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Workplace culture must change to help autistic people succeed in work

(Alamy)

3 min read

Autistic people have told us loud and clear that while they might have very different needs, they share a common aspiration: equality of dignity and opportunity in society.

But over 10 months of engaging with hundreds of autistic people about their experiences revealed that, regrettably, we have a long way to go to get there.  

Unfair hiring practices hampering their progress. Discrimination and a lack of understanding holding them back. Employers unwilling to make the necessary adjustments to help them flourish. 

These are troubling findings. And they expose a scandalous waste of potential at a time the labour market is crying out for untapped talent. 

Generic job descriptions and ambiguous interview questions disproportionately disadvantage autistic people

So we’re going to do something about it. 

The Buckland Review of Autism Employment, published today, sets out 19 recommendations for how businesses can work with government to harness the talents and drive of those written off because of a ‘neurodiverse’ label. 

These are practical steps which could make a real difference. Training packages focused on autistic staff. Design guides for autism-appropriate spaces. IT systems that meet autistic people’s needs. 

We need a collaborative approach if we are to succeed; businesses have an important part to play if we are to effect the radical change which is required. 

So our message to employers is clear: come with us, and open up opportunity to thousands just waiting to be given a chance. 

When we took on a wholesale review of autism employment – launched on World Autism Acceptance Day last year – we specifically wanted to help the thousands of autistic people who are keen to get out into the world of work, but face barriers at every turn.  

We know the majority of autistic people want to work, yet just three in 10 are currently in employment.  

Autistic employees can be more tightly focused and dedicated to the task than their neurotypical colleagues, and can be much more productive overall. Yet this high productivity is often not rewarded with job security and progression.   

And that’s not the only way the odds are stacked against them. Generic job descriptions and ambiguous interview questions disproportionately disadvantage autistic people. Challenging sensory environments can make things more difficult. 

At the heart of all of this is the need for a cultural shift. We are grateful to the employers who want to make a difference and charities committed to the cause – including the fantastic organisation Autistica – for their vital contributions to the Review. 

They, like government, recognise we must work together to shift the dial. 

For the government’s part, we are focusing on what people can do, rather than what they can’t.  

We have already succeeded in getting one million more disabled people into employment, five years ahead of schedule, with tailored support helping claimants realise their potential. 

The £2.5bn Back to Work Plan will help thousands of disabled people start and succeed in work, while the £53m flagship Universal Support programme will give personal adviser-based support to people who face barriers to employment because of ill-health. 

Today is another important moment. There are huge benefits of a neurodiverse workforce to businesses and the wider economy, and above all to autistic people themselves.  

We want to see all autistic people reach their full potential, and all employers recognise and celebrate neurodiversity in all its forms. Together, we can significantly boost autism employment prospects over the next five years 

We will make the workplace more accessible, more open and more tolerant, and we will all reap the benefits.

 

Mel Stride, Conservative MP for Central Devon and Secretary of State for work and pensions. Robert Buckland, Conservative MP for South Swindon and chair of the APPG on Autism.

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