Autism in the workplace

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What is autism?

Autism is a complex developmental disability which impacts how individuals perceive their surroundings, as well as their interactions with others. Autism is a lifelong disability, and is referred to as a spectrum, as people are affected in different severities and ways. This means that there are all kinds of different areas autistic people may require additional support or adjustments in the workplace. 

Why you should recruit autistic people

Traits associated with autism are highly valuable in the workplace and beyond, something that employers may not be aware of or educated about.

Spectrum, an online magazine featuring news and expert opinion on autism research, says: “A growing number of researchers argue that many, possibly even most, autistic people show certain advantages, such as an unusual ability to pay attention to visual and auditory information, directness or a strong moral compass.”

  • attention to detail
  • visual perception
  • creative and artistic talents
  • mathematical and technical abilities
  • interests or expertise in ‘niche’ areas
  • character strengths such as honesty and loyalty
  • high levels of concentration and increased productivity
  • detailed factual knowledge and recall
  • reliability, conscientiousness and persistence

“Many autistic people have a variety of sometimes exceptional skills that enable them to thrive.”

Tech companies are leading the way

Microsoft said: “We built the Microsoft Neurodiversity Hiring Program on the belief that neurodivergent individuals strengthen a workforce with innovative thinking and creative solutions.

Screenshot from Microsoft's Neurodiversity Hiring Program.

“Diverse teams positively impact our company culture, working environment and how we serve our customers,” Microsoft

However, we should not limit employment opportunities for autistic people to the technology industry alone. The National Autistic Society references “roles ranging from sales assistant to computer programmer, and journalist to statistician, to name just a few.”

Directness, honesty, and loyalty are common autistic traits that any organisation should welcome.

Barriers to recruitment for autistic people

Despite their strengths and valuable traits, there is still an employment gap for autistic people. In 2021, the Office of National Statistics (ONS) published data showing that just 22% of adult autistic people are in any kind of employment. A key issue is the recruitment process. 

  • understanding body language
  • maintaining appropriate eye contact
  • knowing how to start, maintain and end conversations or answers to questions
  • judging how much information to give – especially if questions are open
  • thinking in abstract ways, or considering ‘what if?’ scenarios
  • varying their tone of voice and finding the appropriate level of formality.

Addressing challenges: reasonable adjustments for autistic people

ClearTalents enables people to self-report challenges they face at work and helps to identify adjustments that may benefit them. It also doesn’t require a diagnosis.

Adjustments during the recruitment process include:

  • providing interview questions in advance
  • providing clear directions to the location, including photographs and maps
  • being clear about the interview schedule and what will happen when candidates arrive (who is collecting them, and from where)
  • a clear timetable of interview events (questions versus tasks), including who will be present (their names and roles)
  • avoiding hypothetical or general questions in interviews and instead being specific
  • let candidates refer to written materials during an interview if required
  • ensure job adverts are concise and easy to read, and avoid including general or soft skills such as ‘communication skills’ if they aren’t essential to the role, as this could provide a barrier to applying
  • ensure you are clear on your expectations at every stage of the process, for example, if there is a written form, you include approximate word counts or limits as a guide
  • offer alternatives to interviews throughout the recruitment process, for those that may struggle to present themselves well in an interview situation
  • ensure all interviews and assessments are carried out in a quiet, calm space
  • be understanding and aware that body language such as eye contact may vary and shouldn’t be used to determine suitability for the role
  • allowing people to bring a support person with them to an interview, who can help interpret questions and portray information
  • offering practical work experience or trials as well as interviews to allow the person to demonstrate their abilities

Adjustments for managing autistic people include:

  • provide the right kinds of training that is concise, structured and clear 
  • ensure instructions given are detailed and provide steps for carrying them out that the person can understand and follow
  • put in place scheduled, regular catch-ups and reviews to discuss any questions or concerns, performance and work
  • provide autistic individuals with a support worker, mentor, or buddy in the office to look out for them and act as someone they can ask for help day-to-day
  • assess the working environment to make sure it is supportive of their difficulties and provide reasonable adjustments such as a quieter and more private desk area, natural and not harsh lighting, reduction of strong smells
  • inform the wider team (with permission from the autistic individual) of their disability and any adjustments that have been made, so they understand the reasoning
  • provide the wider team and line managers with training on neurodiversity and recognise potential skills associated
  • help autistic individuals to understand unwritten work rules as well, such as whether you can use utensils, coffee or tea, when lunch can be taken, etc.
  • provide a quiet, relaxing space for people to go at any time should they need time away from the work environment
  • offer additional software and tools for organisations to allow easier management of schedules and tasks

Benefit from the ClearTalents toolkit

ClearTalents offers businesses a simple digital tool that makes it straightforward for individuals to self-disclose any neurotypical needs and reasonable adjustments they require in the workplace in a structured, safe way, so they feel comfortable. 

Employees can use our inclusion profiles to identify the types of support they require by identifying statements they relate to in our passports. For autism in the workplace, this can be hugely beneficial for adults with a range of difficulties to pinpoint areas that they require support, so businesses can offer reasonable adjustments accordingly.