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Understanding Autism – A Guide for Employers

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Understanding Autism – A Guide for Employers

Claire Smith  CEO Autistic Nottingham

As an employer, I absolutely dread hiring. The paperwork, the advertising, the interviewing, it’s all a lot of stress to fill in a gap in the team. As an organisation entirely run by Autistic people, we are fully equipped to employ and support other Autistic team members, but this is something that can strike dread into the hearts of other employers.A dread that is completely unfounded, and let me explain why. Here at Autistic Nottingham we, unfortunately, have a combined experience of how that “new job feeling” can quickly turn sour and this all starts, with perception. A longstanding misconception around Autism Spectrum Conditions (ASC’s) is that they are a learning disability, and here’s where we need to learn some important terminology:

Learning Disability:

Lower intellectual ability, usually defined as an IQ of less than 70.

(NICE Guidance 2019)

Learning Difficulty:

Affects the way information is learned and processed. They are neurological rather than psychological, and usually run in families and occur independently of intelligence

(British Dyslexia Association 2019)

“What many people are expecting when they hear a person has an ASC is someone with a lowered intelligence, and we need to shift that perception right from the start of the working relationship.”

We, as employers, need to be seeing an intelligent person who has gotten through your recruitment process successfully and may require some adjustments to thrive in their new working environment. Often when we talk about “reasonable adjustments” employers start to fret over costs of special equipment but this is not always necessary.

Take time to understand any specific needs.

During your new recruit’s induction week, take time to sit down and find out what their specific needs and difficulties are. This is a great time to ask questions about the individual, what difficulties they may have in general (such as hyper/hypo sensitivities) and also what strengths they have. Many employers have the instant reaction that a disability is nothing but negatives, but Autistic employees can come with many strengths linked to their Autism. Some Autistic people will say that their lack of interest in socialising is a huge strength, as they do not wish to spend their time talking to their colleagues, they just wish to get on with their work. Others will say their hyper-focus or attention to fine details is what could positively set them apart from their colleagues. These, of course, as just examples. If you’ve met one Autistic person, you’ve met one Autistic person, there isn’t a “one size fits all” supportive approach or presentation of ASC’s.

Apply to the “Access to Work” scheme

Use time during their induction to apply to the “Access to Work Scheme”,  This scheme can fund additional training for your staff and if this is your first (or at least the first that you’re aware of) Autistic staff member, providing training for the team that will be working with them can make a huge improvement. Giving everyone a base understanding of what Autism is, how people on the Spectrum see the world, what difficulties they could face. etc will save a lot of issues in your team further down the line. Always use a training provider who is on the Spectrum themselves, instead of a non-Autistic person who has studied the condition or “has a family member on the Spectrum”. This way you will get the best first-hand knowledge as well as supporting employment for Autistic people elsewhere, as well as within your own company.

Be flexible, and ready to adapt

The rate in adult diagnoses of Autism is greatly increasing, whereas the number of Autistic adults in steady and appropriate work in swiftly declining. This very real discrepancy can be fixed by employers who are flexible and ready to adapt. Autistic people are a huge untapped resource in most areas, and come with a lot of positives and strength that can only improve your business for the better, and all you need to do is be an employer with an open mind and an open door.

Claire Smith

CEO Autistic Nottingham



Autistic Nottingham is a registered charity that is entirely run by and for Autistic adults without learning disabilities. It started as a social meet up where adults on the Spectrum could socialise in a safe space, but over time it became apparent of the large lack of services for people like themselves. Over the course of two years Autistic Nottingham has grown from a small local social meet up, to a registered charity with an executive and trustee committee made entirely of people on the Autism Spectrum. Autistic Nottingham currently runs a fully funded Autism Advocacy service as well as being a provider of community support and training to employers/employees and other charities