What is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
Autism is considered to be a lifelong, developmental condition that affects how a person thinks, communicates with and relates to other people, and interacts with the world around them. The individual profiles of people with autism vary significantly, hence it is known as a spectrum. Whilst the term used in formal diagnosis is Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) many dislike the use of the word disorder and prefer the term Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC).
ASD is much more common than was previously thought. About one per cent (or one in a hundred) of people in the UK are thought to be on the autism spectrum, although some estimates put it up as high as one in 25 people.
Whilst those with ASD may be disadvantaged when it comes to getting and keeping a job, the reality is they bring a whole range of individual skills and talents, just like those who don’t have autism. In addition, there are many strengths that are common in those with ASD, such as high levels of concentration, attention to detail, factual knowledge and excellent memories.
Reasonable Adjustments That Could Support Employees with ASD
Individual experiences of Autism vary greatly, as such, there is only one real answer to the question “what reasonable adjustments should we make?” Having a conversation with the individual is key, ask what will help them. Some will be very familiar with the adjustments they need, others, particularly those who are newly diagnosed may find it a bit more difficult to know exactly what will help and some trial and error will be needed.
In this article I’ve listed some of the things employers can do to make a workplace more autism friendly and some adjustments that someone with autism might find useful.
Raise Awareness and Understanding
Begin by fostering a culture of awareness and understanding among your team. Training sessions to educate employees about ASD, its characteristics, and the different ways it may manifest may be useful, not only in supporting colleagues but may also extend to your customers’ experience. Encourage open conversations, dispel myths, and create an environment where questions are welcomed. This training doesn’t have to be limited to ASD, training could cover the wider topic of neurodiversity, creating understanding and awareness of the wide range of neurodevelopmental and learning disabilities.
Managers should receive specialised training on how to support their neurodivergent team members. Understanding how to provide constructive feedback and recognising and appreciating diverse strengths are crucial components of this training.
Providing clear information about what is expected from someone on their application form or CV and how the recruitment process will proceed can remove some of the disadvantages for those with ASD where it may not always be obvious what is expected of them.
Consider language within job adverts, ensure that it is clear and you’re not adding default criteria that are not really essential to the role. “Good Communication” for example, what do you really mean by this? What is essential to the role? And of course the answers here will vary by the nature of the role.
Interviews can be particularly challenging to someone with ASD where they may struggle to sell themselves and face challenges with understanding body language and maintaining eye contact. Providing detailed information about the interview process in advance and providing the interview questions will allow someone to fully prepare, avoid general questions like “tell me about yourself” and hypothetical “what if” type questions, instead focus on specifics that give candidates the opportunity to talk about past experiences.
Provide Clear Communication
Individuals with autism often appreciate clear and direct communication. Ensure that your workplace communication is straightforward and unambiguous, expectations should be clear, logical and concise. Use visual aids, written instructions, and clear guidelines to enhance understanding. Avoid relying solely on verbal communication and consider alternative methods such as email or written notes.
Flexible Working Arrangements
Offering flexible working arrangements can be a game-changer for employees with autism. Whether it’s adjusting work hours, providing remote work options, or creating a quiet workspace, these accommodations can significantly enhance an individual’s comfort and productivity.
Sensory sensitivities are common in individuals with autism. Make simple adjustments in the workplace, such as providing noise-cancelling headphones, creating designated quiet spaces, or adjusting lighting to reduce sensory overload. Consider individual preferences and work together to find solutions that suit everyone.
Buddy System and Mentoring
Implementing a buddy system or mentorship program can help individuals with autism integrate more seamlessly into the workplace. Pair them with colleagues who have an understanding of their needs, creating a supportive network within the organisation.
Individuals may be able to access funding for job coaches through the government Access to Work scheme. Whilst this funding is for the individual rather than employer it may be beneficial for the employer to support the individual in applying to the scheme. It should also be noted, that Access to Work funding does not replace an employers requirements to make reasonable adjustments, it is designed to cover support that goes beyond reasonable adjustments.
Accessible Policies and Procedures
Review and adapt existing HR policies to ensure they are accessible to all employees, including those with autism. Make sure that recruitment, onboarding, and performance evaluation processes are designed to be inclusive and fair.
Create an environment where employees feel comfortable expressing their needs. Encourage individuals with autism to communicate their preferences and requirements, to ensure you have a workplace where self-advocacy is valued and respected.
By implementing these strategies, you can create a workplace that celebrates diversity and supports individuals with autism. Remember that each person is unique, and a personalised approach is essential. Embracing neurodiversity not only benefits the individuals with autism but is good for business, diversity within the business helps you to serve a diverse customer base.
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Article last updated: 22 January 2024
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