This week marks the celebration of autism acceptance and awareness; in the UK alone, there is approximately 700,000 diagnosed autistic adults and children, however only 22% of autistic people are in employment.
This statistic is disappointing as autistic people can be unbelievably valuable to the work place as often many neurodiverse people have higher than average abilities and can employ unique skills in pattern recognition, memory, technology, or mathematics. Yet many autistic people struggle to fit the profile sought by employers or get the right support and adjustments in place in the workplace to enable employment (most are unemployed due to this.
Autism as a Competitive Advantage
Autism or autism spectrum disorder (ASD) is a lifelong condition that effects how people perceive and interact with the world. It refers to the broad range of conditions characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech, and non-verbal communication. All autistic people share certain difficulties but being autistic will affect them differently.
That being said, with the right kind of support, autistic people can flourish in the life of their choosing.
As an employer, you might not realise that autistic people can be highly skilled, qualified, and extremely employable.
Diane Robinson, director at The Vibe, a social club for young people aged 16+ who are deemed to have additional needs, claims autistic individuals have a lot of valuable skills that can enhance many workplaces. All autistic people are different and have their own unique qualities, however Diane finds many autistic people have good attention to detail, good time keeping and are very thorough when completing a task. “Routine plays an important role with many therefore they are often very reliable and unlikely to let you down.”
Other areas in which autistic people often demonstrate higher than average abilities in include:
- High levels of concentration
- Reliability, consciousness, and persistence
- Technical, mathematical, and digital abilities
- Detailed factual knowledge and an excellent memory
Aside from the skills they bring to the workplace, employing an autistic person demonstrates your organisations commitment to diversity and equality and reflects a positive attitude to disabled people. Diane believes “it is always good to have a variety of different staff in a workplace with different experiences and backgrounds, employing someone with Autism will open the door to a different way of thinking and applying different approaches to tasks”
Encouraging diversity in your workplace can bring benefits to staff and businesses alike. To appreciate the benefits autistic employees can bring to your organisation, small adjustments can be implemented to better support neurodiverse employees and reflect a broader definition of talent.
What you can do to help?
In order to support the employment of autistic people within the recruitment process and within the job role, small, inexpensive adjustments can be made within your organisation.
Even as early as the recruitment process small adjustments can be made to increase the likelihood of autistic people receiving employment. Diane from The Vibe suggests making the interview procedure more accessible through trial work periods as opposed to just a one- off interview would help many autistic people trying to into employment. “Many Autistic people are perfect for a job but find a one-off interview very stressful and not necessarily the right environment for bringing out their best.”
In regards to supporting them within the workplace, the greatest support you can offer is awareness and understanding. “Providing adequate training for managers and other senior members of staff around Autism awareness and how to better understand individuals, helping to best support people in the workplace.”
Understanding your employee and their sensory needs can help create a better work environment for both you. “If the job is in a busy work environment there may be sensory overload for an individual, providing a safe quiet place will ensure the employees mental health is looked after”.
Other ways to support your colleges include creating and sticking to a planned timetable and establishing an agreed method of communication with mangers and other employees (e.g., teams, email etc). Also consider providing regular supportive feedback sessions looking at how your staff may be coping and exploring ways in which things can be done differently so they work to their best performance.
These small adjustments can be implemented into your organisation to create a more diverse and collaborative workforce, which not only reflects your company’s commitment to equality but increases the quality of the work produced.