Supporting Autism at Work: advice from auticon

auticon is the world’s largest autistic-majority company. They exclusively employ autistic adults as technology consultants. They believe their success as an IT consultancy is a result of the company’s neurodiversity.

Why neuro-inclusion matters for autistic employees

Many autistic adults have cognitive strengths that make them excellent employees. This includes distinct logical and analytical abilities, sustained concentration, and attention to detail. Despite this, it’s estimated that less than 29% of autistic adults are in employment. When neuro-inclusion isn’t considered, barriers between autistic individuals and the working world are created. 

As an example, qualified autistic candidates are often excluded early in the interview process. This is because, typically, there’s a heavy focus on first impressions rather than assessing the relevant skills for the job. Once hired, autistic employees may also be disadvantaged because the work environment is not inclusive of neurological differences. For example, office environments can often overstimulate the senses. Communication around work tasks is often vague or ambiguous if neurodiversity is not considered. There are also many unwritten social rules that can make the workplace hard to navigate.

With neuro-inclusive practices, we can address this social problem. Inclusive organizations also benefit from diversity of thought that neurodivergent talent brings.

In this video, three auticon consultants discuss some of the stereotypes and barriers they’ve encountered in the workforce. 

How auticon approaches neuro-inclusion

Like Texthelp, auticon’s motivation for neuro-inclusion is personal.

Their mission to improve employment opportunities for autistic individuals began from a father’s vision of a more inclusive world for his autistic son. Today, they employ nearly 500 autistic individuals across 14 countries. Their consultants work for some of the world’s top companies as software engineers, data analysts, cybersecurity specialists, and more.

How have they successfully created a neuro-inclusive environment?

auticon’s approach to setting up its autistic employees for success is one that focuses on the entire employee journey - and beyond!

From recruitment and talent management, to ensuring a company culture built on understanding and appreciation of neurodiversity.

  • The company designed an autism-friendly hiring process. It's free of traditional interviews and focuses on getting to know each candidate and their technical abilities. Once hired, auticon consultants are matched with roles at client companies that suit their skills and personal strengths. 
  • There, they receive ongoing support from auticon’s job coaches and technical delivery managers.
  • The auticon team also provides autism awareness training for clients that focuses on best practices for working with autistic colleagues.

This combination of employee support and client education helps break down the barriers that autistic employees face in many workplaces. By taking a holistic approach, organizations can create environments that are truly inclusive of neurodivergent people.

The proven impact of a neuro-inclusive workplace

  • For employees
  • For businesses

Inclusive employment is life-changing for autistic professionals. According to auticon’s 2022 Global Impact Report:

  • 92% of auticon consultants feel supported at work.
  • 91% feel valued for who they are.
  • 79% feel more confident.
  • 83% report improved well-being.
  • 87% say they have experienced an improved quality of life since joining auticon.

As more companies commit to assessing their current practices and making changes to become neuro-inclusive, they will be better prepared to support their autistic and neurodivergent employees. At the same time, they will be able to build their reputation as an inclusive employer and become a destination for neurodivergent talent.

The negative impacts of exclusion on employees and companies

Working in an inclusive environment and accessing the appropriate supports is essential to employee well-being.

Research shows that

only 44% of autistic professionals across the world feel they can be their authentic selves at work.

In contrast

82% of auticon consultants feel they can be their authentic selves at work.

When autistic employees are not adequately supported, they often experience negative effects that include:

  • Feeling obligated to mask their autistic traits and hide their struggles.
  • Increased mental health challenges including anxiety and burnout. 
  • Inability to thrive in their roles and fully use their skills. 
  • Fewer opportunities for advancement.
  • Getting stuck in a cycle of unemployment or underemployment

When autistic people mask their autism they consciously or unconsciously suppress their natural autistic responses. This is in an attempt to present in a way that’s neurotypical, as many feel this is how they’re more likely to be accepted.

Here Reshma Dhawan, Lead Job Coach at auticon US, speaks on the detrimental effects of masking for the autistic community.

Failing to support autistic and neurodivergent employees also has negative implications for companies, including: 

  • Employee dissatisfaction.
  • Employee turnover.
  • Costs associated with replacing employees, which can range from one-half to twice the employee’s annual salary.
  • The potential for legal disputes, which are costly and can harm a company’s reputation.

Practical tips for supporting autistic employees

The antidote to exclusion is to proactively practice neuro-inclusion. In a neuro-inclusive work environment, autistic and neurodivergent employees feel accepted, respected, supported, and valued. They can bring their full selves to work and thrive in their roles.

The importance of an inclusive culture

Often, companies that are just beginning their journey with neurodiversity want to start by encouraging their employees to disclose their neurodiversity.

However, it’s crucial to first create a safe environment for neurodivergent employees where they feel comfortable to be themselves. And to also understand how to best support those employees when they do disclose.

  • auticon’s 2023 Neurodiversity at Work survey found that 70% of employed autistic people have disclosed their autism to someone at work. For example, a manager (68%) or trusted colleague (62%). However, only 30% said they have disclosed to HR. “I unknowingly hid my symptoms well,” said one respondent.

    Texthelp’s survey of neurodivergent workers sheds additional light on this issue. The survey found that when neurodivergent employees choose not to disclose, it’s because they:

    • Worry it would negatively impact their career (44%).
    • Are concerned their managers and colleagues would view them differently (42%).
    • Don’t want to share this private information with their employers (32%).
    • Are unsure of how to raise the topic (19%).
    • Had a previous negative experience when sharing their neurodivergence at work (19%).
    • Don’t know how to explain their condition (11%).

    These concerns demonstrate the prevalence of workplace cultures where there is no system in place to include and support autistic employees. They also show the importance of building inclusive and supportive workplaces where employees feel safe disclosing and expressing their needs.  

Key actions

When it comes to neuro-inclusion, actions extend across the company’s policies, practices, and all stages of the employee lifecycle.

Some of the key qualities and actions that distinguish neuro-inclusive companies include: 

  • A demonstrated commitment to neurodiversity and neuro-inclusion, with leadership buy-in.
  • A documented neuro-inclusion plan with a timeline, budget, and goals, ideally in partnership with a neuro-inclusion advisor
  • Engaging neuro-inclusion training for key teams including human resources, diversity & inclusion, leadership, and managers. 
  • A psychologically safe environment where neurodivergent employees feel comfortable disclosing and requesting accommodations. 
  • An approach to universal accommodations that all staff can access and benefit from, with no disclosure required. As an example, inclusive technology allows all employees to think, learn and work in their own way. It offers instant and discreet support, which empowers everyone to reach their full potential. Other common examples include remote work, flexible schedules, custom desk setups, providing meeting agendas and recaps in writing, and allowing employees to stay off-camera during video calls.

Discover 3 ways you can make a difference in your workplace

The business benefits of taking action on neuro-inclusion

Prioritizing neuro-inclusion unlocks a range of benefits for companies, including:

  • Company growth & success
  • Uniquely talented employees

The power of inclusion

In this video, Ian Corbett, a Data Analyst at auticon, shares how neuro-inclusive employment helps break the cycle of underemployment for autistic professionals.

His story also highlights what happens when autistic individuals are empowered to use their skills to the fullest.

Success stories

For more than a decade, auticon has partnered with major companies around the world to hire and support autistic technology talent on their teams.

These client success stories show the benefits of neuro-inclusive employment for both employees and employers.

  • By prioritizing neurodiversity, medication access company CoverMyMeds found that “we’ve also been able to grow as a company. We’ve witnessed increased awareness of and support for those on the autism spectrum. As a result, we’ve been able to better manage our teams, which may include employees who are autistic.”

  • Fortune 100 company Nationwide found success in employing four autistic data analysts to execute a large and complex data migration project. The team was provided with on-the-job training on a platform used for the project. This training and experience unlocked new skills and career growth for a group of talented autistic professionals who were previously underemployed.

  • When Big Four accounting firm KMPG moved to a cloud-based smart audit platform, it engaged a team of skilled autistic professionals to work on the project. The new team members made use of their outstanding abilities in prolonged concentration, attention to detail, and pattern recognition. By enabling the autistic colleagues to focus on their strengths, KMPG found that “they have produced great results and become key members of our team.”

Finding success with inclusive technology

As highlighted above, KPMG value the strengths of neurodivergent talent. Part of their strategy to ensuring a workplace where their diverse workforce is supported, is providing inclusive technology. Specifically, Texthelp’s Read&Write for Work software. Discover how the software helps them to create an inclusive environment where their people can flourish.

Further reading 

Are you ready to take the next steps toward building a neuroinclusive workplace? Check out the below resources from auticon and Texthelp for additional insight and guidance.