29th April 2016 Written by National Autistic Society

Image: Employing someone who has autism.It’s your first day at work and you’re getting to grips with your new job and learning how to unjam the photocopier, but there’s so much more to learn than just the basics of your job description, there’s all the unwritten social rules and the culture specific to each individual office to master. Do people take it in turns to make the tea? Is there an unofficial rota of who brings in the treats on a Friday? These are things we pick up and learn, but something that an autistic employee may not, and instantly this puts them at a disadvantage with their colleagues as their actions may be completely misunderstood.

With autism affecting over 700,000 people in the UK, chances are you know someone affected by the condition. Shockingly, there are only 15% of autistic people in full time paid employment, and we are definitely missing out on an untapped workforce.

Autistic people can bring some invaluable skills to the work table – commitment, focus, attention to detail to name a few, but like all talent this needs to be nurtured.

Here at The National Autistic Society, everyday our Employment Training and Consultancy Team help employers to understand their autistic colleagues to ensure that they can thrive and shine.

Here are five tips from the team on welcoming someone with autism into your workplace:

1. Learn about autism

As the saying goes, ‘Once you’ve met one person with autism, you’ve met one person with autism.’ Just because you watched ‘Rain Man’ back in the 80’s or read a few chapters of ‘The Curious Incident’ this does not make you an autism expert.

With information at our fingertips and specialist teams who work specifically training employers and colleagues about autism, it has never been easier to access information. The National Autistic Society’s website has a whole host of free, downloadable resources, some specifically on autism and employment. There is also an Employment Training and Consultancy Team who can assess your employee’s needs and recommend some reasonable adjustments to help support them as well as their colleagues.

2. Adjust your communication

Autistic employees may find it difficult to process verbal information, especially in a busy work environment. Ask your employee their preferred method of communication. Having clear, explicit and direct instructions can be crucial to communicating effectively. Using written instructions, lists, bullet points, timescales and calendars are also useful.

Consider your use of language as some people with autism take things literally. Telling an employee they can have a cigarette break ‘anytime’ may result in them leaving their desk 20 times a day, not realising that this is unacceptable.

3. Never make assumptions

Never assume that the unwritten rules of the workplace are understood and try not to underestimate the importance of them. Often, these rules help us to build relationships with colleagues. Try breaking and writing them down. This will help the employee understand what is expected of them and feel a part of the team.

4. Consider the environment

Often autistic people have sensory sensitivities which can impact on their concentration and productivity. The low hum of the air conditioning, the lights above someone’s desk and the position in the office where someone sits can all cause real difficulties and can be the fundamental difference between someone being successful or unsuccessful in their role. Think about the environment you are expecting them to work in, are there ways to make this more autism-friendly?

5. Have empathy and be positive

Many people with autism have had a lifetime of difficulties interacting with others which can negatively impact on their self-worth and self-esteem. Praise and celebrate their strengths and provide opportunities for them to develop their skills and relationships by making them feel included and valued.

Remember that sometimes a job isn’t just a job. To someone, it’s a lifeline.

If you need support on autism and employment issues, or need training or advice – get in touch:

The National Autistic Society Employment Training and Consultancy Service

This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. - 0141 285 7117

We would like to thank the National Autistic Society for this guest blog.

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