How autistic employees can be supported in the workplace

In this blog, I share the benefits to be gained from implementing the specific support that people on the autistic spectrum may require to thrive in the workplace, especially at times of uncertainty.

Note: this blog post is relevant for everyone, not just for line managers or people responsible for the wellbeing of employees.

1. Take time to understand the needs of the individual, so that tailored support can be given.

The autistic spectrum is very diverse and everyone on the spectrum is different. This means that every individual will face different challenges when it comes to the workplace. Taking the time to discuss the specific challenges that your autistic employees face will help them to thrive in their role. This can be done by a face-to-face visit to the office before they start a job, or it can be discussed soon after they start. Understanding the needs of your autistic employee allows you to put in place tailored support that will enable them to succeed in the workplace.

Giving an example from my own personal experience of receiving tailored support, I recently mentioned to my line manager it would be helpful to have face-to-face catch ups, rather than catch ups over a video call. My employer has put these in place, and I now benefit from weekly catch ups in the office.

2. Ensure that your communication is proactive.

Proactive communication is essential when it comes to the wellbeing of your autistic employees. It is important to check-in with them on a regular basis to see if they are coping well and if there is anything else that can be done to support them. It’s important to take the time to understand your employee’s needs at the start and check-in with them going forward, as their needs can change over time once they grow into their role.

For an autistic employee, it is important to take the initiative when checking in with them, and this might mean that you may need to take the first step. When thinking about it from the employee’s perspective, they might not realise that they are stressed or need help, and therefore they might not reach out. This can lead to them only realising once they have reached ‘breaking point’. Therefore, by being proactive, with regular communication you can ensure that things are sorted out before the employee reaches their ‘breaking point’.

For example, they may mention they are finding it hard to adjust to changes, especially when there is something that affects their daiy work environment such as, the company’s hybrid working policy. By taking the initiative to talk to your employee you can put in place to support they need to help them adjust more easily.

3. Acknowledging it takes a collective effort to ensure neurodiverse individuals are getting the support they need.

The line manager tends to be the main point of contact when it comes to wellbeing and support, however it should not solely be their responsibility. Firstly, line managers are juggling many responsibilities and may not be able to consider and build the team support that is required to meet the needs of each individual employee. Secondly, it should be reasonable to assume that the organisation wants to promote a culture where everyone in the team supports one another. Therefore, when it comes to ensuring that your autistic employee gets the support that they require, it’s a collective responsibility.

For example, it is vital for people working on the same project or on the same client team to be aware of the autistic employees needs so they are able to provide support and help. For people that don’t work directly with an autistic colleague, it is still good to be aware of the autistic spectrum for your own understanding. From my own perspective, I continue to experience the greater benefits gained from other colleagues and work friends being understanding and supportive.

4. Ensuring your approach is open-minded and supportive.

For autistic individuals to thrive in the workplace it is essential for both the organisation and line managers to be open-minded and supportive. The biggest challenge people on the autistic spectrum face is how to navigate a neurotypical society that isn’t always designed to support their differences, and this leads to stress and anxiety. Another challenge is the negative assumptions of the autistic spectrum. As an employer, being open-minded when it comes to the autistic spectrum and the challenges your employee faces, as well as being supportive when it comes to adjustments will enable individuals to thrive in the workplace. Reasonable adjustments are often low cost and not time consuming to put in place.

There are so many unique strengths and perspectives that an autistic employee can bring to the workplace. Let’s seek to be open-minded and supportive, which will enable the autistic employee to thrive and benefit everyone working in the organisation.

This blog post was originally written for GAIN (Group for Autism, Insurance and Neurodiversity), and the link can be found here

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