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NEW RESEARCH: 1 IN 10 AUTISTIC WORKERS DO NOT REVEAL THEIR DIAGNOSIS TO COLLEAGUES

New research by auticon, a global IT consultancy and social enterprise whose IT consultants are all autistic, has shown that 1 in 10 autistic workers do not feel they can reveal their diagnosis in the workplace.

The survey of autistic adults who are in employment[1] showed that line managers are the colleagues they are most likely to speak to about their condition (7 out of 10 had done so) and just over half (58%) having spoken to HR about their diagnosis. However, less than half (47%) had spoken about their autism to any other colleagues beyond the HR department or their line manager.

 

For those who had not disclosed their autism to anyone in the workplace, key barriers included:

  • 2 in 5 (40%) are not ready to tell people in the workplace
  • 1 in 3 (33%) have concerns about being treated adversely
  • 1 in 4 (27%) do not want to share their private information with their employer
  • 1 in 4 (27%) feel unsure how to communicate their diagnosis to people in their workplace
  • 1 in 5 (20%) have only recently been diagnosed
  • 1 in 5 (20%) are concerned about being thought of negatively by employers
  • 1 in 8 (13%) are concerned that it will have a negative impact on their prospects within the company
  • 1 in 14 (7%) have had a previous negative experience of disclosing

 

Andrea Girlanda, Chief Executive of auticon, comments: “Whilst it is reassuring to see that a lot of autistic workers are talking to their line managers about their diagnosis, there is clearly still a long way to go to make the workplace a more inclusive space which allows people to thrive. Autistic people often have exceptional talents, enabling them to outperform in areas such as data analytics, cyber threat detection and software development, so it’s vital that more is done to make sure these talents are being utilised, especially in sectors facing a skills gap.”

 

People who are neurodivergent, such as those on the autism spectrum, often possess natural abilities in areas such as pattern recognition, logical thinking and accuracy. Yet, recent studies have shown that autistic people are significantly under-represented in the workplace, with only one in five autistic people in employment.

 

auticon’s new research sought to identify some of the biggest challenges autistic employees face in their working lives. The most common issues cited included:

  • Worries about how to communicate mental health decline to management (49%), which was exceptionally high in younger autistic workers – 62% in age 18-30 vs 49% overall
  • Preferred learning style not being followed e.g. being given text heavy documents, when pictorial information is easier (48%)
  • Being given too much information at once (43%)
  • Feeling the need to hide their autism (42%)
  • Processes and procedures not being followed (40%)
  • Lack of clear instructions or outcomes (39%)
  • Last minute meetings/calls (39%)
  • Bright lighting (36%)
  • Open plan office (35%)
  • Having to navigate workplace small talk (35%)

 

Russell Botting, Lead Job Coach at auticon, helps prepare IT consultants for projects by explaining company culture and making sure they have everything they need, as well as running autism awareness training for the host organisation, ensuring they understand any differences they may encounter and facilitating any reasonable adjustments that might be needed along the way. He says:The results of this survey send a clear message that there are some really simple changes that can be made to make the working environment a more accessible, accepting and supportive place where people can be their authentic selves without fear of repercussions. This is good for all workers, not just autistic employees, and that makes good business sense too.”

 

Survey respondents identified the most helpful things for autistic employees as being:

  • Having clearly defined instructions – 51% (77% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Appropriate software and equipment e.g. speech to text; screen filters; multiple monitors – 50% (72% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Flexible and adjusted hours i.e. start/finish time is later or earlier depending on preference – 49% (76% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Having a preferred desk in a suitable location – 47% (72% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Option to wear earplugs/noise-cancelling headphones – 44% (70% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Being able to use stimming items during work – 43% (74% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Being able to take regular comfort breaks – 42% (77% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Having a workplace buddy or mentor – 41% (71% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Option to work from home – 29% (69% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)
  • Option to turn camera off during video meetings – 29% (73% say this is either happening or in the process of happening)

 

To coincide with the release of the research and auticon’s 10th anniversary, auticon has launched a brand new podcast to help drive great conversations about autism. ‘Autism: In conversation with auticon’ is hosted by broadcaster Carrie Grant MBE and features interviews with leading voices on autism, such as figures from the business world, social media influencers and autism academics. For more information visit www.auticon.co.uk

[1] Research was carried out by OnePoll between 11.08.2021 – 24.08.2021 and surveyed 200 employed UK adults who have a diagnosis of autism.

Notes to editors:

For more information, interview requests, additional case studies or images, please contact Kristy MacLeod: kristy.macleod@auticon.co.uk / 07778 842274

About auticon

auticon is a unique social enterprise which employs autistic adults as IT consultants. It provides an advisory service to clients to support them with the recruitment and onboarding of new candidates, as well as the retention of current employees who are on the autism spectrum. Each client and consultant are also uniquely provided with their own auticon job coach, on-hand to offer ongoing specialist support. auticon has been cited as one of Richard Branson’s top 3 companies he most admires.

Case studies

auticon consultant Lars Backstrom was diagnosed as autistic at the age of 50 and is currently working on a data analytics project for Zurich. He says: “I have had quite a few jobs and, in the companies, where I had a mentor (usually a senior colleague), I found I could do well there. In jobs where I did not find a mentor, I did not do as well. My autism wasn’t diagnosed until very recently (in 2014 at the age of 50, after my wife read an article about autism and made a connection) and I experienced quite a bit of bullying and harassment in my jobs, but also a lot of kindness. Like all consultants at auticon, I have my job coach who is there to give me support, from preparing for a new role to chatting on a weekly basis about how the job is going, to any other day to day issues that might be going on. This helps a lot as it means the consultants are not alone and always have someone to help. They also work with the clients to train them about what autism is, so that they know what to expect, which helps enlighten businesses as a whole.”

During his appearance on episode 1 of ‘Autism: In conversation with auticon’ autistic speaker, consultant and social media content creator, Connor Ward says: “Ultimately, where I would like things to get to is for employers to see that all employees have needs, regardless of whether the employee is neurodivergent or not. It’s not about treating people equally to be inclusive, it’s about employers treating employees in such a way that no one needs to feel disadvantaged because of their personal needs.”

Chris Astley, Head of Engineering at KPMG UK, says: “Prior to working with auticon consultants, a lot of our processes were much more informal. Yet, adapting to be able to work with autistic consultants has improved our team and made us more productive and efficient. We have realised how clear we need to be in expressing what we want, how we structure and divide up our tasks to get the best out of everyone in the team, not just our autistic colleagues. Putting that little bit of extra work in from the start, to make sure everyone is clear about what is expected of them, as well as documenting what has worked well for us, has saved huge amounts of time in the long run.”

Ella Tabb, also known as social media content creator, ‘Purple Ella’ who appears on episode 1 of ‘Autism: In conversation with auticon’ says: “Unfortunately, we still often see disability from a deficit point of view rather than a strengths perspective. There have been times in the past when it would have been helpful for me to disclose that I am autistic and ask for support, but I didn’t for fear of being ‘needy’ or somehow less employable. Now I find disclosing that I am autistic relatively easy, because I’m confident in knowing that by asking for a little bit of help and additional support, that I can offer so much more to that employer, but it is hard to advocate for yourself to be able to do that.”

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