DjangoCon Europe 2017 - The art of interacting with an autistic software developer

Speaker: Sara Peeters (Django Girls organizer)

Note: All of this is information on Autism spectrum disorder that is kind of special to Sara. Autism is hard to generalize.


There are large varieties of autism spectrum disorders. They are not illnesses, or defects. The term 'neurodiversity' is a much better term.


It's all-immersive. Details cannot be discarded. Details of all kinds always stand out. Quick way into sensory overload, too. It is also often combined with hypersensitivity with regards to sound, light, touch, smell and taste, leading to nausea or pain.

Workplace consequences

  • ASK what helps most!
  • Adapted lighting, and lightning may make a large difference.
  • Asking if a different commute or frequent home office might be preferable can help a lot.
  • Hotdesking is hard or impossible.
  • Structured meetings work great.
  • Leave time to adapt to new situations!
  • Detailed information and explicit expectations work great.
  • Written communication is preferable.
  • In the beginning a single contact person can be very helpful
  • Leave client contact to somebody else
  • Do not expect to handle small talk
  • Part time work and flexible work hours are very helpful
  • Provide inclusive coaching
  • Document your community, not only your tools

In return, autistic employees can provide incredibly detailed, high-quality work, with high attention to detail and q


Perception and thoughts work differently - leading to often very creative problem solving. That may not be obvious at first sight, since creativity is most commonly linked to flexibility.

Things in general work best (or only) with structure, with routines, with extensive planning. That makes learning and doing a lot harder, but with effort and planning they are definitely doable without being too uncomfortable ("planned flexibility").

Postponing plans is fine. Knowing different possibilities is also fine. Constructing a complex plan that is more likely to work is preferable to a simple plan that is certain not to work.


Too much input and no capacity to process it. This can lead to a meltdown (an aggressive outwards reaction) or a shutdown (a quiet inward reaction). Talking is not good at this point.

Best reactions are leaving room for retreat and/or asking for the correct course of action.