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Make your business more autism friendly defines autism as, ‘...a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world.’ According to recent data, 1 in 57 children in the UK are on the autistic spectrum.

Autistic employees can bring a unique set of strengths and abilities to job roles, including but not limited to high levels of accuracy and focus, reliability and resilience, comprehensive knowledge and understanding and excellent memory skills. Research suggests that businesses who hired autistic people benefited greatly in a number of different areas, including productivity.

However, autistic people also face unique challenges when entering the workplace. If you’d like to make your business more autism friendly, here’s how to do it.

1. Stick to a routine

Autistic people, and those on the autistic spectrum often find the unexpected overwhelming. Change can be enormously difficult to manage, particularly when it hasn’t been properly communicated, or there hasn’t been enough time to process and prepare for it. 

One of the things that can help autistic people manage the complexity of their day to day experiences is by having a routine that is adhered to. For autistic people in the workplace, a routine can provide a sense of safety and control that they are craving. 

A clear and comprehensive onboarding process is often useful. Businesses could also ensure that everyone works at the same desk each day, have consistent break and lunch times, and specific times for online or in-person meetings. Providing employees with plenty of notice for new projects, check-ins and changes will help your autistic employees to feel comfortable and in control.

2. Environment is everything

For autistic people, the workplace environment is very important. Many autistic people struggle with sensory sensitivity; where certain smells, tastes, textures, sounds and sights can be experienced too much, or too little. This can be described as hypersensitivity, and hyposensitivity.

An excess of sensory stimulation can leave autistic people feeling stressed, anxious and angry; a lack of sensory stimulation can be confusing and can be interpreted as the individual ignoring what is happening around them.

Having soft lighting, separate spaces to prepare and eat food, and allowing employees to wear headphones where possible are just some of the ways you can reduce sensory input for your employees. You could also consider having a dedicated space for employees who are feeling stressed or anxious; ideally somewhere quiet.

3. Communication

Autistic people often communicate differently to neurotypical people. They may be less likely to understand sarcasm, slang, jokes or metaphors, and might miss subtext or implied information. They may also struggle to process information quickly.

In the workplace, this means that autistic people could struggle with ill-defined goals, vague or unclear tasks, and information that is communicated to them quickly where they are expected to give a response. 

Employers can help their autistic employees by allowing more processing time, and giving their employees space to consider a question before demanding an answer. They’ll also benefit from clear and concise instructions, as well as direct and straightforward information.

4. Neurodiverse friendly tech 

For autistic people working with technology, there are a number of different challenges. Learning to use a new application may be difficult, and many of the sensory sensitivity issues could also be present when using a screen. Video calls and online meetings can require more processing than in-person communication.

If your employees often work on computers, we’d recommend Microsoft 365. It has a number of different accessibility options including tools which can improve reading comprehension and writing skills, ways to stay focused and organised, and setting up Windows to suit your needs. In Microsoft Teams, attendees can turn on live captions, so they know exactly what is being said. Microsoft Teams also has a Sign Language View, where people who are deaf or hard of hearing can prioritise the video stream of an interpreter. 

To find out more about how you can use Microsoft 365 to support your neurodiverse employees, check out our article

Every autistic person is unique

Autism exists on a spectrum, which means that it affects every autistic person differently and to different extents. The information above acknowledges some of the common themes and issues that autistic people can struggle with, and how businesses can adapt to help their autistic employees thrive in the workplace.

However, if you have an autistic employee that you’d like to support, one of the best ways you can identify the kinds of help that they need is to ask. Remember, the expert on an autistic person’s experiences will always be the autistic person themselves.

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