Flexible Workplace, Flexible Workforce

Workplace adaptations (know as ‘reasonable adjustments’) for an autistic person in the workplace are often very easy to introduce: there may be no cost but these small changes can make a huge difference to the autistic employee and therefore to their effectiveness and productivity at work. The changes can – and often do – also enhance the employment experience of current employees.

What will be useful will depend on the person, so it is very important that adjustments are individualised. Sometimes the person will be able to identify the changes they need and make them, on other occasions the employer may need to implement the change.

It is useful to bear in mind that adjustments generally depend on an employee making a decision to raise an issue. For many adults on the autism spectrum, defining themselves as disabled or having a health condition is a complex and personal set of decisions. Taking the decision to discuss an autism spectrum condition with an employer is often something people approach with a range of uncertainties and concerns.

As an employer, one of the most helpful starting points is to listen carefully, keep an open mind and not jump to any conclusions.

As noted above, often these small changes will also be of benefit to other employees – for example good communication, clearly defined procedures and structures and willingness to be flexible are positives for the whole workplace.

Under the Equality Act 2010, autism and Asperger’s Syndrome are defined as disabilities, and employers have a responsibility under this Act to make any reasonable adjustments to remove disadvantage faced due to disability.

Adjustments can sometimes be funded through the Government scheme ‘Access to Work‘, more information about this can be found below.

Below you will find some real life examples of things that have made a difference to autistic people in Scotland, and some links to further information and advice about changes that might be made.

Examples of reasonable adjustments

Recruitment

Various sensory, social and cognitive issues may present problems for autistic people (and others) in the recruitment process. For instance, in order to find the best candidate for the post, it might be best to:

  • Be clear in the job description about what exactly the post requires, rather than using hyperbole (such as an “excellent communicator”)
  • Make competency questions available to the candidates before the interview (to allow time to think about the best response)
  • Use more discursive and less formal interview techniques
  • Allow pre-interview visits to the site.

Sensory adjustments

Sensory sensitivities are common in autism and can affect the person in very different ways but simple solutions can easily be implemented
• Using a desk lamp rather than overhead florescent lighting
• Resetting the colours scheme on a computer screen to white on black

Environmental adaptations

Sometimes a simple adjustment to the working environment can make a huge difference
• Turning a desk around so the person does not sit with their back to the room

Organising the working environment

The way the working day and environment is managed can be difficult to understand or cope with but with a small change the person, and often the whole workforce, can benefit
• Having agendas for meetings in advance and sticking to them

Workplace expectations

As a result of the challenges of the impact of autism on a person’s communication and social understanding , the social rules of the workplace may be difficult to understand or follow
• Compressed hours
• Dress code

Remember – no one will need all these adjustments! One or two simple changes are often enough easily implemented but can make all the difference.

Access to Work

Access to Work is a government initiative which can pay for support for employees on the autism spectrum. It can pay for things like adaptations to equipment, awareness training for colleagues, a buddy or support worker for the employee, or a range of other supports. How much money is awarded, and what is funded, depends on individual circumstances. Access to Work funding can cover support to help someone start work or to stay in work.

It is important to talk to your (prospective) employee about what support they need, as everyone is different. Many people do not know about Access to Work, so it is helpful to make sure that the individual knows that this is an option, what could be offered to them through this, and how they can apply if they think that it would help them.

Examples of successful use of Access to Work

We will add to this section useful examples of real situations where Access to Work has been used successfully. If you have an example you would like to be included, please contact us.

Further Information and Support

If you would like more information about any of the above, or would like to know more about what support is available to you and your employees, please contact us and we would be happy to discuss this with you.

You can also visit our Useful Links and Documents page to find further information about autism and employment.

Autism and Employment Network

Autism Network Scotland facilitates the Autism and Employment Network which aims to provide a forum for sharing information and good practice, highlight common challenges and promote the benefits autistic people can bring to the workplace.

The Employment Network meets quarterly in Glasgow and is currently chaired by Richard Ibbotson (Director, Richmond Fellowship Scotland) and includes representatives from National Autistic Society, Scottish Autism, IntoWork,IWORK4ME, Speaking Literally, Values Into Action Scotland, Skills Development Scotland, Scottish Union of Supported Employment, College Development Network,Glasgow and Edinburgh One Stop Shops and others.

If an organisation wishes to be involved in the Employment Network please contact Annie Watson at Autism Network Scotland via our contact page.