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World Autism Awareness Day 2023


Jane Lang

We can all play a part in creating an autism friendly & inclusive work environment

Sunday 2 April is World Autism Awareness Day, which celebrates autism. This is about recognising the resilience of those affected by autism, promoting awareness and, above all, encouraging acceptance and understanding for a more inclusive world.

According to the World Health Organisation, around 1% of the world’s population have autism (75m+). However, based on the level of undiagnosed autism, in reality the number may be as high as 2%. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. Although they share some common difficulties, being a spectrum condition, autism affects people in vastly different ways.

For those with autism it can be common to feel the need to mask their authentic selves in order to fit in. Feeling excluded invisible and discriminated against at work or in their day-to-day lives, with mainstream culture narratives more often than not making this worse by portraying stereotypes such as unemotional almost robotic people. The issue here is not the person in question but perhaps a miseducation surrounding what it means to be autistic, especially in the workplace.

Many adults with autism have a difficult time achieving employment with the unemployment rate of autistic people remaining disturbingly high, this may be attributed to not fitting the ‘common profiles’ sought by employers. Yet neurodivergent individuals such as those with autism have extraordinary skillsets, often bringing diverse thinking and perspectives that promote innovation and creativity. It is well known that diverse organisations tend to produce more innovative approaches – something put down to having more people that think differently working together.

At QinetiQ diversity and inclusion is a vital part of our employee offering. Creating a workplace and culture where everyone can be authentic, feel valued and realise their full potential is a priority. We aim to create a workplace that embraces and leverages the value of difference through inclusion, diversity and belonging. We know that our differences make us stronger together.

World Autism Awareness Day offers the perfect opportunity to reflect on what we can all do to create an Autism friendly and inclusive workplace.

Adjustments relating to autism are often very specific to the individual, because the range, severity and scope of the traits can vary so much, but there are a number of changes that we can all implement to make an autism friendly workplace, we have outlined seven of these below.

Seven ways we can all support creating an autism friendly work environment
  1. Avoid making assumptions: Make an effort to get to know people and their individual characteristics. Being curious, respectful, kind, and patient, while trying to help or engage with an individual with autism is a step towards acceptance and promoting inclusivity.
  2. Communication: Be aware that different methods of communication suit different people (e.g. verbal or written); individuals may not actively contribute in group meetings therefore putting processes in place to allow for input afterwards, such as in writing or a one-to-one session can provide this opportunity. Avoid ambiguity, unnecessary detail, be clear, literal and specific to reduce misunderstandings.
  3. Reduce change: Change can be stressful so reduce that stress by giving advance notice of change and the reasons for change.
  4. Meetings: Provide advance notice of meetings. Agree on meetings in advance. Offer a quick outline of what topics will be discussed and whether or not autistic colleagues will be required to contribute. Helping autistic colleagues feel prepared can minimise anxiety and make meetings more accessible.
  5. Social Interaction: This goes together with communication. We all communicate and interact differently. Recognising that some people with autism may not make eye contact or may make brief eye contact can help us to better interact with those with autism. They may also be more direct without small talk or filter.
  6. Workspaces: Look for ways to reduce sensory distraction in shared workspaces. For example, maximising natural light, reduce strong smells and noises. While many autistic workers are very sociable and perfectly comfortable with working in open-plan offices, some may find it important to have a quiet space to retreat to.
  7. Educate yourself: Invest time and effort in learning how to engage more and in different ways with individuals with autism, this helps to promote inclusivity, spread awareness, and increase acceptance of differences.

Together we can create an inclusive and autism friendly workplace. This starts with simply being more aware of the different and diverse ways each of us engage with our worlds. This understanding allows us to make small adjustments that recognise, and are inclusive of, those differences.