People on the autism spectrum go through challenges neurotypical people simply cannot understand, especially in the workplace. Workplaces often aren’t designed or equipped to accommodate the various needs of autistic adults and could create uncomfortable situations. One of the biggest challenges is working alongside colleagues who don’t understand autism or may even discriminate against autistic employees, making autism awareness in the workplace critical for better inclusivity.
Research shows that only 22% of autistic adults are engaged in paid employment. These figures show that it is important for decision-makers to accept autism in the workplace and that organisations have the responsibility of ensuring that every employee has the opportunity to become part of the workplace.
Even when they do find employment, autistic employees are underutilised and are not given opportunities to demonstrate their potential—irrespective of the credentials and experience they may hold.
Why is autism awareness the key to inclusivity?
If you’re not impacted by autism, it’s very difficult to understand the full scope of the barriers that employees on the spectrum face in the workplace, but that’s not all. The UK is currently going through a skills shortage and still only 22% of autistic adults are employed in the UK while this shortage continues to progress.
Contemporary businesses are missing out on employing skilled individuals who could help alleviate any skills shortages because they are not making workspaces more accessible to those on the autism spectrum.
The lack of inclusivity is not just hurting employees on the spectrum but also organisations. While 11.5% of businesses in the UK have reported worker shortages, the need to find candidates is on the rise and employers can’t afford to exclude any demographics and limit their pool of candidates.
With autistic individuals being more likely to go through mental and physical challenges in comparison to neurotypical people, organisations that acknowledge and champion autism awareness in the workplace can create greater strides in neuro and cognitive diversity. Unfortunately, modern workplaces aren’t designed to accommodate these differences even though gradual progress is being made.
Some autistic individuals face several setbacks when it comes to social interactions but there are others who bring valuable skills and characteristics to the workplace. For instance, some autistic individuals exhibit high problem-solving skills which helps them excel in attention to detail and concentration.
Even though diversity and inclusion are seen as key drivers in the corporate world, many fail to adopt a holistic approach that includes all overlooked demographics. While inclusivity has made way for different genders, religions, races, and sexual orientations to be widely accepted in workplaces, there’s still more work to be done to embrace neurological and cognitive diversity—autism can be a great way for inclusivity to see real growth and impact.
What does an autism-friendly workplace look like?
Organisations think that the inclusion of individuals on the autism spectrum, or even spreading autism awareness in the workplace, is a tough task. But the truth is that a few simple interventions can make a world of difference.
Here are a few things that businesses can do to help autistic employees feel more comfortable:
- Provide respite from overstimulation with short breaks throughout the day
- Help employees process information by allocating extra time for meetings
- Arrange for a quiet space where employees can de-stress when overstimulated
- Establish flexible working hours to help them work according to a style that works for them
- Improve concentration and reduce anxiety with the availability of sensory toys
Final thoughts on autism awareness in the workplace from Kinhub
In 2022, the UK pledged £8 million to bridge the autism employment gap—this speaks to the importance of why inclusivity of neurodiverse individuals is critical for organisations, especially in the middle of a skills shortage.
Awareness is a great starting point to help neurotypical employees understand the importance of diversity not just concerning genders, religions, and races, but also cognitive differences that can offer new perspectives. Even spreading awareness about employees with autistic children, siblings, or other family members can have a significant impact on how neurodiversity is viewed and accepted in the workplace.