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B.C. doctor urges support for new wave of neurodivergent employees in workforce

In 1970, it was believed 1-in-10,000 people had autism; today, 1-in-29 B.C. children have autism
More individuals are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. Employers should anticipate an increase of autistic individuals in the workplace and find ways to accommodate them. (Photo by Ivan Samkov via Pexels)

The number of autistic people in the workplace is expected to grow and workplaces should be prepared to accommodate and provide support for these individuals, says a B.C. doctor.

Dr. David Worling has been a practicing physician for 25 years with a particular interest in Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD).

Worling recently gave a presentation at the B.C. Public School Employers’ Association about preparing for ASD in the workplace, which was attended by School District 27 trustee Angie Delainey, who is also a Williams Lake city councillor.

“What he was forecasting for the workforce is a wave of people who either identify with being autistic or are a person with autism and what that’s going to mean for your work situation,” said Delainey at the Nov. 7 council meeting.

Worling explained that in 1970, it was thought that one in 10,000 people had autism worldwide, making it a super rare disorder. As of today, one in 29 children in British Columbia under the age of 19 have been diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), according to a 2022 report by the Ministry of Children and Family Development.

This means worldwide in 1970, it was assumed 0.010 per cent of adults had autism. Today in B.C., just over three per cent of children under the age of 19 have been diagnosed with ASD.

If three per cent of children in B.C. have autism, we have to assume three per cent of adults have autism, because it’s a lifelong condition, said Worling.

This stood out to Delainey who said how exhausting it must be for the three per cent of people trying to fit into a 97 per cent normal.

“It was a big realization for me in practising patience and how social norms and how social queues, sort of the unwritten rules or unspoken things that we do, are not necessarily something a person with neurodiversity understands, and how that’s going to affect our workplaces,” said Delainey.

Part of the increase of autistic individuals is the diagnostic criteria for ASD broadening and including milder presentations of the disorder.

“Most people being diagnosed with autism have average or above average IQs,” said Worling.

There are three levels of autism. ASD level 1 is the mildest form, requiring support; ASD level 2 requires substantial support; and ASD level 3 requires very substantial support. AutismBC says the autistic spectrum is not a straight line from less to more autistic, but rather an autistic individual’s functioning within sensory and information processing, verbal and non-verbal communication, social awareness, perseverative thinking, motor skills, repetitive behaviours and executive functioning.

Worling encouraged workplaces to make appropriate adjustments for autistic employees, including being proactive about sensory sensitivities such as smells, taste, touch, sounds and lighting. Perhaps this means allowing an autistic individual to wear noise-cancelling headphones in the office, moving their desk away from bright lights or a noisy elevator, or providing additional feedback on their emails, for example.

There are many advantages for workplaces assisting autistic individuals, too.

“If you are a company that is interested in working with neurodiverse folks, the data suggests that there are some advantages to your company as a whole,” said Worling, including diversity, bringing people together, people having a better understanding of needs and thus having higher morale.

Delainey said to city council that as we already do not have enough people in the workforce, we must be prepared for changes.

Currently, there are no existing public systems for adult ASD diagnoses in B.C., and waitlists for children suspected to have autism remain long. There are resources available, however, including private assessments.

For workplaces, Worling suggested and He also suggested for parents and professionals.

AutismBC is another resource for those wanting to learn more or seek advice on ASD assessments.

READ MORE: B.C.’s new autism funding model a disappointment, says Autism BC

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Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

About the Author: Kim Kimberlin, Local Journalism Initiative

I joined Black Press Media in 2022, and have a passion for covering topics on women’s rights, 2SLGBTQIA+ and racial issues, mental health and the arts.
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