It is estimated that there are around 700,000 autistic people in the UK. In 2021, the Office for National Statistics found that only 29% of autistic adults are employed. There is still a stigma surrounding autism in the workplace, leading to many autistic people struggling to secure and maintain employment.
The government has launched a review to identify, understand and break down the barriers that autistic people face when searching for or remaining in work. Ex-minister Robert Buckland, and minister for disabled people Tom Pursglove stated that: “employers need to stop seeing autism as a drawback and start recognising it as an asset.”
Some employers do not recognise that autistic individuals have a unique set of skills and perspectives that can be beneficial to the workplace. For example, autistic people can receive, process, and interpret information in a different manner and can approach problems and opportunities in ways others may not. They often have higher levels of attention to detail and have a strong ability to focus intently on tasks they find engaging.
There are many reasonable adjustments to the workplace that employers can make to help support autistic workers, such as:
Autistic workers can be sensitive to many features of office environments, such as bright lights or background noise. Designated quiet working areas can give employees a space to work without the disturbance of phone calls, music, and other sounds. The use of noise cancelling headphones can allow employees to remain in the office whilst blocking out noise.
Some autistic workers may find it easier to focus and produce better work at home where they can have more control of their home office. There is also no awkward small talk, and autistic colleagues who experience difficulty with social situations will not feel pressured to participate.
Autistic employees may struggle with certain communication styles and care may have to be taken to avoid sarcasm and implied messages. Communication should be clear and concise and, if preferred, given in writing. Those who are non-verbal may prefer to use instant messaging or text-to-speech apps.
Managers should look to create an inclusive work culture that accepts and understands autistic employees. They should also provide training and resources for employees to help educate themselves about autism and how to work with autistic colleagues.
If you are a user of the Development Zone, you can also access our Autism in the Workplace course, as well as a range of curated modules covering Diversity and Inclusion through our Content Catalogue.
For those not currently using the system, you can find out more and request a free 14-day trial here: https://mydevelopment.zone/#getStarted