. For example, how are people with ASD using social media to communicate and is it successful?
According to an article by Jemma Byrne on Scottish Autism’s website, people with ASD tend to form friendships through social media with people who share common interests. Communication barriers associated with eye contact and awareness of social cues are reduced on social media. Platforms like Facebook reduce the uncertainty about what to post, as people can simply like something or look at what other people are saying in a forum rather than engaging in it. When comfortable, people engage in the conversation.
Byrne also highlights the challenges associated with social media and ASD. For example, people with ASD may not recognize when to stop communicating, which can push others away. Further challenges described by the article include situations in which people were subjected to cyber-bulling and social engineering like issues.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means that people can have minor to very severe levels of autism, and can have different challenges associated with that. In one YouTube video, a person describes getting very tired reading, which caused her not to like platforms like Facebook, but gravitate toward the visual elements of Instagram.
Others on the spectrum may find that it helps them connect. For example, the video below about Carly’s Voice discusses why a girl with autism, who has enormous following, likes social media.
What this tells us is that social media is not a one size fits all for people with ASD. As part of my initial question, I wondered whether social media and ASD would be successful in business. The answer is both yes and no. Ultimately, it depends on the person. When looking at this type of strategy, consider how those people with ASD in your business already communicate, and what their strengths and weaknesses are. You may find a match, or a flop.