Supporting Autistic Individuals in the Workplace

Recent statistics1 indicate that just 22% of autistic adults are employed. This figure suggests employers are in a good position to be able to do more to support those with autism to find and retain employment.

So, what are the blockers preventing autistic people from thriving in the workplace? Research suggests the following factors come into play:

  • Lack of understanding: Neurotypical employers may misinterpret autistic behaviours, such as lack of eye contact or bluntness as rudeness or disinterest, and could be less likely to hire or promote individuals who display this as a result. People fear judgement or backlash for autistic behaviours like stimming, or feel like they have to mask to avoid being seen as strange or antisocial, which can then lead to burnout.
  • Lack of reasonable adjustments: Many autistic people require reasonable adjustments in the workplace, whether this is to account for sensory issues (such as strong lighting, sounds or smells), longer time to work on a project, or clear, unambiguous instructions being given. Sadly, 60% of employers admit they wouldn’t know what kind of support to give an autistic person2.


What employers can do to support autistic individuals

Our Inclusion Allies Workshop explores how to create inclusive, psychologically safe workplaces where we can all bring our best self to work, something that is crucial for both business performance and employee wellbeing.

Employers can also sign up to receive free and regular tips and advice from The National Autistic Society and even work toward the Autism Friendly Award which will also encourage more autistic people to consider working for their organisation.

Other steps employers can take are as follows:

  1. Improve education and training

Employers should be made aware of the more overt autistic behaviours, such as poor eye contact, stimming and flat affect, so that they do not unknowingly discriminate against interviewees or employees who display these traits. They should also learn about the more subtle autistic traits that inform a person’s working style, such as sensory avoidance (e.g. bright lights, noisy spaces) and social anxiety.

  1. Make reasonable adjustments

Only 58%2 of autistic people have told their employer that they are autistic, many choosing not to for fear of being treated differently or not receiving the reasonable adjustments they need. By being proactive and understanding in relation to these adjustments, employers can create a reputation as a supportive and flexible place to work, which will help them hire and retain more neurodivergent people. Where possible, employers should also implement the Access to Work scheme which supports employees with a variety of adaptations they may need to thrive.

  1. Create an inclusive environment

Many autistic people struggle in silence at work, whether from the exhaustion of masking or other social aspects such as office small talk. Autistic people also thrive on routine and predictability, so unexpected changes in procedure or management may be too stressful to cope with3.

Therefore, it is important that organisations recognise and support different working styles and approaches. They should avoid creating a homogenous culture where only those who attend social events or speak up in meetings are promoted, and they should aim to create a psychologically safe space that supports and accepts different types of people.

By implementing these changes, employers can improve the attraction, retention and performance of autistic individuals in their workplace, as well as creating a supportive and inclusive atmosphere that will benefit other members of staff.




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