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Autistic Spectrum Conditions in the Workplace

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Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopmental condition which affects the way someone processes information and communicates. People with autism have been misunderstood for years, with many people not having access to diagnosis, as well as being excluded from society and support services. Autism is not a mental health problem or a learning disability; people with autism are a diverse group with a wide range of abilities. Unfortunately, there are still many people that have little or no understanding of the condition, and stereotypes and stigma still exist.  

The excellent skillset many people with autism posses is a huge factor to consider in employment; with many employers and industries now actively recruiting people on the spectrum because of this. The combination of excellent numeracy skills, logical thinking and meticulous attention to detail make people with autism a fantastic asset to any business with data related roles. These individuals are often hugely dedicated, so if you find exceptional talent and ensure to nurture that in the correct way, people with autism are likely to be some of your most loyal employees.

It is likely though, that some form of adjustment in the workplace will be required to develop effective communication systems, provide structure and manage the sensory environment. However, the changes required to be made by employers for an individual with autism should not been seen as meeting corporate responsibility objectives, but rather tapping into and seeking out the most talented individuals for a role. Reasonable adjustments for people with autism usually benefit everybody.

We all know that as an industry the need for specialists in data and numbers is evolving at a rapid rate. Individuals with autism can be some of the most talented people for these roles, so it is important to consider if as an employer, you’re offering a supportive and inclusive environment to house the best talent. We’ve highlighted the key considerations to take into account below of the potential adjustments needed in the stages from recruitment to employment of an individual with autism.

Advertising & recruitment of a role

Consider if the role requires ‘good interpersonal skills’. This is likely to be a deterrent for people with autism who consider this to be one of their difficulties so do not put this on the job advert. Avoid jargon and ensure to provide space to write about potential adjustments needed; although, one should bear in mind that appropriate adjustments may emerge on the job.

Individuals with autism are likely to struggle at interview-stage where the focus is generally on the ability to sell oneself, even if they have the right skills for the job. To avoid difficulties at this stage, it is important to be clear in what you’re asking of the candidate:

  • Ask closed questions if possible to ensure the candidate knows what you’re asking e.g. ‘Describe your work history for the last 5 years’ rather than ‘Tell me about yourself’
  • Avoid hypothetical ‘what if’ questions
  • Let the candidate know if they are talking too much and move onto the next question
  • It is important to bear in mind that body language that comes across as rude and as being uncomfortable does not show a reflection of how an individual feels about the role. An interview set up can be hugely intimidating for someone with autism, so avoiding eye contact can often be their method of focusing on the verbal communication
  • A reasonable adjustment could be to allow someone to support the candidate at interview in case questions need to be rephrased, or the candidate has misunderstood the context and needs to be prompted
  • Consider offering a work trial so the candidate can demonstrate exactly how they would perform in the workplace

Workplace adjustments

The workplace adjustments to be considered will vary between individuals. Interestingly, these need not be applicable just to people with Autism; many of these adjustments would benefit all employees in the workplace:

  • Provide clear instructions on the office space and how the workplace operates. Examples include: providing a full induction to the individual including an introduction to each employee, explanation of unwritten rules of the workplace, a map of the building/office and a timetable of the week ahead
  • Give clear, concise and specific instructions – some people may need this backed up in writing/on email
  • Structure the working environment. Use timetables, break large tasks down into smaller ones and use written instructions where necessary
  • Give regular direct but sensitive feedback. If a problem occurs it’s important it’s addressed at the time rather than in a few months’ time
  • Be flexible in working arrangements where possible e.g. flexible working hours to avoid anxiety at rush hour
  • Assign a mentor or buddy if available, or arrange support from a suitable colleague
  • Allow access to stress reduction sessions, mindfulness or relaxation techniques
  • Ensure that ongoing, proactive support from HR is booked in regularly and not used as a last resort when things go wrong
  • Be aware of sensory issues – an employee with autism will feel more productive and experience less work-related anxiety when they can reduce the ambient interference from their working environment
  • If specific support is required in the workplace to address issues arising from the individual’s disability, it must under the terms of the Equality Act (2010) be provided by the employer as a reasonable adjustment. Employers can apply to the government’s Access to Work scheme to assist with any costs of this support
  • Encourage a working culture where employees are not intimidated by senior management, and promote a culture that is willing to engage with and support individual differences

The work of the Bristol Autism Spectrum Service (BASS) alongside the DMA Group is predominantly being carried out in the West. If you’re interested in carrying on the discussion/seeking further advice in your region, please do get in contact at Hannah.mcmartin@theidm.com.

‘People with autism can have exceptional talents and by making some straightforward adjustments can prove to be a tremendous asset to business. We need to do more to make use of those talents.’ Lord Freud, Minister for Welfare Reform

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