Autism in the workplace by Dorothy Jarvis-Lee
Around 700,000 people in the UK are on the autistic spectrum. This works out to roughly 1 in every 100 people. Many of these people are employed or capable of working, yet there is still a lack of understanding and awareness about working with autistic colleagues.
There are many benefits to employing somebody on the autistic spectrum; they may have greater honesty, better focus or more logical thinking than a neurotypical employee. However, an autistic employee may need different types of support.
They may have difficulty understanding unwritten rules, such as offering the rest of the team a coffee when you are making yourself one. They may need extra clarification on tasks and more specific instructions than their colleagues. In some cases, you may need to provide sensory distractions like noise cancelling headphones.
The best way to find out what support is needed is to ask. Surely, a good manager would want to know how to support each individual team member anyway?
Autism awareness is vital as an employer. That colleague who comes across as awkward or rude might find it difficult to understand non-verbal communication or interpret social cues, a common characteristic of autism.
Not all autistic employees will disclose details about their autism; in some cases, they may not have been diagnosed. If they haven’t been diagnosed, they may be dealing with the extra anxiety of trying to understand why they are ‘different’ or unable to ‘fit in’.
This doesn’t mean that you need to confront a colleague and ask if they are autistic. It simply means you need to be aware that they may require different types of support.
Accommodating autism should not be viewed as inconvenient. After all, any good company will make accommodations for valuable employees; phased returns after sickness or maternity, specialist desks for those with back complaints, time off for a family emergency.
Good managers understand that every employee is unique and needs to be managed in a different way. Some employees need lots of praise, some employees are more productive in the morning, some employees respond better to monetary incentives. There are colleagues that bring a lot of their personal issues to the workplace and others that are incredibly private.
Understanding each individual and accepting their uniqueness is the best way to create a happy working environment for everyone. Working with an autistic employee simply requires an understanding of how they work and how you can best support them.
I’ve been fortunate enough to see so many wonderful people with autism have successful careers and fulfilling lives. All it takes is the right environment and anyone can thrive.
At ubu, our aim is to support our colleagues and the people we serve and enable them to reach their potential. We look past disabilities and differences and see value in every person. Regardless of whether an employee or colleague has autism, everyone should be treated with equality, respect and dignity. If every workplace adopted this simple ethos, then many more businesses would flourish.
Whether you are an employer or a colleague, you can help create a great working environment. Be a little more patient, be a little more understanding and be a little more aware.