Recently when the company I work for released an advertisement for a software engineer, we had an applicant indicate that he was on the spectrum (autism) and would require a safe space for participating in the interview.

Since its a very small company (No HR (receptionist doubles up)) we were not prepared for this and had to put on hold the recruitment process as we are not fully aware of what we can do to provide a safe space for an interview. In all honesty - its a usual software company with no elements of danger.

We note that the spectrum is a wide word. What can we do to effectively conduct interviews for adults with special needs ?

Edit : We did not speak with the candidate as we are hoping we will be able to find a resource which can broadly be applicable for most candidates. Once we know we are able to cater to special needs, the next step would be to ask for individual requirements.

  • 9
    As someone who’s on the spectrum myself, it’s good to see that you haven’t just tossed the resume in the bin and said that it was because of something unprovable like “doesn’t fit with company culture”.
    – nick012000
    Sep 17, 2019 at 0:49
  • 3
    In some cases, a safe interview for someone with Autism is all about the questions asked - avoid vague or personality type questions (e.g. "Tell me about yourself" or "What is your spirit animal?") in favor of asking job-related specifics (e.g. "What would you do if someone submitted a TPS report to you with the old cover sheet?" or "What is the purpose of transistorative recoordination?"). Another thing that is often helpful is to give them the list of questions in advance, so they can formulate appropriate answers without being "on the spot". Sep 17, 2019 at 12:42
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    Questions like this are why my employer, also a small company, has an external, paid-by-the-hour HR consultant. They'll be able to give you appropriate advice for your jurisdiction. Sep 17, 2019 at 15:08

4 Answers 4


While talking to the person would be recommended, my guess would be a room with very little background noise, (both equipment and chatter) and try to keep the number of people in the room to, say, five or less. If it's a long interview, I'd suggest scheduling a short break after every hour or so. (A good idea in general, honestly.)

The lack of background noise is because autism can include auditory processing issues with speech, as well as stress caused by loud or confusing auditory environments. Limiting the number of people helps with social stress.

Expect to talk at some point about accommodations, including work from home options.


First things first, if it weren't for ADD/ADHD and people at various positions on the Autism spectrum, there'd be a lot fewer software engineers. Asperger's is "on the spectrum" and I've worked with a significant number of developers with Asperger's, as well as many with ADD/ADHD. I'm not convinced that the whole "flow state" thing, along with "leave me alone, I'm coding" isn't shorthand for "I have ADD" or "I have Asperger's".

The fact that your candidate isn't too cognitively impaired, based on their career field, suggests they are towards the "High Functioning Autism" end of the spectrum. Their request for a safe space also suggests that they have a high enough level of self-awareness as to what works for them, that you're not going to have the interview go very badly. I would let them tell you what they require. Once you get that set of requirements you and others can look at your working environment to determine if you can make "reasonable accommodations".

I'd stick with the standard "small format interview" in a private room with just one or two interviewers. I'd definitely avoid the "group interview" or any interview format which is closer to an oral thesis defense where interviewers are free to ask a wide range of questions.

The goal of an interview is always to ensure there is a "fit" between the employee and the employer. This is no different in that regard, it's merely different in the sense of what is required for that fit.


As someone who is on the spectrum myself, it can be very difficult to pin down exactly what is needed, as autism can mean anything from a fully functioning adult with a few eccentricities to a 40 year old who will always need full-time care.

Generally speaking, a quiet room that's free from distractions will work well for most autistic people. Beyond that, just ask. They (or their carer, if they have one) will be able to tell you about any specifics. Sometimes these specifics can feel...nonsensical. It's usually more about mental and emotional comfort that thing represents than anything intrinsic to the thing itself.


As someone on the autism spectrum, you don't give him the safespace. If he can't put up without a interview safespace, he probably can't put up without a safe workspace.

What does that mean? Not sure, but I imagine it is someone who criticizes his work, or gives suggestions/opinions. On top of probably having a very certain kind of setup that your regular SE's wouldn't get.

People on the spectrum or not go 2 ways, either we (try to) conform to society or we are entitled and make demands. Making demands like this for an interview is a huge red flag.


If the accommodation is trivial accommodating that is fine, but this is someone asking for an interview safespace. There are no safespaces for a place you've never been to before. A safespace is a place you are both familiar with and feel safe in. Not only that, but safespaces are places where you are not judged... Guess what happens in an interview... You are being judged by an interviewer.

There is a certain threshold of conformity required autistics or not to be able to work in an office and with others and there is a limit on how accommodating a workplace can be. I actually have doubts that the candidate is an actual Autistic. As Autistics wouldn't normally ask for safespaces. Its not so much that they cant walk in and attempt to participate, but more so that others have trouble with their oddities. If anything Autistics would give a heads-up as to their peculiarity and not give demands. Autistics =/= Social Anxiety. Social Anxiety is a separate thing.


No fragrances- ok

No animals/insect: toys or real due to phobias- sure

No suggestive photos/calendars- alright

Calming pillow/figure/toy/blanket at desk- sure why not

No microaggressions- way too subjective- red flag

No judgement- unable to take criticism- red flag

Will only talk to/work with/interview with ppl of a certain color/orientation- red flag


Sorry after reading a few other things, I think I need to clarify that I am mostly referring Aspergers and not the wide encompassing Autism spectrum. Also by Aspergers, what I mean is a the lack or inhibited ability to read the room, instinctively empathize/sympathize, understand nuances like when I should drop a topic, bringing up unrelated topics out of the blue, etc.

  • 4
    The ADA mandates that workplaces make “reasonable accommodations” for disabled employees, which people with diagnoses of ASD would classify as.
    – nick012000
    Sep 17, 2019 at 6:15
  • 3
    Requesting a safe space for an interview is not a red flag: interviewing brings up a lot of stress, more than a regular job. It is perfectly possible that this person can show himself better when he is comfortable, but has no problems doing predictable work
    – ThisIsMe
    Sep 17, 2019 at 7:10
  • A company small enough to not have an HR person very likely isn't covered by the ADA. That said, so many software people have their own little quirks, that unless the environment is completely hostile to ASD folks, making the appropriate accommodations is often trivial. For ASD accommodation I often point to a previous workplace where we had what amounted to a closet that contained a desk. It was too small to be an actual conference room, but I put a sign on the door and called it a conference room. The OP knows their environment -- they are most qualified to know if they can do so. Sep 17, 2019 at 14:45
  • @JulieinAustin though the end goal should not be simple compliance with the law, but behavior that is both broadly ethical and helpful to the company. Being open to accommodations not strictly required by law could help you recruit more effectively. Sep 17, 2019 at 15:31
  • @RobertColumbia - I agree with everything you said. My response was a push-back on Ranald's "don't be accommodating" stance. Sep 17, 2019 at 15:34

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