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  • Saskia Müller

Autism Acceptance Month: 10 actions employers can take that aren't tweets

It's Autism Acceptance Month this month, but we have a longgg way to go.

While 1 in 7 employees are neurodivergent, 32% of managers would feel uncomfortable employing someone with ADHD or Tourettes. Less than a third of companies considered any disability in their diversity and inclusion programmes, and 89% of HR professionals don't include, or don't know whether neurodiversity is included in their people management practices.

Every day, autistic people tell me about the horrifying experiences they have at work, with common instances including:

  • A failure to make reasonable adjustments at interview stage, with organisations flat out denying any requests, after requiring people to ask for them.

  • Employees being told 'if we help you, we'd have to help everyone'. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of reasonable adjustments: they are not special treatment, they are simply levelling the playing field.

  • No policies or procedures in place to disclose autism (or other health conditions) at work, so autism only becoming an issue after they have become seriously unwell and/or their performance has been impacted. Some people have been put on Performance Improvement Plans after disclosure.

  • A failure to make reasonable adjustments for employees who have disclosed ADHD, or just referring them to Occupational Health with no follow up conversations, which does not discharge their duty of care.

  • A failure to record, monitor or evaluate any reasonable adjustments put in place, leaving the employee feeling confused, embarrassed and demoralised.

  • A failure to understand ADHD or discuss this with the employee, resulting in adjustments being put into place which aren't relevant or adding to their own responsibilities, resulting in further stress.

  • Being discriminated against, bullied, harassed, excluded, having work or responsibilities taken away from them, or made to feel as though their autism is a burden for the organisation.

  • Conversations being had with other members of staff about their autism, without their knowledge or involvement.

 As one firm told the Solicitors Regulation Authority about collecting disability-related data:

"We don't think it is important... it doesn't matter to us who or what our staff are".

This sums up too many approaches by employers: providing relevant evidence-based iniatives for people with disabilities at work may not be a priority for them, but it is crucial for employees who need help. In contrast, when an employer could reasonably be expected to know an employee has a disability, their legal duty to make adjustments arise.

This approach results in a huge mess of bureaucracy, legal liability, cost to the organisation, and serious impacts on employees' health, self-esteem, and wellbeing. It can lead to unnecessarily dragged out time-consuming processes, when all that's needed is a pro-active conversation involving trust, vulnerability, and pro-active support.

Despite the benefits of diversity in the workforce being obvious, not least with the inherent cognitive thinking accompanying neurodiversity, it's clearly difficult to rely on employers to prioritize this in their people management strategies. It shouldn't be up to people like me to convince organisations they should treat their employees with basic respect and support, and definitely not to only celebrate neurodiversity just because of the inherent benefits accompanying it. Nobody should be discriminated against at work.

So, here's what we can all do as individuals this Autism Acceptance Month

  1. If you're neurodiverse, find a community of like-minded people, such as the Neurodiverse Lawyer Project, ADHD UK or ADHD Unlocked, and get the support you deserve.

  2. Ask the organisations you work for or with about their neurodiversity, reasonable adjustments, or disability policies. Ask them what data they collect, how reasonable adjustments are monitored and evaluated over time, and what their HR strategies and targets are in relation to neurodiversity.

  3. Raise awareness about the Government Access to Work scheme, which can fund adjustments and provide support to people with disabilities at work, including job coaching and awareness training for managers.

  4. If you know someone who is open about their neurodiversity, ask them if they'd feel comfortable discussing their experiences, and ask what you can do to help. Simply by listening and giving someone the space to share can be extremely powerful.

  5. If you know someone who is experiencing disability discrimination at work, signpost them to legal support. YESS Law and Adele Edwin-Lamerton are two options that have had extremely positive feedback.

Above all, please remember that if you're neurodiverse: this is an asset. What makes you different is what makes you valuable above measure. The organisations stuck in certain ways of working, where basic support can't be provided without a 'policy', will not be able to adapt to our impossibly fast-moving world. You can, and you will.

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