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Autistic employees risk burnout without proper support from HR

Autistic employees are at risk of experiencing burnout if employers don’t take time to understand their needs, says autism and education consultant at SEND Support Joe Butler and co-author of Is that clear? Effective communication in a neurodiverse world.

Many autistic people experience increased stress and anxiety in their daily lives, she said, particularly when they have to rely on “masking” where a person has to act a part to fit in.

Just 16% of autistic people are in full-time employment, according to autism charity Autisica,

Speaking to HR magazine, Butler said that the world of work is heavily weighted to the needs of neurotypical people.

“Autistic people and those with other neurodivergencies are already having to work a lot harder to make sense of what can be really confusing.”

For this reason, Butler suggested that it is down to allistic (non-autistic) employees and employers to support autistic employees.

“Allistic people have a responsibility to change the way we communicate to make this a little easier, as for too long it has been autistic people expected to adapt and make all the effort,” she said.

Examples of alternative support include welcoming or providing opportunities for an autistic employee to say or show what they need.


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Butler added: “Some people might prefer to provide this visually, perhaps in an email, rather than verbally, and some may not know what they can ask for.

“For example, if the person needs to stand up and move around at points through the day, or if they need fidget gadgets to help them to focus or self-regulate and normalise this - what supports your autistic employee or colleague can often be of benefit for everyone.”

Staff training and workshops can also help to develop an understanding around autistic employees in the workplace.

“Workshops can be a proactive measure to support all employees and colleagues. There will be some people who don't know they are autistic themselves, and others who aren't but for whom the strategies are helpful as clear communication benefits everyone,” she said.

It may be more challenging for HR to assess if employers have been correctly communicating with autistic employees while remote working due to the pandemic.

Slowing down your speech, adding pauses to give the person you are speaking to more processing time and backing up the spoken word with visual clarification where possible are all examples of how autistic employees can feel better supported.

Butler added: “Some autistic people have thrived through remote working as the stresses of travelling to work and the unpredictability of interactions with others in what might be a busy or noisy environment have reduced.

“Others might miss the routine of home and work life being very separate and miss the interactions and support of colleagues.”

For some autistic people, virtual meetings were their preferred method of work communication, rather than face-to-face ones.

She added: “For that reason, they may feel frustrated that it has taken a pandemic for employers to make this adjustment that would have been a support to them all along.

"For others, virtual meetings can be very stressful because some of the verbal and non-verbal cues for successful communication are harder to decipher."