Autism and your workplace  

A master in your field with incredible knowledge and passion which radiates brightly as you speak, but yet struggling with employment – or know someone who is?

Unfortunately, this is the case for many individuals on the Autistic Spectrum. In fact, 80% of adults with Autism are unemployed (UN, 2015). A barrier exists between talented individuals and the future workplace, and that barrier is the current mindset within workplace environments.

The challenge

Care and support for Autistic children is growing within the education system and it is clear that early detection and intervention are important factors for development. But what support is available for adults with Autism in the workplace?

It can be a daunting experience for anyone, leaving the education system for the ‘big, wide world of work’. That brings a mixture of nerves, uncertainty and a little excitement at new found independence. For someone with social difficulties where change and the unknown causes distress, this transition can be extremely difficult, especially in a world which doesn’t facilitate neurodiversity.

Only 3 in 10 employers include neurodiversity in their HR policies (CIPD, 2018). The processes put in place to hire and retain employees do not nurture the neurodiverse mind.

neurodiversity thought

The workplace is missing out on a spectrum of talent

Neurodiverse conditions are a part of human diversity with each making the world a more interesting and unique place to be. Those with Autism experience the world differently and offer original concepts of shared experiences.

A spectrum condition including diagnoses such as Aspergers, there are a variety of characteristics associated with Autism that can be advantageous to the workplace; heightened senses, strong eye for detail, intense concentration, ability to recognise patterns and solve problems, loyalty, strong memory, a literal mindset, logical approach and average to above average intelligence are just a few. Interestingly, individuals with Autism tend to be savants in their industry due to passionate enthusiasm around their interests.

“Autism…offers a chance for us to glimpse an awe-filled vision of the world that otherwise might pass us by” (Dr. Colin Zimbleman)


So, how can you be mindful of different minds?

Changing the workplace mindset means to recognise the diversity of each and every individual and be proactive in facilitating differing needs, from recruitment through to nurturing and retaining employees.


Recruitment and hiring

Begin by rethinking what skills are truly important for the role; the ability to make eye contact when communicating or, bringing novel ideas and a wealth of knowledge to the job? Job descriptions should be based on the actual skills required for the job and not related to generic social abilities.

During the hiring process consider ditching traditional interviews which can be difficult for individuals who struggle to communicate. Instead, offer work trials or tasks which allow potential employees the chance to demonstrate their skills. If this isn’t possible then make reasonable adjustments to aid the interview process; give the candidate the questions in advance so they have some time to process and prepare and perhaps allow an extra little bit of time for their responses.


Retain employees

Flexibility towards personalised working is key to nurturing employees with Autism. With a tendency to be hypersensitive, too many distractions can cause overstimulation. Provide quiet zones or noise cancelling headphones to aid a calm environment. Additionally, you can facilitate diverse ways of processing with the use of assistive technology.

Reduce anxiety and stress with structured routines; provide clear deadlines and help plan workloads by assigning time slots to tasks. Practice forward-thinking and adapt the literal mindset by being instructive; this reduces the distress caused by change and the unknown, and ensures clear expectations.

Finally, it can often be difficult for someone with Autism to express their feelings, especially if they don’t know who to turn to. Provide a support network with a dedicated ‘buddy’ and schedule weekly one to one check ins.


If you want to find out more about embracing neurodiversity within the workplace, download Texthelp’s Neurodiversity Guide.

 Business Disability Forum also has a Briefing for Employment adjustment for people with Autism, including Asperger Syndrome.

Supporting employees returning to work after a stroke

Angela Matthews, Head of Policy, Advice and Research

Angela Matthews, head of policy, research and advice at Business Disability Forum, looking ahead at the audience

Angela Matthews, head of policy, research and advice at Business Disability Forum

This morning, Stroke Association released new research which showed 15 per cent of stroke survivors returning to the workplace feel unsupported by their employer.  In fact, 37 per cent people under the age of 65 who had a stroke gave up work, and another 9 per cent either missed out on promotion or were made redundant after having a stroke.

Business Disability Forum’s CEO, Diane Lightfoot, spoke on Sky News this morning about this new research. She emphasised how stroke happens unexpectedly, and it is therefore not something an employee or employer can readily plan for in their usual individual workplace adjustments planning.

Stroke survivors are often still recovering when they return to work. It can often take longer to recover than an employer’s average sick pay policy covers. This means employees may try to come back to work before they are ready, because they don’t want to experience personal financial hardship (43 per cent of stroke survivors said they experience financial hardship following their stroke). As stroke survivors’ bodies are often still healing when they come back to work, they might be physically slower, they might now have to complete tasks in different ways (using different keyboards, assistive technology, or carrying things differently, for example), or they might be using mobility aids; but this does not mean they are now unable to work or are intellectually less capable.

The usual ways of supporting any employee at work apply, such as ensuring they know they can talk to someone (a line manager or employee wellbeing support professional, for example); making adjustments specific to the employee’s situation; and regular, support meetings to review recovery, workload, and working conditions. There are however some specific things that managers supporting stroke survivors should also remember:

  • There are lots of medical appointments after a stroke – consultants, speech and language therapists, counsellors, nerve tests, physiotherapy, for example. Time off (ideally, paid) for appointments is often hugely appreciated. Check your absence and time off policies and advise the employee how they should discuss and request time off for these.
  • Redeployment as a reasonable adjustment and job carving are so under-utilised and poorly understood, but they can be the difference between a stroke survivor leaving and staying in work. Check that your HR teams and managers know how to discuss and arrange such new working patterns with employees where appropriate.
  • Ensure return to work procedures, approach to making workplace adjustments, and phased returns are available and supportively managed. If arranging phased returns or reduced working hours, ensure you also re-prioritise and re-consider the employee’s workload. Giving the employee the same workload on reduced hours does not make for a supportive return to work and will not help the employee recover as much as possible.
  • Stroke survivors may now move in a different way and their confidence in their own mobility might be reduced for a while. They may now need to use the lift instead of the stairs. Check if you need to discuss new Personal Emergency Evacuation Plans (PEEPs) with employees where appropriate, and ensure there is an effective review period in place to manage this.
  • Be patient. Stroke survivors are often still getting used to how different their body now feels, learning to do things differently, and trying to re-gain mental and physical confidence after an unexpected, frightening, life-changing event when they come back to work. This is as new to them as it is for you as the employer or manager.

For more information, Members and Partners can contact us to get a copy of our briefing on supporting stroke survivors in the workplace.  

Stat of the day: Long-term sickness absence in the UK

By Angela Matthews

On Friday last week, the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP) released statistics from the Labour Force Survey on long-term sickness absence in Great Britain and the UK between October 2010 and September 2013. Some key findings are as follows:

(Note: “Long-term” sickness absence is defined as being more than four weeks.)

General In Great Britain there were 960,000 sickness absences between October 2010 and September 2013.
Disability 52 per cent of long-term absentees had a disability. The data is not broken down by type of disability.
Number of health conditions Absentees who do not have a long-term health condition had the largest long-term absence percentage – 38 per cent. 34 per cent of absentees had two long-term health conditions, and 29 per cent had one long-term health condition.
Type of health conditions 33 per cent of long-term absentees were on long-term sickness absence due to musculoskeletal conditions; 20 per cent due to mental health conditions; and further 48 per cent had other conditions which are not specified (and this also includes the 2 per cent of absentees who did not indicate whether or not they had a disability or health condition).
Age The age groups with the largest amount of sickness absentees in the UK overall were 40-49 (25 per cent) and 50-64 (42 per cent). The age group with the lowest amount of absentees was 65 and over (3 per cent).
Region The north-west and south-east regions had the highest amount of long-term absentees – both 12 per cent. This amounts to 120,000 absences for each of these two regions.
Industry The highest number of long-term absentees in the UK work in public administration, education or health (41 per cent) and in distribution, hotels, or restaurants (17 per cent). The lowest number work in the energy and water sector (2 per cent).

The DWP do warn in this analysis that someone’s health condition may not necessarily be the cause of their absence – and this is important to remember. In addition, the way an organisation approaches managing absences and the quality of the adjustments procedure(s) that they have in place can (but not always) be crucial to whether an employee can be at work or not. Flexibility (such as, for example, considering adjusted hours, working from home, or adjusted duties) can also sometimes be a huge contributor to someone continuing to work.

You can find the data here (Excel spreadsheet) (Link:

Stat of the day: Ticket sales in the music industry

By Angela Matthews

A news article at the weekend showed that 285 disabled people out of 300 (95 per cent) had difficulties with trying to buy a ticket for a music performance or festival, and a further 249 out of 300 (83 per cent) were “put off” from making a purchase. Common difficulties included tickets usually needing to be bought over the phone during peak times and people often being asked to prove their disability. A disabled man quoted in the article said that he missed out on buying tickets because he was busy at work the day that the tickets became available and there was no option to buy online. This is perhaps an example of how making a service more accessible can benefit many more than just disabled people. And take a look at the business case for doing so: 2.5 million ticket sales were being missed out on, causing an annual revenue loss of £66 million!

Which is the greater financial cost of accessibility – £66 million, or creating an accessible website?

Stat of the day: Latest Access to Work statistics

By Angela Matthews

An ‘at a glance’ analysis of the latest Access to Work figures shows that an additional 4,260 people have been supported in work since October 2013.

Access to Work figures are not given for each quarter separately; instead, figures for each quarter are added to which means we get a bigger figure with each release. We can gauge trends by looking at the increases (as per the last column, “activity”). I have compared this morning’s release with that of October last year.

Types of conditions supported

We might not be surprised that support given for back/neck conditions and dyslexia are accelerating the most. Difficulties with speech and Spina Bifida are increasing the least.

There have been no further applications for support for stomach/liver/kidney/digestion or skin/disfigurement since October.







Missing or unknown




Arms or hands




Legs or feet




Back or neck




Stomach, liver, kidney or digestion




Heart, blood, blood pressure, or circulation




Chest or breathing




Skin conditions and severe disfigurement




Difficulty in hearing




Difficulty in seeing




Difficulty in speaking




Learning disability




Progressive illness
















Mental health conditions




Cerebral Palsy




Spina Bifida












Types of support

Assessments by themselves are increasingly popular, as is the provision of a support worker. Aids and equipment are also a high contender.

Type of adjustment

October 2013

January 2014


Adaptation to premises




Adaptation to vehicles




Communication support at interview








Miscellaneous with cost share




Travel in work




Special aids and equipment




Support worker




Travel to work




Access to Work Assessment








Stat of the day: Supermarket website and app accessibility

By Angela Matthews

Here we are in 2014… Happy New Year!

Just before we all went on our Christmas break last year, AbilityNet released a report on the accessibility of supermarket websites and apps. As highlighted in the table below, the research shows that Tesco had the highest website accessibility ‘health score’, Ocado’s app was rated the best, and Morrison’s website had the highest percentage of ‘failed’. The table below shows a summary of the results.

Anything over 40 % means that the site is ‘useable’ but may still present difficulties. Three stars is “base level”, and two stars indicates “below minimum requirements”.







Health score

47 %

46 %

39 %

39 %

40 %


8.7 %

6 %

11.8 %

12.8 %

11.6 %

Website star rating






App star rating






The report also states that, “In the UK there are 11.2 million people with a disability. There are estimated to be 1.6 million who are registered blind, 1.5 million with cognitive difficulties, a further 3.4 million people who are otherwise IT disabled and 6 million that have dyslexia. The total spending power of these groups is now estimated at £120 billion a year.”

You can read the full report here.

Stat of the day: Hearing loss and dementia in the over 70s

By Angela Matthews

A few statistics related to this morning’s news story about the man who was deaf but was believed by hospital staff to have dementia. Although, as I understand, this man did not actually have dementia, the story reminded me of a report by Action on Hearing Loss which looks at people with hearing loss or deafness who also have other long-term conditions. There are two main elements that interested me from Action’s figures:

  • Hearing loss, deafness, and dementia: 316,000 people over the age of 70 in the UK have both hearing loss and dementia. More effective management of this issue is estimated to save the economy £28 million per year. This would be done by ensuring access to effective communication and proper assessments which could help to delay care home admissions, prevent delayed diagnoses of dementia, and prevent acute hospital admissions.
  • Number of BSL users and interpreters: As per the last Census (in 2011), 22,000 people said that British Sign Language (BSL) was their “main” language and the 2009/10 GP Patient Survey said that 125,000 people use BSL (the difference with the latter being that BSL may not be their “main” language). The last reported figure of registered BSL interpreters that I am aware of is from May this year at a total of 800 in the UK.

Thinking about these two points together, it would therefore be interesting to look at the age distribution of BSL users as an indicator of what “effective communication” for the over-70s group might include or look like.


Stat of the day: Disability-smart Barclays

By Angela Matthews 

Some interesting figures that I’ve pulled directly from a newspaper article today. The article is about how seriously banks are taking disability.

The statistics are from Barclays as per September of this year. Out of their 22 million customers:

  • 15,343 have requested large print;
  • 1,511 have requested audio versions;
  • 1,234 are using Braille print;
  • 600 are using high-visibility debit cards.

I thought those figures were interesting as we have sometimes had discussions on the advice line with members asking if the numbers of people needing these types of adjustments are “not very many”.

You can read the full article here.

Stat of the day: Mental health in the legal profession

By Angela Matthews

The following statistics come from a study conducted by Lawcare, a support charity for the legal profession, earlier this year. They asked over 1,000 legal professionals including lawyers, barristers and legal executives in the UK about their experiences of stress in their workplaces. The following are some of the statistics:

  • 75 per cent of lawyers are more stressed now than they were five years ago;
  • 70 per cent said that their working environment was stressful;
  • 63 per cent felt that they are not working to the standard that they want to achieve;
  • 47 per cent occasionally felt at ‘breaking point’;
  • 45 per cent said they do not get enough support;
  • 31 per cent drink more than the recommended units of alcohol;
  • 14 per cent take prescription drugs each day to help cope with stress.

Reasons cited for stress included:

  • Heavy workload;
  • Poor management;
  • Not feeling appreciated;
  • Unattainable targets;
  • Long hours;
  • Poor pay;
  • Job insecurity.

Lawcare’s press release said, “Lawyers are, as a rule, high achievers who have high expectations of themselves. They do, therefore, have to be careful that they do not become stressed as a result of trying to live up to those expectations.”

I thought I should end on a positive note – 45 per cent of respondents said that, despite it being stressful, where they work is friendly. But then I thought that’s around 550 legal professionals who are working in an environment that they think is unfriendly. So maybe that’s not so positive after all. So, instead, I’m going for… it’s nearly Christmas!

Stat of the day: Health questionnaires and recruitment

By Angela Matthews

Who’s up for some good news?

Today we’re on the use of health questionnaires during recruitment, and it looks like things have improved since the introduction of the Equality Act (which says that questions about disability and health should not be asked before offering a job to someone). This research has come via an At Work Partnership press release and has been published in a recent edition of the Occupational Health at Work journal.

  • In 2006, 36 per cent of organisations were using pre-employment health questionnaires. This figure has now fallen to 8 per cent. The research found that questionnaires now tend to be used as part of a conditional offer rather than before an offer of employment is made. In 2006, many organisations were asking extensive pre-employment questions about conditions such as epilepsy, mental health and – for women – gynaecological issues.
  • 30 per cent of organisations now ask for a ‘declaration of health’ rather than asking questions in a ‘questionnaire’ format. The average number of questions in 2006 was 28, and this has now fallen to 15.

It therefore appears that the Equality Act has helped to improve things. But our work is not yet done:

  • Two thirds of organisations ask questions about disability for monitoring purposes but, unfortunately, 1 in 5 are allowing the recruiting panel to see this information;
  • 93 per cent of organisations ask if adjustments are needed for an interview, but 61 per cent ask this on the application form.

The ‘good fight’ continues…