Top tips for supporting autistic employees in the workplace
No two people are alike, and this is the same for autistic people.
The following tips are based on the most frequently offered advice we give to employers.
Discuss adjustments with your employee, find out what they think might help and if they have had useful adjustments in previous workplaces.
- Give clear and concise instructions- follow up conversations with written instructions if needed. Do not assume anything- ask.
- Avoid any play on words, sarcasm or ambiguity which can be confusing.
- Ensure conversations happen in a distraction free environment where possible.
- Confirm that your employee understands your instructions.
- Schedule regular one to one meetings to check that your employee has all the support they need and to discuss any concerns either of you may have.
- Raise any concerns that arise as soon as possible – give clear explanations of expectations.
- Communicate any changes to a schedule or work task as early as possible, to give your employee time to adjust.
- Some autistic people need additional time to process information and respond- sending agendas or information before meetings may help your employee feel more prepared and able to contribute.
- Bear in mind that your employee may not be aware of ‘unwritten rules’- these may need to be explained gently but clearly if an issue arises.
Some autistic people experience sensory sensitivities so you may need to ask them if they are affected by lighting, background noise, or smells.
- Consider the lighting where your employee is sitting- can they sit nearer or further away from a window, dim their computer screen, adjust the light in their part of the workplace?
- If noise is an issue- consider your employee having access to a quieter room/area in the workplace or providing noise cancelling headphones or earplugs
- If smells are disturbing your employee- depending on what the smell is, consider moving them away from the kitchen or wherever the smell is coming from.
- A messy environment is not pleasant for anyone to work in, but may be more distracting for an autistic employee- try to ensure clear workspaces.
- Your employee may find it helpful for you to help them manage their time by supporting them to add tasks to their calendar or providing a timetable
- Consider adjusted working hours for an autistic employee who struggles to travel during rush-hour.
- If the job allows and your employee would be more comfortable, consider offering homeworking for all of some of the week- they may be able to better manage their environment and focus better.
- Disclosure- What does the individual want their peers to know? Will that involve any training requirements?
Ask the individual if there is anything that you can do to support them that they have used in previous jobs. Be mindful of the needs of the individual and actively seek to change your approach to accommodate any additional support which a co-worker or employee may have.
Be clear and concise when giving instructions by using clear and simple language. Play on words and undertones of sarcasm or ambiguity can be confusing – Some individuals may benefit from written instructions. Email can be a good way to send information and communicate. Be methodical in your approach to enable clarity of information.
Remove barriers to receiving instruction; for example, being in a quiet environment. Loud noises are distracting for anyone.
Regular chats may be needed to make sure everything is ok? Schedule these in and ask directly how an individual is finding work. This will help when issues arise as nothing should not come as a surprise. Anything that arises needs to be discussed asap. The individual may need time to process information. Enable an individual to respond in their own time
Be adaptable and vigilant. We all have personal work styles, but an autistic individual may require adjustments to be put in place to enable them to perform and communicate as well as they can in the workplace. This can includes working from home and adjusted hours.
If appropriate some individuals may like to use a timetable to plan their tasks for the day, including breaks and start and finish times.
If an individual is late in, or late back from breaks, be honest and explain why this may be an issue. Put it in context and see how reasonable adjustments may help support the individual. If may be that the individual is overwhelmed or agitated, speak to them in quieter moments about ways in which they cope and how you can help.
Try to give an individual as much notice as possible about any changes. Adjustments and support can then be put in place.
If there is an issue with personal hygiene/dress code or any other workplace ‘rules’ discuss this this with the individual, if someone is not informed they may not know there is an issue. Unwritten rules can be difficult for an autistic person to understand and support and adjustments may be needed.