Government launches review to boost employment prospects for people with autism

What are the barriers that prevent people with autism securing and retaining work?

The Government has launched a new review to increase the employment opportunities for people with autism while simultaneously closing the employment gap and growing the economy.

The review will be led by Sir Robert Buckland, KC MP, and supported by the charity Autistica and the Department for Work and Pensions (DWP).

Employment barriers

Its primary focus is to identify the barriers that prevent people with autism from securing and retaining work and from devising solutions that are acceptable, effective, and feasible for employers and public services to deliver.

Statistics show fewer than three in ten people with autism are employed, revealing a significant employment gap. The review aims to provide essential information to remove these barriers and help more autistic people start, stay, and succeed in their work by ensuring more employers provide truly inclusive places to work.

Employment organisations, specialist support groups, businesses, and autistic individuals will be asked to contribute to the review to help identify these barriers. The study will specifically focus on autistic people and aims to develop solutions that will be acceptable, effective, and feasible for employers and public services to deliver.

Providing better support

The review will examine issues such as how employers can better support their autistic staff, how to prepare autistic individuals for beginning or returning to a career, and how to reduce stigma and improve productivity for autistic employees.

Rt Hon Sir Robert Buckland KC MP has expressed his delight in leading this vital review, stating that closing the employment gap for autistic individuals would not only mean individual fulfilment but also significantly boost employment and productivity for the country.

The review will also examine companies that are benefitting from a neurodiverse workforce, such as London manufacturer KwickScreen. The innovative company, which provides transparent screens to every UK hospital, played a pivotal role in the NHS’s response to the COVID pandemic. On a recent visit to their Lewisham base, the Minister and Sir Robert discovered that many of the breakthrough initiatives in the company came from the neurodiverse members of the team.

Closing the autism employment gap

According to Dr James Cusack, the Chief Executive of the UK autism research and campaigning charity Autistica, the benefits for autistic people and society will be huge if they are given the opportunity to work and thrive in employment. The charity aims to see a doubling of the employment rate for autistic people by 2030 and is delighted to support the Government on this vital review.

As part of the review, many of the adjustments and initiatives that would benefit people with autism could also benefit a wider group of people who think differently, including those with other neurodevelopmental conditions such as ADHD, dyslexia, and dyspraxia. The review has the potential to drive a wider rethink around how we accommodate everyone in work, as we all think differently with unique strengths, challenges, and needs.

The review is an important step towards closing the employment gap and providing inclusive and supportive workplaces for autistic individuals. It can potentially drive positive change, not only for people with autism but for all individuals who think differently.

Neurodiversity at play in the workplace

Jim Moore, an employee relations expert at HR consultants Hamilton Nash, said: “Despite growing calls for employers to embrace neurodiversity in the workforce, many are apprehensive about supporting an employee with autism.

“We are pleased to see this employment review intended to improve the job prospects of people with autism, but the devil will be in the details.

“Having a disability like autism is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010, so while an employee doesn’t have to disclose a disability, it’s a good idea to do so, as that puts the onus on the employer to consider ‘reasonable adjustments’.” 

Reasonable adjustments

He continued: “It could be considered discrimination if the employer refuses to make allowances for a disability unless they can justify why not.

“People with autism often have exceptional concentration and attention to detail, strong technical skills and an excellent memory. All these traits can make a significant contribution to a business.

“Employers can make a number of reasonable adjustments to help an employee with autism. These could include providing screens around desks, noise-cancelling headphones or a quiet working location. 

“It might involve assigning them an office mentor to guide and advise or allowing them to focus on one task rather than multitasking.

“Dealing with challenging behaviours can make some employers hesitant about supporting an employee with autism. Displays of anger, inappropriate outbursts or meltdowns can happen, but generally only in more severe cases.”

Moore added: “How autism affects a specific individual should be taken into account when evaluating a situation, including whether other reasonable adjustments can be made to address the issue and support the employee.

“Ultimately, people cannot use their autism as a ‘get out of jail free’ card. If, despite those considerations, the conduct or performance still falls below the standard required, then the employer may be able to justify disciplinary action or a dismissal.”

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