Photo of Martyn BrownMartyn Brown is our Student Support Coordinator here at The National Autistic Society. He’s written a blog for us about his employment journey and experience as an autistic student at university.

My name is Martyn and I oversee The National Autistic Society's Higher Education Student Support Services in London. Having gone through university and being on the autistic spectrum, I was able to see first-hand how important support is for individuals in a similar position and knew that this was the career I wanted to go into to make a difference. In my current role, I also run a supported employment project to help young people into work. I have been working at The National Autistic Society for 10 months now, joining in October 2016. 

For me, transition support is very important as it's the point in the lives of many autistic people where they are most likely to struggle and suffer from heightened anxiety. Whether it is moving school, changing jobs, going to university or entering the workplace for the first time, many autistic people find this a huge struggle and therefore can require support with transitioning to a new stage in their lives. With the correct support in order to help overcome any difficulties and be able to settle into and be a part of a neurotypical society, autistic individuals can succeed to the same level (and on many occasions) even better than their non-autistic peers. If anything, this is the time when it can either all fall apart or all come together in the best way for autistic people – therefore transitional support is very important.

I believe that a person-centred approach is key. When working with people on the autistic spectrum, it is clear that each person is different and has different strengths and differences. As such, each person should be looked on as an individual in order to help them overcome what they struggle with and play to their strengths. If you use a ‘one size fits all’ approach, you will never be able to help anyone who has a difficulty to overcome them. Therefore, a person-centred approach for everyone is important to help them maximise their potential; however this is especially key for autistic individuals.

The biggest piece of advice I could give employers to help support transition and change is to just 'be there'. Quite often, people on the autistic spectrum can struggle with change such as settling into a new workplace which leads to heightened stress and anxiety. As such they will usually want to ask a lot of questions, need reassurance and require help with having new tasks explained and demonstrated to them. A lot of autistic individuals are perfectionists and want to get things right. Worries about getting something wrong is common for autistic people. Therefore, the best thing that any employer can do is to either be there themselves or to put a ‘work buddy’ in place who can be someone that the new employee can approach in the first few weeks for support.

Something as small as a transition plan can have a massive, positive impact on autistic people. It allows them to have something concrete to refer to and guidance to help them get through what will be a tough few weeks. A good transition plan will usually have the changes occurring listed but also guidance on the different support that is available during the change. It may seem like an extra thing to do but it is a small addition which can reduce a lot of stress and anxiety and can then lead to a range of other problems further down the line. Finally, a good transition plan can also have a major impact on actually keeping autistic individuals in work as it helps them to feel included, understood and settled into the workplace rather than isolated which could result in unemployment again – many autistic individuals leave jobs because of the lack of good transition plan.

There are so many things that I can suggest to employers to make the workplace friendly; however here are the three biggest top tips I would give:

  • Make reasonable adjustments – small changes such as additional equipment, regular supervisions, lowering sensory triggers and rest breaks can make a big difference.
  • Ensure that, providing the employee has disclosed their autism, their colleagues understand how it impacts on the individual’s life. Having that understanding can improve employee relations significantly.
  • Provide positive as well as critical feedback: too much negativity can have a substantial emotional effect on autistic individuals.