Employing people with Autism Spectrum Condition needs careful thought – but can reap rich rewards
By Harry McPhillimy, Vocational rehabilitation consultant, Remploy
Autism, Asperger Syndrome and Autism Spectrum Disorder are all terms used to describe a particular neurodiverse spectrum of associated traits. The term Autism Spectrum Condition (ASC), better reflects the range of strengths and challenges associated with this. There is a saying that when you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. There is such variation in how different people experience it. Nevertheless, we know it is associated with difficulties in social communication and interaction, restricted areas of interest, difficulty managing change and sensory sensitivities. It can encompass attention to detail, great subject knowledge and problem-solving skills.
However, medical knowledge is not necessary to support your employees with ASC. In fact, the most important information to know is how the individual is impacted at work to help them achieve their maximum capability and the support of a specialist advisor can be the key to enabling this.
Sometimes organisations find out they have recruited someone with ASC after they have been taken on. In fact, I have supported employees who had not even recognised their own ASC traits until their child had received that diagnosis and they realised they themselves shared many of those traits. This then helped to make sense of their previous struggles and gave them a model they could use for dealing with issues at work, and home.
Work based adjustments can make all the difference. Modern working situations such as open plan offices and hot desking can be challenging environments for employees with ASC – the constant visual and audio distraction, the continuously changing workplace. Adjustments may include the use of noise cancelling headphones, perhaps with ambient sounds.
A fixed desk may be just as important to someone with ASC as to an employee with musculoskeletal problems – by having everything set up in a consistent way it provides more control and helps the employee to focus on their work. Sometimes the best solution has been to issue an employee with a laptop and appropriate software so they can find a quieter place to work, whether in the staff canteen, a meeting room or even outdoors.
ASC awareness training for their line manager (and even their team) can be the most important way to progress – by allowing the manager to recognise that slightly ‘eccentric’ behaviours matter less than achieving goals at work- for example downplaying the importance of eye contact or letting someone have a free pass to avoid team building days. Where employees with ASC have been able to share their neurodiversity with their colleagues and have been with the same team for some years you can find a very positive working situation. There are many other (often simple) adjustments and workarounds a specialist advisor can introduce to reduce work issues.
Progressive organisations are starting to recognise the particular skill sets that people with ASC can bring – as well as a focus and determination, attention to detail, ability to recognise patterns, to think visually, be task focused (people with ASC are unlikely to be the ones hanging out by the water cooler discussing ‘Love Island’!) with subject areas of in depth knowledge.
A UK government organisation recruits a disproportionate number of apprentices with ASC, not particularly for disability equality reasons but because they tend to have a higher proportion of the problem-solving technical skills that they need. Microsoft recognise in the case of ASC, there is an untapped pool of talent with skills aligned to the work they are doing and have a special programme to enable people with ASC to integrate and succeed. A London based Tech Company called Auticon employs 15 IT consultants, everyone of whom have ASC!
I have over 30 years experience working in the field of disability in public, voluntary and private sectors, including, for the past 17 years, a wide range of roles within Remploy.
Alongside a BSc Hons and an OU Diploma in the Health and Welfare sector, I am a:
- Qualified practitioner in Diagnostic Profiling and Advice and Guidance
- NVQ Assessor
- Specialist in neurodiversity including delivering dyslexia vocational evaluations
- Mental Health First Aid trainer
- Member of the Dyspraxia Foundation, National Autistic Society and the Dyslexia Guild.
I have recently gained the Certificate for Disability Management Professionals qualification and delivered neurodiversity consultancy work to external organisations on behalf of Remploy.
Remploy deliver a workplace adjustments service across both the public and private sector. We help employers such as BT, BBC and GCHQ to protect and develop their greatest assets, whilst enabling thousands of talented individuals to reach their full potential.
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