Tips for employers – supporting autistic colleagues

There is a growing awareness for employers about neurodiversity and conditions such as autism spectrum conditions (ASC). However, it may be daunting as a manager to be approached by an employee who has disclosed their ASC diagnosis, especially if you have not had previous experience or training in supporting neurodiverse individuals. Here are some tips to help you begin to make modifications and adjustments in the workplace: 

Educate yourself

Find out more about the condition so you can anticipate what supports would benefit your employee and business and get a better understanding on the reason behind some of your employee’s behaviours.  

Involve the individual

Every individual with ASC might need support in a unique way and struggle in different areas. Many adults do not have issues with sensory sensitivities, for example, but some may. Even if you have supported other individuals with ASC, it is important to get to know the person you are supporting and ask them how they can best be supported by you. 

Modify the work environment

The environment can have a significant impact on neurodivergent individuals. Some people may benefit from an open-plan office, while others need to work away from distractions. Remote working may be a satisfactory solution for individuals that get easily distracted by working with others but might not suit someone who gets motivated by being around co-workers. Many individuals on the spectrum can be sensitive to bright or artificial lighting, struggle with loud noises or overlapping noises (like a busy open-plan office) so take the time to find the best working environment for your employee or make suitable reasonable adjustments.  

Positive reinforcement

Warnings and reprimands can have a very damaging effect on many individuals with ASC They can be overly sensitive to rejection and for some individuals this can feel like an intense pain. To help motivate and support an employee, try to use positive reinforcement and constructive feedback to correct errors, building on strengths and collaborate around solving any mistakes.  

Write down tasks

Many individuals with ASC have a strong visual memory and prefer to receive information in a visual way. They may also suffer from anxiety if they are sensitive to rejection and failure so provide instructions, tasks, and requests in writing and then it can be referred to again in the future. It may help to prioritize too if an employee struggles with that executive functioning skill.  

Short-term deadlines

Some employees with ASC work much better when there are short, attainable goals to focus on. It can be a struggle to keep an elevated level of focus on a task that is not due for several weeks or months. Make sure there is a clear deadline and help the individual break down a larger or longer task into more attainable short-term goals, to help keep motivation and focus. 

Get to know your employee

The best way to support someone with ASC is to take the time to get to know them, their strengths, passions, interests, and capabilities. You can often resolve minor issues by having a direct and honest conversation with your employee. They will usually explain why something is a challenge or provide useful information. This also allows you to tailor their position to best suit their strengths.  

Find out more about our workplace coaching and how we can support you and your employee via our Access to Work programme.

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