This blog was originally circulated by Leicestershire Police to its officers and staff as part of Autism Awareness Week 2019 – reproduced here with permission
Because of the issues people with autism have with communication, it will be necessary for managers to make adjustments in how they would normally communicate, to enable an employee to perform at their full potential, or at least to ‘level the playing field’ so they’re not being held back by some aspect of the job or working environment. It should be viewed as a positive step to get the best out of the employee, and not agreed to grudgingly by management.
Managers (and colleagues) should consider the following reasonable adjustments:
Communicate with the autistic person via email, including requests for meetings and individual emails regarding any instructions, changes in routine, role, tasks, duties, etc. Many people with autism, are able to understand and explain things much better through the written word. Verbal conversations on the emails can confirm and check understanding of what has been communicated/written.
- This will prevent misunderstandings and ensures the message is communicated in a format and way the person can understand, digest and remember
- Having instructions, and in particular, changes, written down, helps the autistic person learn and adapt quicker. It will be a written reminder / record for the autistic person, and in the case of any changes or instructions, they can be memorised and learnt at their pace, to enable the person to adapt, do what is required of them, and to perform well
- Clear, factual and concise instructions in writing will help avoid any ambiguity and uncertainty. If instructions were to change, written instructions and saying they have changed will avoid confusion
- It will prevent the autistic person from becoming stressed and anxious, which can lead to sickness absences
- They may need something to be repeated to them again and again, if you only communicate verbally, or demonstrated in practice, for the autistic person to understand what is required of them
Allowing time for a response
- Autistic people may spend a bit more time thinking about what they need to say to get their point across
- They will need time to process what is being said
- If the person feels they has missed something, explain to them what they have done well but what else is needed to improve the work
- An employee with autism can deal well with changes to their schedule, however very large organisational changes may cause stress and anxiety. If this happens they are likely to become very quiet and may stutter when speaking
- Sometime a person with autism doesn’t always realise when they are stressed, so they could ask that staff point out to him that their mood is different. They may need a quiet space to calm down and allow time for the stress / anxiety to pass
- Try to avoid changes to the employee’s timetable without a minimum of a set amount of notice being given
- Bright lighting, particularly in small rooms, can cause eye twitching, difficulty reading and writing, and quickly cause headaches. A reasonable adjustment would be placing employee in a suitably lit area or keeping a particular light permanently switched off putting the person in an area of the office with lower lighting levels
- Additional breaks during the working day, which will enable them to have down time to restore calm and over-sensitivity for a while
- Working in a noisy office will greatly affect those with autism and their ability to focus, do their job and remain calm. This is easily remedied by allowing regular and possibly extensive use of earphones or earplugs. There is a headset device which blocks out ambient noise and enables the person to hear for example, someone on the phone and allows them to concentrate on the call and what they need to do
- Whenever possible, reduce the person’s exposure to the noisy environment. This could be by placing the employee at a desk to the side of the office so at least one side of them which has no sources of sounds, or allowing the employee to work in a quieter area from time to time if needed
- Staff need to be aware of the employee’s sensitivities and why they may use certain equipment at times, which helps keep them calm, focused and enables they to do their job well
These are only a small proportion of issues people with autism may face in the workplace. By considering and adjusting the needs of the autistic person, they will be supported in their role, you will get the best out of them, and use their strengths to the benefit of the organisation. Making reasonable adjustments will show you respect the individual’s learning style – we should work with it, not against it.
The government’s Access to Work scheme has been set up to consider funding applications for many different types of reasonable adjustments in the workplace including assistive resources, support workers, training and workplace assessments. ∎