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 How to be an Ally to Autistic Friends and Colleagues

Understand that there are systemic issues that under-value doing things outside of the “normal way” and that the “normal way” does not work for everyone. Also, understand that some of the best ideas are ones that require someone to think differently.


Listen as much as possible.

Listen to make sure you understand their perspective and how they think differently. If you need them to clarify their perspective, just ask. You do not want to misrepresent your friend when sharing with others how much you value them.


Don’t clarify or speak for someone without their permission.

If you are in a group meeting and feel like something your friend or colleague said might be confusing to the other people in the group, ask them to clarify themselves. Do not try to explain what they meant. You may have misunderstood AND you are reducing their voice by speaking over their original words. If they give you permission to rephrase, check back with them to confirm that is what they intended. Allow them to have the last word on their intentions.


 Ask questions, but make sure you maintain personal boundaries!

Honesty and bluntness are gifts of many of our Autistic colleagues but sometimes our questions lead to sharing that is not necessarily in their best interest. Do not take advantage of someone who shares openly out of pure curiosity. As Bren Brown, the vulnerability expert advises, vulnerability is not oversharing. Unintentional oversharing without the safety of real friendship and confidentiality can lead to broken trust, as well as reliving bad memories of past trauma and is not helpful to building meaningful relationships in the workplace or in your friend groups. If you feel like someone is crossing over a personal boundary, speak up.


  Privately share when you feel your friend has overstepped a boundary.

We all need to get better at setting and following boundaries. If you need to share your friend or colleague has become inappropriate in some way, let them know but try your best to do it privately. If you do feel like the situation calls for an immediate response, respond politely and share that you would like to speak about it further later.


   Do not limit or get in the way of an Autistic living fully into their vision.

Your colleague or friend may not be following a conventional path. Certainly, speak up if you have concerns, but do not put roadblocks in front of someone who is on a unique path. Support them in their mission and what they can build with your help. Understand that there are systemic issues that under-value doing things outside of the “normal way” and that the “normal way” does not work for everyone. Also understand that some of the best ideas are ones that require someone to think differently.


   Do what you can to follow your colleagues or wishes when they ask for help.


If your colleague asks to switch desks or asks you to refrain from using scented hand lotion, you can bet that they have a very clear reason. If your friend has specific places they don’t like to go, listen and include them in a different space. Many of our autistic colleagues and friends have sensory sensitivities that are more than just distracting to them. They can experience pain in the presence of the wrong lighting, particular sounds, scents, and general sensory overload. Be thoughtful when they ask you to do something different for them. It is not a personal attack on you and more what they have learned to successfully be engaged in activities that many of us take for granted.


   Do your own homework.

If you are expecting your Autistic friend or colleague to be open about everything they need, you are placing too high of an expectation on them. Very few of us are that self-aware or care to disclose all our needs. Work on your own to understand neurodiversity and your own interpersonal relationships. Take time to understand how you react to different situations and the unconscious expectations you place on others. Understand that your perceptions are based on a system that expects perfection and minimizes difference. This system harms all of us who ever need to rely on others to get work done (all of us). Work to address the ableist mindset within yourself to be more self-aware and more receptive to the needs of your friend or coworker, as well as your own needs. Mindfulness practices, journaling, or prayer can all create mental space to give you what you need to have patience and understanding when you encounter a new situation that you need to process.



This article is written by Liz Yoder, CFP

Liz works in helping any individual, family, or employer of those with autism and other disabilities to pursue financial independence. She strives to enhance their quality of life and their future. There are enough people telling you what you can’t do. Let me help you find a path to what you can.


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