The National Autistic Society describes autism as a ‘lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.’ Autism is a spectrum condition that is characterised by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviours, speech, and nonverbal communication.

Many autistic people have a variety of sometimes exceptional skills, that enable them to excel in various roles. However, due to other people’s lack of understanding and support for autistic individuals, they unfortunately often struggle to obtain and retain a job. In fact, new data published by the Office for National Statistics, shows that just 22% of autistic adults are in any kind of employment, despite their previous research highlighting that the vast majority want to work.

This blog will explore some of the ways that you can help to support an autistic colleague in the workplace, to help them feel accepted and help them to thrive in their role.

 

Don’t disrupt your colleague’s routine

For many autistic people, structure and routine are essential as they can help to create a sense of organisation and predictability in a world that can sometimes be confusing and overwhelming. Therefore, you should try to avoid disrupting their routine as much as possible by sticking to schedules, and if unavoidable changes occur, you should try to give your colleague as much notice as possible. You may also be required to help your colleague to prioritise activities and organise tasks into timetables for daily, weekly, and monthly activities to help them to avoid feeling overwhelmed.

 

Call out discrimination when you witness it

An autistic individual may feel like they are being bullied or mocked, even if the employee bullying them is unaware that their behaviour is being perceived in this way. If this situation occurs, you should have a private conversation with the individual and make them aware of how their behaviour may be being perceived. Additionally, it is important to call out employees who are intentionally bullying or mocking an autistic colleague, and get management involved, if necessary, to highlight how their behaviour is wrong and will not be tolerated.

 

Clear and unambiguous communication

Vague or nonliteral communication can be difficult for an autistic person to understand. Therefore, when speaking to your colleague, you should say exactly what you mean and not rely on social cues, such as tone of voice or gestures, to get your message across. Additionally, there are many factors, such as obstructive noise or experiencing anxiety, that may cause an autistic person to struggle to process information when communicated with verbally. A commonly preferred way of communication is through writing, as this allows an autistic person more time to process the information, and they are able to refer back to it for clarification.

 

Show support and solidarity

Ask your colleague if there is anything you can do to support them that they have used in previous jobs. Openly discussing this with your colleague will help to adapt your approach to accommodate their needs to help them feel the most comfortable in the workplace. There may be aspects of the working environment that can be adapted to accommodate your colleague’s needs, such as by introducing a quiet room or equipment that can be used to manage sensory sensitivities which may help to decrease their anxiety in the workplace.

 

Actively adapting your behaviour by implementing these supportive strategies will help make your autistic colleague feel supported and valued in the workplace, allowing them the opportunity to reach their full potential and succeed in their role.