Autism Spectrum - Difficulties and Strengths for Life and Work

Autism is a developmental condition affecting communication, social interaction, and language skills.  It can cause problems with social skills, behaviour and sensory issues, as people can be over and under-sensitive to certain sounds, tastes and textures.  People with Autism process more information from their senses, so aspects of the environment do seem more vivid and they do this quickly.  It can cause repetitive behaviour and a desire for routine and structure, a dislike of change.  It can cause fixed interests and difficulties with flexible thought.  It is thought to affect at least 1 in 100 people (NHS 2019).  It makes starting and maintaining conversations and friendships more challenging.  It is a spectrum and can affect people in varying and different ways.  It affects how they experience the world around them and how they manage social situations. They can find it hard to read other people’s emotions and express their own emotions.  Both verbal and non-verbal communication can be hard.  They find it hard to imagine situations.

What are Autism Spectrum Conditions?  NAS short video clip.

There are some real potential strengths in the work setting, such as with information processing and memory, with attention to the details and spotting errors or patterns, with the liking for routine, the dedication and honesty.  As people with Autism will know, their condition can also give them valuable workplace qualities and skills.  For example, they can have a very logical factual mind and a good memory for facts.  Often, they enjoy repetitive tasks.  They can be very reliable and organised, completing tasks systematically.  At work, people with Autism need to work with there employer to maximise their abilities and developing strategies for their difficulties, like developing routines and structure, using visual reinforcement where possible and sequencing tasks, as well as, where possible, planning ahead.  To encourage their best work and reduce stress, thought should be put into their workstation, such as, having a quiet office.  They need to stay aware their time needs balancing on all aspects of their job role, coaching from Access to Work could help if needed.  Instructions need to be clear and direct and not open-ended.  Feedback for work needs to be regular, constructive and direct.   

In a work setting, the types of difficulty someone on the Autism spectrum may face (although everyone is different) include problems socially, such as understanding unspoken social rules or parts of organisational culture.  Problems therefore with co-workers, such as understanding jokes, there can be a tendency to take language too literally and struggle also with hypothetical situations.  They may come across over-blunt or rude unintentionally as they can be very honest but struggle with social rules and clues.  There may be problems with oral tasks, like making phone calls or speaking up in meetings or if needed asking for help.  Problems with sensitivity to certain sounds, being over or under-sensitive to noise or lighting can lead to burn out.  Problems working in an open office and there may be problems managing change and wanting a routine.  Problems following a dress code due to problems with certain textures.  These are, however, generalisations and you need to work with the person to understand their strengths, and difficulties and not make assumptions.  If you have Autism, you may like to consider sitting down with your manager or HR and discussing your situation and any reasonable adjustments you may feel you would benefit from, as workplaces have a legal duty under the Equality Act (2010).

You may like to get a Clear Talents Profile.  You can discuss with your boss, as this would help explain your strengths and difficulties so you get the chance to perform at your best and be treated fairly.  It is a good way to identify strategies that you may not have thought of without this online assessment.     

Also, you may like to apply for Access to Work, a Government fund to minimise your disability at work.  If you do not know how they can help, you can have an in-work assessment by them and they can make recommendations for equipment or coaching/mentoring or training for you on what to expect in the workplace from the NAS.  They can also recommend training for the people you work with, but it is up to you what help you accept.

To understand Autism better, you may find it useful to watch the following clips:

The National Autistic Society Too Much Information Campaign

This explains what it is like to have Autism.  It shows a short video clip showing a young person and her day and how the interaction with the environment and others can sometimes lead to sensory overload and too much information.

NAS - Could you face the rejection?

NAS short video clip, Life with Autism and job interviews.  What the experience can be like going to an interview.

Autism Speaks

This shows a video of a young woman with non-verbal autism and her frustrations day-to-day.  In this clip, it is her experience in a busy cafe with her family causing her anxiety and sensory overload.

The Autism Act (2009)

This focuses on improving the provision, services and support for those with Autism.  The intention being to improve general public understanding of the condition, improving employment and education options, improvements to mental and physical health provisions for those with autism.  Also, improving support into adulthood and providing options for adult diagnoses if requested.  It was the result of campaigning by those with autism.