Autism Awareness Week and World Autism Day


Written by Theo Smith

Theo is a Welsh Wizard. After leaving his Celtic land he set out on a journey to help organisations attract more talent. This has included global executive search, RPO, in-house and recruitment marketing. He now talks on a wide variety of recruitment related subjects. He is also the podcast host for Neurodiversity – Eliminating Kryptonite & Enabling Superheroes

It’s world Autism Awareness week and tomorrow will be world autism day. I’ve pulled some information from the National Autistic Society and across the Net, to help get us thinking about how we can be more inclusive.

So let’s start with some hard stats to swallow:

  • 1 in 100 people are autistic
  • But only 16% of Autistic people are in work

Some things to consider about those with Autism

Autistic people:

  • Have communication challenges, from not speaking to needing longer to process information
  • Can experience intense anxiety in social situations
  • Prefer routines and can engage in repetitive behaviour
  • Have sensory issues with noise, light, smell and touch

Autistic strengths:

  • Intense focus and attention to detail
  • Considered and reflective approach
  • Honesty and integrity
  • Creative thinking

“With just a little more acceptance, understanding and a few simple adjustments, more autistic people would be able to enter the workforce and put their amazing talents to use.”

Chris Packham CBE, National Autistic Society Ambassador

During world Autism Awareness Week we want to celebrate Neurodiversity and we particularly want to encourage more autistic people to join us and to make sure we make it as welcoming and accessible as possible for everyone.

Things we can consider this week and every week:

Sensory Needs: Considering the noise in the working environment and other distractions that may have an impact on others.

Silent Clapping: The sound of many people clapping together can be uncomfortable or painful to some autistic people. For this reason, we could consider replacing the traditional clap with a wave of the hands. Doesn’t have to be strict and could even be a fun new way of showing our support for one another!

Quiet Room: An environment that meets the needs of those who are Autistic can benefit us all. We all need time away from the desk, but for some the stress of the environment can become too much. It’s important to remember that having that time and space to be able to get away from the noise and pressures that busy environments can create is really important.

How to help your autistic colleagues:

  • Give clear instructions and put important points in writing for clarification
  • Don’t rely on body language or facial expressions to communicate
  • Give anxious or agitated colleagues space and time to recover
  • Offer to be a buddy for work social events

And some final Top tips for managers from the National Autistic Society

  • Clarify expectations of the job. You may need to be more explicit about your expectations for an autistic member of staff. As well as the job description, you need to explain the etiquette and unwritten rules of the workplace. Make it clear that any adaptations for them in the workplace are there to help them keep doing their job well, not because they are not good enough.
  • Provide training and monitoring. Clear and structured training is invaluable. This can be provided informally on the job, by a manager, colleagues or a mentor, or may take the form of more formal training. Various organisations and schemes offer job coaches, and funding for this form of training may be available from the Department of Work and Pensions. Our Employment Training Service can provide more information.
  • Make sure instructions are concise and specific. Try to give the employee clear instructions right from the start about exactly how to carry out each task, from start to finish, as this will lay the foundations for good working practices. Don’t assume the person will infer your meaning from informal instructions – for example, rather than saying ‘Give everybody a copy of this’, say ‘Make three photocopies of this, and give one each to Sam, Mary and Ahmed’. You may also choose to provide written instructions. It can be helpful to ask the person to repeat back instructions so you are sure they have understood.
  • Ensure the work environment is well-structured. Some autistic people need a fairly structured work environment. You can help by working with them to prioritise activities, organising tasks into a timetable for daily, weekly and monthly activities, and breaking larger tasks into small steps. Some people will appreciate precise information about start and finish times, and help getting into a routine with breaks and lunches.
  • Regularly review performance. As with any employee, line managers should have regular one-to-one meetings with the person to discuss and review performance and give overall comments and suggestions. For an autistic staff member, brief, frequent reviews may be better than longer sessions at less frequent intervals.
  • Provide sensitive but direct feedback. Autistic people often find it difficult to pick up on social cues, so make sure your feedback is honest, constructive and consistent. If they complete a task incorrectly, don’t allude to, or imply, any problems – instead, explain tactfully but clearly why it is wrong, check that they have understood, and set out exactly what they should do instead. Be aware that they may have low self-esteem or experience of being bullied, so ensure that any criticism is sensitive, and give positive feedback wherever appropriate.
  • Provide reassurance in stressful situations. Autistic people can be quite meticulous, and can become anxious if their performance is not perfect. This means they may become very stressed in a situation such as an IT failure. You can help by giving concrete solutions to these situations – for example, by explaining “If the photocopier breaks, use the one on the third floor.” Similarly, reassure them that if they occasionally arrive late due to transport problems or other unpreventable factors, this is not a problem. Your employee may benefit from having a mentor or buddy in the workplace – an empathetic colleague who they can go to if they are feeling stressed, anxious or confused.
  • Support your staff member to prepare for changes. Give information about changes to the workplace or tasks well in advance.
  • Ask about sensory Autistic employees sometimes benefit from things like screens around their desk, noise-cancelling headphones, or their desk being in the corner.
  • Help other staff to be more aware. If your autistic employee consents to their condition being disclosed, then providing colleagues with information and guidance on autism can benefit everyone. Sometimes the employee may find it helpful to write a document for other staff explaining what their colleagues can do to support them. You could consider staff training, or our online modules.

Read more tips given by Janine Booth in her interview about the importance of autism equality in the workplace.

Read more about the things you can do this week https://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/world-autism-awareness-week/workplace-poster.aspx

There is an open free event this Thursday in Manchester on becoming Autism Friendly for those who may see value in attending https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/becoming-autism-friendly-tickets-56030276064

Hope you all find this information useful 🙂

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