Managing and developing employees

Many autistic people have excellent technical and creative skills but may struggle more with the sensory and social environment. It is essential that you take the time to understand how autism affects the person you are working with, so that you are able to meet your legal responsibilities under the Equalities Act (2010) and Northern Ireland Disability Discrimination Act.

Autistic employees may struggle with:

  • Communicating with other people, misunderstanding social cues and may be misinterpreted by colleagues as being rude or unfriendly
  • Sensory environment in the office, especially being more sensitive to lights, sound and smell which can cause pain and increase anxiety
  • Unstructured time, changes to working routines and unclear expectations
  • Participating in meetings, team building and social activities

In a noisy place I can’t understand speech, because I cannot screen out the background noise.

Dr Temple Grandin – Thinking in Pictures, 2006

You will help your autistic employee to succeed if you:

  • Train and develop the individual for their exceptional abilities – even if these don’t relate to their current assignment
  • Look for where the individual can deliver the most value to the company
  • Be clear and specific – explain exactly what you need, ideally in writing, so your employee can go back to your instructions for reassurance
  • Meet regularly and often – so that you can work on any issues that arise promptly. Many autistic people will struggle if issues are not addressed.
  • Be aware that many autistic people have been bullied – they may be very sensitive to criticism as a result. Bullying happens in workplaces as well as in schools and they may need help to resolve issues that arise
  • Adapt the sensory environment – work with the autistic person to create an environment where they can work well.
  • Create predictability and structure – For example, offer an allocated desk, rather than hot desking and diarise regular meetings.
  • Provide support for transitions – many autistic people struggle with change so provide support and plan changes