Working with someone who is on the autistic spectrum can be an enriching experience, but it can also present certain unique challenges. Autistic people can sometimes require additional support in the workplace. If you’re an employer looking to find out more about potential challenges, and how to avoid and overcome them, then there are plenty of places you can learn more. There are excellent autism awareness courses, and many resources available online.
Read on for our guide to autism awareness in the workplace, and some suggestions on how to help an autistic member of staff:
● Set clear expectations of the job and any assigned tasks
It is helpful for an autistic member of staff if you are straightforward and explicit in your expectations of them. Go through their job description in detail with them, and discuss any workplace rules of conduct that are expected of employees of your organisation.
For any specific task that is assigned to someone with autism, it can help if you deliver clear and concise instructions. For instance, instead of saying ‘Email this to everyone’, you could say ‘Once this is complete, attach this into an email for all 10 members of your team’. More formal and specific instructions are extremely helpful for them. You can email these instructions through if it’s easier and they can refer back to your email or memo if needed.
● Provide regular feedback that is direct as well as sensitively delivered
As with all employees, it is important to have regular one-on-one meetings with your autistic employees to discuss their performance and suggest areas of improvement. Keep the review meetings short and straightforward, and try to hold these on a regular basis. If you have a line manager in your organisation who has an autistic member of staff, it is worth encouraging them to take autism awareness courses.
When delivering feedback, it can be helpful to be sensitive and tactful, but also direct. Clearly discuss any areas for improvement and what can be done to implement any changes. Also make sure that you incorporate positive feedback amidst any suggestions for improvement.
● Provide a well-structured work environment
For some autistic people, a work environment that is fairly structured can help them to work better. As an employer, you can help by working closely with them to organise their tasks into a timetable with clear milestones by which they need to deliver. It can be helpful to break bigger tasks down into smaller steps and be totally clear on deadlines. Help them adapt to their work routine with scheduled breaks and a regular lunchtime. If there are due to be any changes to their team or routine, then let them know specifically in advance.
● Offer support and reassurance during any stressful work situations that may arise
Autism can sometimes cause people to become overly anxious if they feel that they aren’t performing effectively. Small issues such as IT problems can sometimes stress them out considerably more than they’d stress you or your other team members out. You can provide help by offering concrete solutions and providing them with the reassurance that everything will be fine. If there are members of staff that are stressing out their autistic colleague without even realising, it may be worth proving them with a link to autism awareness courses.
It can be helpful for an autistic employee to have a supportive friend in the workplace. If this doesn’t naturally happen, then discreetly appoint a buddy or mentor that they can turn to in times of stress.
● Provide formal opportunities for training
Again, the structure would be hugely helpful here. Autistic members of staff would benefit from a more formal and structured method of training. You may be able to apply for funding for this from the Department of Work and Pensions, so it is worth investigating.
● Make sure that the rest of your staff is aware and sensitive to their needs
Autistic people can sometimes experience difficulty with communication and social interactions. They can unintentionally come across as rude at times. If you have other staff members that struggle to cope with this, take them aside and let them know that their colleague is autistic. This will help them understand their behaviour better. If they would like to learn more, direct them towards autism awareness courses, many of which are now easily available online.