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  • Gwen De Groot

How to Empower People with Autism in the Workplace

A Parent Carer's Perspective

As a parent carer of a young adult with autism, I know how challenging it can be to find meaningful and fulfilling employment for him. According to the National Autistic Society, only 16% of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time paid work, and 77% of those who are unemployed say they want to work. This is a huge waste of talent and potential, not to mention a source of frustration and anxiety for so many autistic people and their families.

That is why I was delighted when I learned about companies that actively recruit and support people with autism in the workplace. The technology industry has recognised the unique strengths that individuals with autism can bring to programming, quality assurance, and data analysis. By creating inclusive and supportive work environments, companies can tap into the talent and potential of autistic people, who often face barriers and discrimination in the traditional hiring process.

They are part of a growing movement of employers who recognise the value and diversity that autistic employees can bring to their organisations. They also understand the barriers and difficulties that autistic people may face in the work environment, and they provide reasonable adjustments and accommodations to help them thrive.

What are the benefits of employing people with autism?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental spectrum condition that affects social interaction, communication, and behaviour. However, people with autism also possess exceptional strengths, such as attention to detail, creativity, and problem-solving skills, which can be valuable in the workplace.

  • People with autism often have unique skills and abilities that can be an asset to any business. For example, they may have excellent attention to detail, memory, analytical thinking, creativity, or problem-solving skills.

  • People with autism can also bring a unique perspective and approach to work, which can enhance innovation and productivity. They may challenge conventional wisdom, question assumptions, or suggest alternative solutions.

  • People with autism can also contribute to a more inclusive and diverse workplace culture, which can improve morale, teamwork, and customer satisfaction. They can help raise awareness and understanding of autism among their colleagues and clients and foster a more respectful and supportive work environment.

What are the challenges of employing people with autism?

People with autism may face challenges in the workplace, such as difficulties with communication, social interaction, and sensory processing. Effective support can be provided by employers through accommodations such as clear communication, sensory-friendly workspaces, and a supportive work environment.

  • People with autism may face difficulties in communication, social interaction, sensory processing, or executive functioning, which can affect their performance and well-being at work. For example, they may struggle with understanding instructions, expressing their needs, coping with change, or managing their time.

  • People with autism may also encounter discrimination, stigma, or misunderstanding from their employers, co-workers, or customers, who may have negative or inaccurate stereotypes about autism. This can lead to isolation, stress, or harassment.

  • People with autism may also lack the confidence, skills, or support to access and sustain employment. They may face barriers in finding suitable jobs, applying for them, attending interviews, or negotiating contracts. They may also need ongoing guidance, feedback, or mentoring to help them adapt and progress in their roles.

How can employers empower people with autism in the workplace?

While individuals with autism may face challenges in the workplace, such as difficulties with communication, social interaction, and sensory processing, these can be addressed effectively through accommodations.

  • Employers can empower people with autism by providing them with equal opportunities and fair treatment in the workplace. This means recognising their strengths and potential, respecting their preferences and choices, and valuing their contributions and achievements.

  • Employers can also empower people with autism by making reasonable adjustments and accommodations to suit their individual needs and preferences. This may include modifying the physical environment, the work schedule, the communication methods, or the tasks and expectations. For example, by providing quiet spaces where people with autism can work uninterrupted.

  • Employers can also empower people with autism by offering them support and training to help them develop and grow in their roles. This may include assigning them a mentor or buddy, ensuring they have well defined structures around anything that they are required to do, providing them with clear and constructive feedback, as well as enabling them to access further education or career development opportunities.

The National Autistic Society in the UK hosted the Autism at Work Summit in 2021 to address low employment rates among autistic individuals and demonstrate their potential in the workforce. Major companies like EY, J.P. Morgan, and SAP supported this initiative. The summit highlighted successful employment strategies and featured speakers from diverse sectors who discussed the benefits of employing autistic individuals. The event aimed to increase awareness and encourage more employers to create inclusive workplaces​ (National Autistic Society)​. The "Autism at Work" programme by the National Autistic Society aims to boost employment for autistic individuals by supporting employers and candidates. It offers training for companies on inclusivity and recruitment, promotes job openings through its network, and provides candidates with coaching and support. Notable UK companies participate, highlighting the benefits of diverse workplaces and enhancing the employability of autistic individuals through tailored assistance and continued support in their roles. For more information, visit the National Autistic Society's Autism at Work programme page.

As a parent carer, I am extremely proud of my son's achievements and aspirations, and I hope that he will find a fulfilling and rewarding career that suits his skills and interests. I also hope that more employers will follow the examples of the companies that are recruiting in a way that embraces the benefits and opportunities of employing people with autism. Employers can address the challenges faced by individuals with autism through accommodations such as flexible work schedules, sensory-friendly workspaces, and clear communication. By doing so, they will not only empower autistic people, but also enrich their own organisations and society as a whole.

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