Autism at Work

World Autism Awareness Week

This week’s blog is thanks to Vanda Latchford.  Vanda is a Job Coach at the National Autistic Society. In this blog she talks about autism and work, the current landscape. She also provides her five tips for an autism-friendly workplace.

Autism at Work

I am very proud to be part of the National Autistic Society. I deliver the Autism at Work programme sponsored by the Bloomfield Trust.

My work as a job coach is inspired daily by my daughter, who is on the autism spectrum. In many ways her experiences in a mainstream school parallel those of autistic adults who transition into the workplace. She has taken it on herself to bring neurodiversity to the forefront at her school. I hope to play my own part in helping employers to recognise the amazing skills and abilities that autistic people have to offer. 

Vanda’s Career

Throughout my career I have supported neurodiverse people. That is people with dyslexia, dyspraxia, ADHD and autism, who are struggling in their job roles. On many occasions, these individuals have been through disciplinary proceedings. Attributed to under-performance and long absences from work, mainly due to stress and anxiety stemming from a lack of understanding from their employer. Sometimes, things had just gone too far. There invariably was a breakdown in relationships and/or the employee couldn’t cope anymore and instead chose to leave.

The current picture of autism at work

Frustratingly, the statistics for autistic people and employment are still shocking in this respect:

  • 43% have left or lost a job because of their condition;
  • Only 16% of autistic people are in full-time employment (only a 1% rise since 2009) compared to 47% of disabled people;
  • 16% are in part time work and;
  • 60% of employers have expressed concern about how best to support autistic colleagues, and indeed where to seek advice.

What stops organisation embracing Autism at work? 

Organisations are often held back by stereotypes and unconscious bias about autistic people. A cliche such as autistic people can only perform well in IT roles.  Employers think that autistic employees would be hard to support. There is also fear that they, as employers might get it all wrong!  With the right kind of support, workplace adjustments and understanding we can all create effective strategies to get employees and employers back on track.

Eleven years since the Autism Act 2009 was passed and the Equality Act 2010 was put in place, neurodiversity is finally becoming a movement in its own right. Momentum is growing and it’s exciting to be part of this amazing new dawn. One where employers have a better understanding of the benefits of working with neurodiverse employees. Moreover, employers can clear the fog of these preconceptions and assumptions.

They can finally see for themselves that just like everyone else, autistic people can excel in any kind of role. It just depends upon the individual and their unique preferences, skills and abilities. Which is not, surprisingly any different from someone who isn’t neurodiverse!

It feels great that employers are now approaching our charity to support their efforts in bridging the skills gap. I am able to work with employers and employees to set up strong building blocks of autism awareness to kick-start an empowering journey.

Top tips to support Autism at work

To help employers build an inclusive workplace, Vanda recommends these five tips:

  1. Autistic people make superb, loyal, honest and hardworking employees. So consider your plan for employing them. Offer internships, apprenticeships and/or paid work trials. Treat your employees with respect and you’ll get fabulous performance and results. That of course goes for any employee, autistic or not!
  2. Use workplace (reasonable) adjustments. Examples include a permanent fixed desk space, noise cancelling headphones, softer lighting and  backing up your instructions by bullet points on an email to staff. This is good practice for all staff. You may also like to consider setting-up a buddy who can answer work-based questions, especially when someone is new to the job. 
  3. Ditch the stereotypes, unconscious bias, assumptions and misunderstandings through educating managers and staff. Why not show the world that you are forward thinking as an influential trailblazer for autism and neurodiversity? 
  4. Address potential performance barriers with FREE Autism Awareness training from the National Autistic Society’s  Autism at Work programme. This will help you to develop a more inclusive and diverse workforce and break down the barriers.
  5. Join the neurodiversity movement! Because most of our lives are touched by autism and neurodiversity in one way or another. National Autistic Society are here to support employers and candidates through recruitment and induction.

‘Until everyone understands’ – National Autistic Society 

For information about Autism and Coronavirus you can find resources from NAS here.

Photo of Vanda Latchford Job Coach at NAS

This post was written by Vanda Latchford, Job Coach at the National Autistic Society

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