Autism: a trade union issue?

Only 16% of autistic people are in full time work and 43% of those have left or lost a job due to their autism.

Trade unions aim to unite workers and overcome division and discrimination. They are the bodies through which autistic people and their families can be heard and listened to so it is important that trade union representatives are aware of the challenges autistic people face.

Why is it a trade union issue?

Our YouGov survey of employers exposed some of the myths that employers may believe, which could cause bias against autistic people both in recruitment and in the workplace. For instance, 34% said they thought an autistic person would be unlikely to fit into their team, and 28% said that an autistic person would be unlikely to be a team player.

As part of our separate study, we were also shocked by some of the distressing experiences of autistic people at work. Roughly half of our respondents with experience in the workplace reported bullying or harassment (48%) or other discrimination or unfair treatment (51%) due to their autism.

These bad experiences have long-term consequences. Autistic people can be left with lower confidence than ever, leading to long-term unemployment, greater dependency or mental ill health.
 
However, it is important to recognise that the vast majority of employers want to do the right thing but feel apprehensive about getting things wrong and do not know where to go for advice. Our YouGov poll found that 60% of employers would worry about getting support for an autistic employee wrong, while 60% also said that they did not know where to go for support or advice about employing an autistic person.

Disclosure

One of the biggest barriers both autistic employees and their employers face is disclosure. When an autistic person applies for a job, they must decide whether to disclose their autism in their application. They are left with a dilemma of potentially facing conscious or unconscious bias should they disclose or missing out on the benefits from reasonable adjustments if they don’t.
 
In our survey, over half (58%) of respondents told us they had told their current or most recent employer that they are autistic, while just under a third had not (32%).

Reasonable adjustments at work

The experiences of autistic people in work are mixed. Some have great employers who know about their autism and create supportive environments and approaches to work. Others react badly, including doing nothing to adapt their employee’s environment or work.

Busy workplaces can be socially overwhelming and can overload people with too much information such as noisy conversation, bright lights or other sensory stimuli. Many such barriers can, however, be overcome quickly, easily and cheaply, through spreading understanding or simple adaptations to the environment.

Over a third (35%) said that the support or adjustments made by their current or most recent employer, both in relation to sensory needs or in relation to their autism generally, were poor or very poor.

To find out the most suitable and helpful reasonable adjustments for an autistic employee, The National Autistic Society provides personalised workplace assessments.