It’s no secret that employment is a massive issue in the autism community. To be more specific, the lack of employment opportunities available to autistic adults is often talked about. According to the National Autistic Society (NAS), only 15% are in full-time paid employment.
The NAS also claim that nearly four out of every five autistic adults on out-of-work benefits such as Jobseeker’s Allowance actually want to work. This shows that there is a sizeable pool of untapped talent out there that many employers have ignored.
While there are so many things that need to be done in relation to getting people into work, what happens for those of us who are in jobs? Well, as this blog post will discuss, there are a few hurdles to overcome, but they can be done so if reasonable adjustments are in place.
For those among us who are in work or are about to start work, there are usually a few problems we might face. In the typical workspace – an open-plan, office environment – sensory overload could happen very easily.
Bright colours and busy patterns on the walls, floor and ceiling, background noise and so many things going on at once can, at best, distract us from our jobs. At worst, all that could cause a meltdown or shutdown if it becomes too much to cope with. Then, there’s the social aspect of work, where there are expectations of being able to fit in and get on with colleagues.
Finally, the job itself – will there be a set list of things to do over the course of each day, week and month? If there are a series of ad hoc tasks or if an autistic worker is expected to do several things at a time, it could see them lose track of what they were doing in the first place.
What are reasonable adjustments?
Reasonable adjustments are aids that should make doing a job far easier. They can help to do such things as prevent sensory overload, manage workloads, make communication with other members of staff more comfortable and ensure that all tasks are clearly set out.
Many autistic adults who are in work might not feel confident enough to ask their employer for them. However, employers do have a duty to ensure that the needs of their autistic employees are being met, whether it’s around sensory issues or what the job itself actually entails.
Here is a list of examples:
- Noise-cancelling headphones. These help to block out background noise in a busy office or warehouse
- A screen filter for a laptop or desktop PC monitor. This helps to make a screen seem less bright, minimising the risk of sensory overload
- Use of a quiet, secluded part of the workplace – this is useful for avoiding all the noise and movement that can trigger sensory overload if it gets too much
- Time management and project management apps. These can help with scheduling tasks and finding out what’s happening on each day
- Instant messaging and text-to-speech apps. For those who are non-verbal or aren’t confident in using the phone or face-to-face conversation, these apps can help to break down communication barriers
- Ergonomic equipment such as keyboards, mice, trackpads and other tools like that can help to make an autistic employee feel more comfortable
- Flexible hours – a working pattern to suit the needs and body clock of an autistic employee
- Exemption from team meetings and social gatherings. This comes in the form of permission to miss out on team-building exercises, meetings, brainstorming sessions and team nights out
- Exemption from meeting clients – this is down to communication issues some autistic people face, rather than anything else
Asking for them
Most of these can be done pretty easily and cheaply, but how can they be put in place? Well, it can be done by going down one of two routes. The first is to ask the employer for a meeting to ask for reasonable adjustments. The second is to apply for Access to Work funding, either yourself or through the employer.
To ask the employer directly, try to think about the following:
- What reasonable adjustments are needed
- What sensory issues are experienced – light, sound, colours, space, scent, too much happening at the same time
- Is there any equipment available e.g. headphones, apps
- How much do they cost
If asking the employer directly, try to think about the above points before talking to them. Send them an email or ask them in person; email is better for getting your points across. Then, you’ll be able to have that meeting and say what it is you need to do your job better. Explain why you need those reasonable adjustments too and relate them to autism, if possible.
Asking for funding
As for applying for Access to Work funding, you can ask for it if:
- You’ve got an interview coming up
- You have just started a job
- You are self-employed or are in a job already
Next, you need to print off a letter and hand it to your employer. Soon afterwards, an adviser will be back in touch. How long a response takes to come in depends on what adjustments are needed.
If it comes off, Access to Work can pay for things like travel, apps, equipment like keyboards and even awareness training for your workplace.
Getting reasonable adjustments at work isn’t as easy as it may sound, but it’s worth the effort. By getting equipment and support needed to make your job easier, it will benefit both you and your employer in the long run.