Why accommodating workers with cognitive conditions is a matter of safety

Stigma and bullying 'highly prevalent' for people on the autism spectrum, says expert

Why accommodating workers with cognitive conditions is a matter of safety

Workplaces, generally, can do a lot more to accommodate individuals on the autism spectrum and those with cognitive conditions, according to Stefanie Lattner. “The amount of stigma and subtle bullying that goes on is highly prevalent," explains the CEO of WeVibin, a company specializing in technologies to enhance cognitive performance.

“Everyone that is affected by autism or ADHD, already feel out of sorts or feel like they're different. And any little bit of intimidation or ostracizing at work, can be impactful,” says Lattner.

The affects of workplace bullying are the subject of an investigation currently being conducted by Quebec’s workplace safety board, after 47-year-old Marie-Hélène Henry took her own life in August. She was on the autism spectrum, and had been working at Montreal’s Botanical Garden, and according to a friend, was regularly bullied at work.

Lattner isn’t surprised and says stories like Henry’s are far too common. She remembers studying under a plastic surgeon who specializes in facial reconstruction, who explained how when people suffer trauma to their face, have something odd with their eyes or struggle to communicate, suicide rates increase.  “People stop making eye contact with them, they stopped talking to them, they stop interacting with them, and the person affected, feels like they don't even exist in the world,” says Lattner.

That is why Lattner says it is crucial for people with cognitive conditions to feel like they belong at work. Sometimes it means these individuals may not disclose their issues, especially if they appear to be high-functioning workers. "There's issues with privacy, with what should be disclosed, needs to be disclosed, has to be disclosed. All of that is kind of murky territory."

For health and safety professionals, Lattner offered valuable insights into accommodating individuals with cognitive conditions in the workplace. She stressed the burden should not solely rest on the individual to communicate their needs.

"Companies shouldn't rely only on that. If somebody observes that somebody could use an accommodation, those are red flags that somebody within the company should be trained to look for," recommends Lattner, who says it could be the person responsible for health and safety.

She also noted that simple, cost-effective accommodations, such as quiet workspaces or the use of fidget devices, can have a profound impact on an individual's ability to thrive in a workplace. Lattner says there is a lot of room for growth in this area.

“I think there needs to be a lot more training in terms of how do we keep people engaged? How do we build emotional intelligence, so that it's not looked at as political correctness,” suggests Lattner.

She says the definition of a positive work environment, and one that truly embraces diversity, needs to be fully inclusive for people with cognitive conditions. If somebody needs if somebody needs something, we support them through the time that they need something so that we have an effective team. There has to be a little bit more depth to the training of what's considered a positive work environment.”

Health and safety professionals should play a role in creating a culture where workplace bullying is eliminated, and employees feel comfortable requesting accommodations, and one where managers are trained to recognize and address potential challenges. By taking these steps, workplaces can become more inclusive, supportive, and ultimately, more productive environments for everyone.