There are more than 700,000 individuals with Autism in the UK. However, less than 15% of these are in full-time employment. This is a dispiriting figure when you consider the many skills and talents autistic people have, skills which are highly beneficial in the workplace.
Autism or Autism Spectrum Disorder is not a disease or illness to be ‘cured’. The unique elements of autism are an integral part of the person’s make-up. As it is defined across a spectrum, those with a diagnosis will all experience it in a unique way. However, it often has some effect on how individuals communicate and interact with others. It is often referred to as an ‘invisible’ disability.
In 2010, The Equality Act made it unlawful for any employer to discriminate on the grounds of disability. One would hope this would have encouraged employers reassess their approach to employing those on the spectrum. However, employing those with a disability is not just a matter of filling a quota. Instead, the focus should be on the value each individual can bring to the prospective role. Autistic people have just as much to offer companies as their neurotypical colleagues. Some may be excellent problem solvers; others have outstanding concentration and memory skills; they may be able to pay great attention to detail; and be highly dependable. Surely these are traits any employer should be looking for?
While every applicant should be treated as an individual, there is common ground amongst autistic people that, when recognised by companies, can make the hiring process run much more smoothly. Things to consider:
Some individuals with autism will find understanding body language and facial expressions difficult. This can sometimes hinder communication. Be patient and clear in your communication.
Autistic candidates may need the security of familiarity and routine. This is a positive trait in a working environment, but perhaps offer them an opportunity to visit the building prior to their interview to reduce anxiety.
Interaction concerns how individuals with autism behave in the presence of others. For example, when concentrating or anxious about something they may sometimes appear withdrawn or insensitive. This can appear rude, but in reality is the result of misunderstanding, potential on both sides. Do not jump to conclusions and be conscious of potential for misinterpretation.
The Interview Process
People with autism can sometimes develop a keen interest in a particular subject and become hugely knowledgeable about it. If you can discover what this interest is during the interview, and encourage the candidate to talk about it, it can help put them at ease.
Sometimes jokes and sarcasm are not understood well by individuals with autism. Therefore, be straightforward and express yourself clearly. Also, if there are gaps in the conversation don’t rush in to fill the silence. The candidate may just need a little longer to formulate their response.
The Induction Process
Once an autistic individual has been hired, there are a few simple steps that can make their first few days as positive an experience as possible.
- Send induction material to the new employee early so they can take the time to read through and absorb it before they start. This will help to lessen first day nerves.
- If possible, try to seat the person away from noise or people passing by regularly, as this can be unsettling. It’s also important to build structure into the day so individuals know what to expect.
- People with autism can be perfectionists so it’s important to give regular feedback on how things are going and provide reassurance where necessary.
Individuals with autism can have very strong skills in particular areas, often outperforming their peers in these capacities. It’s important therefore to tap into these strengths and allow the employee the freedom to utilise their skill-set within the working environment. When this happens employers are able to increase there understanding of Autism and recognise what a valuable asset the individual is to their business.
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