Autism in the workplace can be challenging to navigate for inexperienced employers. According to the National Autistic Society, only 22% of autistic people in the UK are in some form of employment. Existing barriers make it challenging for autistic adults to break into employment, so employers must be able to support employees with autism.
Although many employers have implemented more inclusive systems, there are often misunderstandings on how to adequately support autistic employees and what it looks like in the workplace.
World Mental Health Day was commemorated on 10 October, acknowledging this, employers should strive to support all employees’ mental health and well-being.
Autism in Adults
Adults with autism in the workplace may have difficulty with social interaction and communication. They may also have repetitive behaviours or restricted interests. Some common signs of autism in adults include:
- Difficulty understanding and responding to social cues, such as facial expressions and body language
- Difficulty making and keeping friends
- Difficulty starting and maintaining conversations
- Preferring to be alone or with a small group of people
- Having repetitive behaviours, such as rocking back and forth or flapping their hands
- Having a narrow range of interests, and talking about them in great detail
If you have a co-worker with autism, there are a few things you may notice:
- They may have difficulty making eye contact or speaking in a group setting.
- They may prefer to work alone or with a small group of people.
- They may have repetitive behaviours, such as rocking back and forth or tapping their foot.
- They may have a narrow range of interests, and talk about them in great detail.
- They may be sensitive to noise, light, or touch.
Autism in the Workplace
Unfortunately, people with autism often face discrimination in the workplace. They may be stereotyped as being lazy, unintelligent, or difficult to work with. This can make it difficult for them to find and keep a job.
There are several things that employers can do to support autistic employees:
- Provide training to all employees on autism awareness and sensitivity.
- Create a quiet and predictable work environment.
- Allow employees to take breaks when needed.
- Be flexible with scheduling and accommodations.
- Provide clear and concise instructions.
- Offer positive feedback and reinforcement.
If you are interviewing an autistic candidate, there are a few things you can do to make them feel more comfortable and supported:
- Schedule the interview for a quiet time and place.
- Provide the candidate with a list of questions in advance so they can prepare.
- Allow the candidate to take breaks when needed.
- Be patient and understanding.
Here are some additional tips for employers on how to support autistic employees:
- Provide clear and concise instructions. Autistic employees may have difficulty understanding vague or implied instructions. Be as specific as possible when giving instructions, and break down complex tasks into smaller steps.
- Offer positive feedback and reinforcement. Autistic employees may need more positive feedback than other employees to feel motivated and appreciated. Let them know when they are doing a good job, and be specific about what you are praising.
- Be flexible and understanding. Autistic employees may have different needs and preferences than other employees. Be willing to make accommodations as needed, such as allowing them to work from home or take breaks when needed.
- Create a supportive work environment. Autistic employees may feel overwhelmed or anxious in noisy or chaotic environments. Try to create a quiet and predictable work environment for them, and be mindful of their sensory sensitivities.
By following these tips, employers can create a more inclusive and supportive workplace for autistic employees. For more on disability discrimination, visit our guide here and for workplace harassment here.
Mental Health Awareness
Mental health awareness is important for everyone, but it is especially important for autistic people. Autistic people are more likely to experience mental health conditions such as anxiety and depression. It is important for employers to be aware of these challenges and to provide autism in the workplace support.
One way to support autistic employees is to provide them with access to mental health resources. This may include providing them with information about local mental health providers or offering them employee assistance programs (EAPs). EAPs can provide confidential counselling and support to employees who are struggling with mental health challenges.
Another way to support autistic employees is to create a more inclusive and supportive work environment. This may involve training all employees on autism in the workplace awareness and sensitivity. It may also involve creating a quiet and predictable work environment and being flexible with scheduling and accommodations.