Guide for managers

With recognition, awareness and diagnosis of autism spectrum conditions on the increase, it’s imperative that organisations, in particular managers, are equipped with the skills necessary to manage diverse workforces.

Given this, my blog will focus on tips that I would give to a line manager managing an autistic employee, based on my personal experiences of having worked in a range of workspaces – and from being autistic myself.

1. Terminology

Firstly, a note on language: in the UK, the preference is to say that the person is autistic, as opposed to ‘a person with autism’. People are born with autism, and it is an integral part of who we are. Also, avoiding language that suggests that one ‘suffers with autism’ is also crucial. We all possess strengths and weaknesses and it’s about having those discussions to see what is affecting the person, and what can be done to help overcome these issues. And equally seeing what their strengths are. It is best to view autism as a difference rather than a limitation or disorder. For more information on language to use, please read about ‘the terms we use’.

2. Direct communication

When communicating with an autistic employee, it’s best to be clear, and to use direct, to-the-point language that avoids irony, euphemisms and other non-literal speech. This way they will have a better understanding of what you mean, and what you want from them. This may mean using email to clarify conversations that have taken place face-to-face, and to perhaps veer towards bullet-pointed lists if there are multiple points being made.

Aside from the day-to-day communication, direct communication should also be reflected in wider company stance on clear communications, which extends to unambiguous language in job descriptions, general company signage, codes of conduct, as well as the intranet site.

3. Consistency

This is the key to life for me. I like to know what’s happening; when and where. I want to know what will be taking place in the days ahead. I bask in the rhythm of routine. Last minute changes are hugely disruptive and affecting, and can lead to overwhelm, anxiety and meltdown. Where possible, try to keep a steady schedule for your autistic employee with minimal changes. This extends to having a consistent workstation in the office (no hot-desking).

4. A defined set of responsibilities

Provide clear guidelines, targets and deadlines for the tasks in hand. And make them timely. Don’t assume they will understand the context of a task, and take the time to fill in the gaps in what you tell them. This will help your autistic employee plan their work and to ask questions ahead of time in terms of any holes in their understanding. This will help minimise stress and anxiety, and make working a more positive experience for all parties.

5. Regular catch-ups and feedback

I have always found this a useful to way to check-in and discuss my workload, as well as to ensure that I have understood my priorities correctly. The latter point is especially useful, as sometimes a colleague may communicate that something is critical, and use body language that suggests urgency, however I won’t necessarily be able to ‘read between the lines’ and understand its true importance. These situations I find really confusing, but by having regular catch-ups with a manager, you can sense check that you’ve understood things properly – and alter course if necessary.

I also find receiving feedback helpful more generally, just to see how I’m doing and whether I’m ‘getting it right’. When given constructively, I find I’m striving forward, as I’m supported and have a manager that I can trust and turn to. Equally if things aren’t going well, or as expected, these catch-ups are important in spotting issues early on and finding solutions for them. Diarise these sessions in advance, make them regular and at consistent times.

6. Flexible working

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