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Emma Jones: Autism at work

Thursday 06 October 2016

In the third of a blog series to accompany new Acas research on neurodiversity in the workplace, Emma Jones considers the autism spectrum within the context of employment.

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Emma Jones

The National Autistic Society (NAS) is the leading UK charity for people with autism (including Asperger syndrome) and their families. With the help of its members, supporters and volunteers they provide information, support and pioneering services, and campaign for a better world for people with autism. Emma Jones manages the Employment Training and Consultancy service which works with employers and autistic employees throughout the UK to increase employer awareness and build accessible employment opportunities.

Autism (including Asperger syndrome) affects over 700,000 people in the UK (more than 1 in 100). Recent research found that only 10% of adults diagnosed with autism currently receive support to find employment, yet 79% of people with autism on out-of-work benefits want to work. Here, at the National Autistic Society, we are passionate about ensuring people with autism have access to increased employment opportunities.

Autistic individuals have a great deal to offer the world of business and may have unique skills and abilities that will help an organisation thrive. Here at the NAS we believe that an autism confident business will attract and deliver:

  • The right people
  • Higher productivity, reduced costs
  • Innovative products and services
  • Outstanding customer relationships, satisfaction & retention
  • Stronger stakeholder relationships & reputation

As well as their individual strengths and talents, autistic candidates may demonstrate above-average skills in some or all of the following areas:

  • Problem-solving skills and attention to detail
  • High levels of concentration
  • Reliability and loyalty
  • Technical ability and specialist skills and interests such as in IT
  • Detailed factual knowledge and an excellent memory
  • Retention
  • Resourceful

 

Despite all of the above, only 15% of autistic individuals are in full time employment. There may be a number of reasons for this but the most common are;

  • Recruitment methods: traditional recruitment practices prevent many talented, motivated people from accessing employment. The recruitment process does not assess a person's ability to do a job, instead it assesses a person's ability to understand a job description and communicate and 'sell' their relevant abilities in an application form or interview.
  • Disclosure: for many autistic people the thought of disclosing their diagnosis can induce extremely high anxiety. Disclosing has become a route to tell an employer that there will be problems. Our aim is to change this and start to portray disclosure as a positive: a way of telling an employer your strengths and how best they can work with you to be successful.
  • Employer confidence: we have seen a significant shift in employer attitudes and in the most part employers are seeing the strengths of autistic people in the workplace. However, employer confidence is still relatively low. This may be best addressed through continuing to raise awareness of autism in the workplace.

Ensuring your autistic colleague is fully supported does not have to be costly. Some simple adjustments can make all the difference. Such as, a desk in a location that does not create sensory problems, regular meetings with a manager, tasks given in both verbal and written format (preferably in bullet point format). This was also echoed Acas' new research paper.

In April 2016 The National Autistic Society launched their biggest campaign to date. 'Too Much Information' aims to build understanding as well as awareness. On October 20th 2016, NAS launch the 'employment phase' of the campaign with the hope that we can improve employer confidence and close the employment gap for autistic people. To find out more visit www.autism.org.uk or contact a member of the employment training team at training.enquiries@nas.org.uk

Read other blogs in our neurodiversity series

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