Understanding autism
Understanding autism

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Understanding autism

5.1 Employment

Activity 1 Challenges at work

Allow about 15 minutes

Imagine that someone on the autism spectrum has started a new job based at a company not far from their home. Bearing in mind what you have learned about autism up to now, use the space below to identify two kinds of difficulties that this person may find especially challenging in the work environment, and suggest a helpful adaptation that an employer could make for each one. You may find it useful to refer back to Week 6 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , where Activity 1 called for comparable reflections relating to education.

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You may have identified some of the following challenges:

Physical and sensory environment

The autistic employee may find the noise, smells and visual stimuli of the office disturbing, especially if it is open plan.

An employer could help by providing the employee with a secluded work area, where these stimuli are minimised.

The work day

Employees may be expected to carry out their work in a particular sequence and at a particular rate, and to respond flexibly if new priorities unexpectedly crop up. Such organisational matters may pose great challenges for autistic employees. For instance, an autistic employee may tend to focus in great detail on one task to the exclusion of others, and may have great difficulties in switching to something else as required.

An employer could help by providing as much flexibility as possible, and by employing the autistic person’s strengths, e.g. by allocating work that needs to be carried out with extra precision and care, or giving responsibility in areas of work requiring particular numerical or IT skills.


Autistic employees may struggle to understand or carry out instructions if these are implicit or not delivered clearly enough.

Employers and other staff can help by always choosing clear, direct language and avoiding metaphors.

Social context

The autistic employee may be disturbed by close proximity to others (e.g. in an open plan space), or by the expectation to socialise in lunch breaks or after work.

As for sensory stimuli, an employer could help by providing a secluded work area. He/she could also seek the employee’s permission to explain their needs to other employees.

Other measures that may help in the work setting include:

  • allowing part-time working and/or ‘mental health days’ if the person becomes too stressed by having to interact with colleagues
  • permitting a mentor/advocate to act as an intermediary between the autistic person and their colleagues or managers.

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