April is Autism Awareness month.
According to AsIAm, Ireland’s national autism charity, autism or autism spectrum disorder can be defined as ‘a neurological difference that many people are born with which affects how they experience the world around them and how they communicate with others.
Navigating the world as an autistic person can be difficult as you can feel overwhelmed by noises, smells, large groups of people or unfamiliar situations such as job interviews. So how can employers ensure that their workplace and recruitment processes are accessible to autistic people?
In 2021 AsIAm and IrishJobs.ie released a report into autism in the workplace which shone a light on the difficulties that autistic people are encountering when seeking employment. 9 in 10 autistic people believe that their autism makes it difficult to get a job while 60% felt that recruitment processes aren’t accessible to autistic people. Sadly, 75% of those surveyed felt that they couldn’t be open about their autism diagnosis at work.
Some of the common barriers that autistic people face at work or when seeking work include different communication styles not being recognised, having to explain an autism diagnosis and access needs to managers and colleagues and outdated perceptions of autism. However, the employers surveyed that did employ autistic people recognised that autistic people make a positive contribution to the workplace.
Accessibility is a continuous journey for employers meaning they should be reviewing their recruitment practices frequently and striving for consistent improvements. So what can be done to make your workplace more accessible for autistic people?
Firstly, examine your recruitment process. Applying for jobs is a nerve-wracking process at the best of times. Review where you hold the interviews. Is it in a busy part of your office with a lot of noise? Is there bright fluorescent lighting? These can be very distracting for autistic people as they can cause sensory overload. Consider if the interview can be done online instead and ensure that anyone interviewing has the option to choose.
Language is also crucial. Be clear and direct what you’re saying as autistic people can think in very literal terms. Avoid generalisations and vague answers. Also if the person isn’t making eye contact, do not assume that they’re not interested or engaged. An autistic applicant looking down or away is often a sign they are listening or thinking carefully. Ensure that all the accommodations that you make are included in the job posting too.
In the Workplace
Employers should carefully consider what supports can be used to empower and optimize autistic adults in their work. The supports may vary depending on the autistic person’s sensory needs and preferred communication style. Some autistic people may prefer to communicate via voice notes while others may only text. If in doubt about what reasonable accommodations to provide, just ask! The autistic person in question is best qualified to inform you of what supports they may require.
It’s important to note that employers are obliged to provide these accommodations under Section 16 of the Employment Equality Act if an employee decides to disclose that they’re autistic. Denying Reasonable Accommodation to employees constitutes as discrimination under the Act, unless applying the accommodation would pose a ‘disproportionate burden’ on the employer.
Remember, everyone is learning all the time. You can organise a training day for you and your employees around autism and neurodiversity which will help you become more accommodating in your workplaces. There are many organisations that can facilitate this for you.
Finally, there is no harm in asking questions. Be open, flexible and willing to learn. You and your workplace will reap the benefits!