How to help autistic people in your workplace

In the workplace, there are many barriers that can negatively affect the lives of autistic, and some are excluded from work simply because of their condition. There is a harmful misconception that those with ASD are not suitable for work as their difficulties may require special equipment, certain softwares or changes to a workspace. Autistic people can be capable of work, if provided with care and support.

Autism acceptance

1 in 100 people in the UK have autism – also known as ASD. Autism awareness in the education sector is essential for promoting acceptance too. Not every autistic person is the same, though – how an autistic person displays symptoms may be very different to how another autistic person does. Autism is a spectrum, but not a “high-functioning” to “low-functioning” linear. These two terms are harmful to the autistic community. The spectrum means we all have different needs. One autistic person may benefit from an AAC device 24/7 – this is a device that allows you to communicate with others – whereas another autistic person may be able to communicate with people at times, but still benefit from using an AAC from time to time. In both of these examples, the autistic people may be non-verbal or semi-verbal. It does not matter; an AAC device is for any autistic person, regardless. Regardless of an autistic person’s gender, race or age, inclusion is vital in all education sectors. 

What is autism?

Autism is a neurodivergent disorder that includes problems with communication and behaviour. Every auistic person is different, but common symptoms include:

  • Lack of eye contact
  • Stimming (repetitive behaviour such as clapping, hand flapping or singing)
  • sensory issues 
  • anxiety around social situations
  • restrive routines
  • finding it hard to understand what others are thinking or feeling
  • having a special interest – an extreme interest in a subject, topic or item

The recruitment process and job descriptions

Recruitment producers often make it difficult for autistic people to apply. There are many adjustments an organisation can make to your organisation that can help autistic candidates apply for jobs. For job descriptions, informing people that those who can work under pressure, can make them instantly not want to apply. Even if the autistic person has the required qualifications, they can face a disadvantage through a job description. 

Interview adjustments 

In interviews, an employer may look for:

  • body language, eye contact, gestures, happy reactions (such as a smile) and quick responses.

Ways to adjust a traditional interview include:

  • Don’t mark down autistic people for not showing eye contact, not displaying much gestures and reactions
  • Write down the interview questions on a piece of paper
  • Allow the person to take their time, when providing an answer
  • Allow the person to communicate how they want to – for example, a piece of paper, AAC device and text-speech. 
  • Provide a reminder through email, text or call two days before the interview. This will remind an autistic person who struggles with the concept of time to remember to prepare for their interview. This reminder should also provide information as to what is expected on the day.

Workplace adjustments for autistic people

  • Allowing them to choose their own forms of communications
  • Providing extensions, if deadlines can not be met
  • Allowing frequent breaks
  •  A relaxation space in the workplace – this could be a separate room
  • Reduction in sensory distraction/overloads in the workplace. This could be providing them with noise-cancelling headphones or allowing them to wear a hat to block out lights.
  • Providing autistic people with a visual timetable or organiser app
  • Providing and allowing them to use fidget toys
  • All instructions and policies to be written and communicated clearly
  • Mentors for autistic people
  • A personal workstation (rather than sharing a workstation with others)
  • Paid time off when needed

How can workplaces ensure that they’re helping people with autism?

  • Provide autism awareness training for all staff 
  • Establish clear policies that will help them. 
  • Review the working environment. Is the environment okay for those with sensory issues? For example, for those with light and sound sensitivity.
  • Review workplace communications. Is information being presented and shared in a way that is accessible for them? 

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