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Awareness Of Autism In The Workplace: Working On Inclusivity

Awareness of autism the workplace: Employer Inclusivity

Only 22% of autistic adults are employed in the UK as of 2020. In a modern society claiming to be forward-thinking, diversified and inclusive, these statistics are unacceptable. Autism awareness in the workplace is key to inclusivity.

With a recently reported lack of talent and labour shortage we ask businesses to think again. Just think about the opportunities you would be open to if you just adopted true flexible working practices. The doors would be open up to a previously untapped talent pool. Including many groups of people but for the purpose of this post we are talking about autism.

What Autistic People bring to the table

Autistic people, just like anyone have a wide range of strengths and talent. Some display above average skills in some or all of the following areas:  

  • high levels of concentration 
  • reliability, conscientiousness and persistence 
  • accuracy, close attention to detail and the ability to identify errors 
  • technical ability, such as in IT 
  • detailed factual knowledge and an excellent memory 

Most importantly being neurodiverse shouldn’t be a negative factor in finding employment. Autistic people may need to work in a different way than what employers are used to. All it requires is an understanding employer and an open conversation about how they work best.

The National Autistic Society, interviewed Jamie Knight; Senior Research Engineer at the BBC. Jamie has a number of important roles. These include developing software, conduct tech maintenance and ensuring their apps and services are running properly. This is just one example of how much neurodiverse people can bring to the table at a senior level. This is an example set by a large organisation and one for more organisations to follow.

Autism in the workplace: Perceiving the world around us

The first aspect of autism awareness employers need to recognise is that they need to rid themselves of existing mindsets. Neurodiverse people perceive the world differently than people who are not neurodiverse.

In NAS’s interview with Jamie Knight, he sums up perfectly how employers and society in general should view neurodiverse people:

“Look, its not that I’m defective, it’s that the environment is disabling me. So if I start modifying the environment, it will stop disabling me. I’ll still remain impaired … But I can stop it from having a negative impact on my life.”

And this is key when employing neurodiverse people. Make changes, accommodate and you will see an invaluable asset develop. Practices such as flexible working options, general acceptance and adapting to people is an easy part of creating a more inclusive environment.

Inclusivity of autistic people in the recruitment process

Accommodating neurodiverse people needs to start at the beginning of the recruitment process.

The job description

Firstly, job descriptions can sometimes ask for too much. Listing a number unnecessary requirements as “essential” to the job, when in practice they are not. This isn’t just an issue that concerns neurodiverse people, but it does present as a barrier.

Employers casually include “essential requirements” in job descriptions without thinking much of it. Such as: ‘excellent communication skills’ or ‘must work well in a team’. These skills can often be included in job descriptions where the employee would be mostly working independently or would not need to interact much with others to do the job well. If this is the case, why are these skills part of the essential criteria?

An autistic person may see this and automatically move on as they may not have these skills. Yet, they could have been exceptional in the role. However, sometimes their exceptional abilities can get falsely interpreted. This is where the myth surrounding splinter skills autism should be noted. Splinter skill is a term used for people on the spectrum who do well in certain domains or areas. That is, they could be good at art or playing piano, which might seem amazing. However, it is very rare and they still face challenges in their social life. So, recruiters should keep in mind that instead of looking for the “perfect” candidate, they should be searching for the right candidate. Consider what really is essential and what is not.

The interview process for people with autism

Secondly, let’s consider the interview process. A traditional interview heavily relies on social interaction and communication. A scenario in which an autistic person can find difficult to ‘sell’ themselves. Simple measures such as

  • Providing questions to the candidate prior to the interview,
  • Supplying clear instructions on how to find the location and room
  • Providing a quiet space for the candidate for before and after the interview.
  • Avoid general questions and try to ask more specific questions.

Why Flexible Working for Neurodiverse People is Key

Flexible working is the benchmark for inclusivity. It’s a key element of working life for neurodiverse people. For an autistic person, aspects in and out of the workplace can derail them for the rest of the day. Facilitating flexible working allows the individual to navigate a work style that allows them to thrive. If an employee thrives, they are productive and innovative. This will consequently benefit the company they work for.

Now it is true that some neurodiverse people require structure and benefit from having fixed shifts. That is fine, flexible working does not effect that. It simply means the company can work around neurodiverse employees if their environment has left them incapable of operating under their normal hours for whatever reason. This is why flexible working is an essential requirement for neurodiverse people which all organisations should adopt. They outcome can only be positive.

Awareness of Autism in the workplace improves lives

Like anyone else, it’s fair to say that neurodiverse people want a certain level of financial independence, sense of purpose and the opportunity for career development. For most adults, these aspects of life are defined by their careers. We achieve independence through the money we make from our job to become self reliant. We often strive for achievements within our job and measure our success with these. Sometimes our careers and jobs are the thing that gets us out of bed in the morning, giving our lives structure and purpose. Neurodiverse people deserve to have the opportunity for these basic fundamental parts of life that everyone is entitled to.

We are reaching out to you as employers to enable this. This can be done simply by creating a more inclusive and diverse environment. A fantastic starting point is to offer true flexibility. It can not be understated the impact this can have on the life of a neurodiverse person.

For more information and support on flexible working and the opportunities you stand to gain then contact us at The Find Your Flex Group. For more information about autism in the workplace then go to Autsim.org.