Masters in their field with incredible knowledge and passion which radiates as they speak, yet struggling with employment?!
Unfortunately, this is the case for many individuals on the Autistic Spectrum. In fact, 77% of adults with Autism are unemployed. A barrier exists between talented individuals and the workplace, and that barrier is the current mindset within workplace environments. There's a lack of understanding in how to recruit and retain neurodivergent individuals in a way which empowers their success. It's something we're passionate about tackling, and in light of Autism Awareness Week we're sharing a few thoughts on how to be mindful of different minds...
Care and support for Autistic children is growing within the education system and it is clear that early detection and intervention are important factors for development. But what support is available for adults with Autism in the workplace?
It can be a daunting experience for anyone, leaving the education system for the ‘big, wide world of work’. That brings a mixture of nerves, uncertainty and a little excitement at new found independence. For someone with social difficulties where change and the unknown causes distress, this transition can be extremely difficult, especially in a world which doesn’t always accommodate neurodiversity.
Only 3 in 10 employers include neurodiversity in their HR policies. The processes put in place to hire and retain employees do not nurture neurodivergent minds.
Neurodivergent conditions are a part of human diversity with each making the world a more interesting and unique place to be. Those with Autism experience the world differently and offer original concepts of shared experiences.
A spectrum condition including diagnoses such as Aspergers, there are a variety of characteristics associated with Autism that can be advantageous to the workplace; heightened senses, strong eye for detail, intense concentration, ability to recognize patterns and solve problems, loyalty, strong memory, a literal mindset, logical approach and average to above average intelligence are just a few. In fact, individuals with Autism tend to be savants in their industry because they're so passionate and enthusiastic about the things that interest them.
Changing the workplace mindset means to recognize the diversity of each and every individual and be proactive in facilitating differing needs, from recruitment through to nurturing and retaining employees.
Begin by rethinking what skills are truly important for the role; the ability to make eye contact when communicating or, bringing novel ideas and a wealth of knowledge to the job? Job descriptions should be based on the actual skills required for the job and not related to generic social abilities.
During the hiring process consider ditching traditional interviews which can be difficult for individuals who struggle to communicate. Instead, offer work trials or tasks which allow potential employees the chance to demonstrate their skills. If this isn’t possible then make reasonable adjustments to aid the interview process; give the candidate the questions in advance so they have some time to process and prepare, and perhaps allow an extra little bit of time for their responses.
Flexibility towards personalized working is key to nurturing employees with Autism. With a tendency to be hypersensitive, too many distractions can cause overstimulation. Provide quiet zones or noise canceling headphones to aid a calm environment. Additionally, you can facilitate diverse ways of processing with the use of assistive technology.
Reduce anxiety and stress with structured routines; provide clear deadlines and help plan workloads by assigning time slots to tasks. Practice forward-thinking and adapt the literal mindset by being instructive; this reduces the distress caused by change and the unknown, and ensures clear expectations.
Finally, it can often be difficult for someone with Autism to express their feelings, especially if they don’t know who to turn to. Provide a support network with a dedicated ‘buddy’ and schedule weekly one to one check ins.
If you would like to find out more about how you could embrace neurodiversity in the workplace, check out our free guide - 'Unlocking neurodiversity in the workplace'.