2 April 2022

Autism at Work: Supporting our autistic colleagues

Throughout her career Vanda has worked with autistic employees to support them to settle into new roles and enable them to sustain their employment at a wide range of organisations. 

Despite having skills and abilities that can be good for business, there is still a significant gap between the majority of autistic adults who want to and can work and the relatively few that do, either in a full time or part time capacity. Autistic people form an untapped pool of labour and are currently an undiscovered workforce.

But why is this the case?

Organisations are often held back by stereotypes and unconscious bias about autistic people, and clichés such as 'autistic people can only perform well in IT roles'. 

Employers often think that autistic employees would be hard to support. There is also fear that they, as employers, might get it all wrong - and cause offence or conflict.  

 The statistics for autistic people and employment are still shocking and will no doubt have worsened since the pandemic.

  • Only 22% of autistic people are in employment, compared to 52.1% of disabled people. And it was found that the smallest group within these disabled statistics was the autistic group. (ONS, 2020)
  • 50% of autistic people said that support, understanding or acceptance would be the single biggest thing that would help them into employment. (Autism Employment Gap report – National Autistic Society 2016)
  • 64% of employers said they do not know where to go for support or advice about employing autistic people. (YouGov poll of 601 senior decision makers in the private sector, March 2019)
  • 68% of employers worry about getting support for an autistic employee wrong. (YouGov poll of 601 senior decision makers in the private sector, March 2019)

But, with the right kind of support, workplace adjustments and understanding, autistic people can be a huge asset to a range of industries.  For instance, some strengths of autistic people can be that they can focus intensely on a subject or may have a different thinking style which can help them come up with creative solutions to problems.

To help support autistic people at work, here are my top tips:

  1.  Break the stereotypes, unconscious bias, assumptions and misunderstandings - you can do this easily through educating your managers and staff by joining our Autism at Work Programme – so they can be aware of potential areas that may need reasonable adjustments such as sensory sensitivities i.e. that people may be sensitive to noise or light or need a bit more time to process information. Managers should have regular short (15-20mins) catch ups with autistic employees each day, to make sure you both know what is happening and that work is on track. A catch up gives you both an opportunity to feedback, ask questions to gain understanding, build trust and rapport.
  2. Ensure autistic employees have the appropriate reasonable adjustments in place. Examples include a permanent fixed desk space, noise cancelling headphones, softer lighting and backing up verbal instructions by bullet points on an email. Very often, the adjustments put into place for autistic employees are good practice and benefit all employees! You could also use a workplace buddy system, providing someone who can answer work-based questions, especially when someone is new to the job. 
  3. The Autism at Work Programme from the Bloomfield Trust and the National Autistic Society, provides job coaching and employer training, to support employers and candidates through recruitment, induction onboarding - into sustainable employment.

Together we can help create a society that works for autistic people

For more information about autism, visit the National Autistic Society’s website.