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Autism at Work

line-manager-feedbackDid you know 79% of people with autism on out of work benefits want to work according to the The National Autistic Society here in the UK .

Some of the most satisfying work is helping autistic people access sustaining and fulfilling work. That said there are some specific challenges that can appear confusing and frustrating for the autistic individual concerned. Of course these challenges are, in most cases, not insurmountable. With careful planning and support for both candidates and employers, a good fit between role and person can be found.

Meeting the Challenges

Clearly people with autism have so much to offer in the workplace. They will have comparable levels of competence to their work colleagues. Though can struggle to adopt new tasks and perhaps experience problems transferring from one task to another. However, the autistic person is renowned to bring a professional attitude, reliability and significant attention to detail to their work. I am sure your will agree a positive commodity that anyone can bring to the workplace and therefore should be encouraged and nurtured.

What is Autism?

So what is autism? Autistic spectrum can impair social interaction and communication. Now immediately we have hit upon two areas of the workplace today that could be potential banana skins. We all work socially & generally solve problems in groups and teams. There is an expectation for teams to communicate & gel together with everyone engaging with the work processes.  Autistic individuals can experience difficulties describing & expressing emotions that can lead on to difficulties organising specific work routines. Autistic folk can find adapting to unexpected outcomes and poor interactions with work colleagues distressing and stressful. However, with support and some training in interpersonal skill & managing the anxiety of the processes involved, these problems can be managed very effectively.

As you would expect there are is a spectrum of Autism and this article is not designed to provide a generalised step-by-step cure all for helping autistic people back to work. It is a individualised process of building confidence and self-esteem, helping the individual find what they are good at and preparing them for interviews etc. So what can be done to support more of the 79% autistic people into employment?

What next?

Clearly it is not a one size fits all program of support, however with a number of skills such as time management, interview skills & working with a potential employer that will no doubt help. So here are a few points that may resonate with both job seekers, employed autistic individual & employers that may provide a place to start to address the issues.

  • Start by carefully planning what you want to do. Look at your strengths and areas to work on to be sure there is a good job/career role fit. There is nothing more dispiriting than being in the wrong job.
  • Build confidence in your abilities, remember the positives of what you are great at and what you bring to the potential employer.
  • Take time to manage the mental health aspects of stress and anxiety. Common issues for people looking for work but perhaps and perhaps more so for autistic people. It is being unsure of unfamiliar circumstances that seems to create the anxiety. These problems can be managed with clear unambiguous language & coaching.
  • Find out what is expected for the interview – both for employer and the candidate. Autistic people can take notes into the interview and a good employer will help the candidate through the process. That said interviews are stressful and especially for people who do not necessarily understand non-verbal communication and some abstract competency based questions
  • Try to get work based volunteering experience and supported work when you can. A great way to find out if you can get on with the job and the potential employer.
  • Look into interpersonal skills training & coaching to help you recognise the verbal & non-verbal communication styles in the workplace.
  • Help the employer make the workplace “reasonable and practicable adjustments” to help you manage work. You may need more short breaks, be near natural light or get some fresh air regularly. Working with your supervisor closely will help manage these and many other adjustments at work.
  • One for career coaches – do not use metaphor or euphemisms with autistic people keep the language clear, clean and unambiguous. Something I learnt the hard way!

Lastly………..

Needless to say, this list is not a one size fits all as mentioned earlier. However, with good support the autistic person can find satisfying work that will help them live an independent and fulfilling life. Support is available from a number of different agencies and privately, so find an agency you can work with and within your budget. There are few services for adult job seekers which is a little disappointing considering the pool of untapped workers & candidates available. So don’t despair autism is challenging but with support there are a world of possibilities awaiting.