Understanding autism in the workplace
Alexa Bradbury

4 minutes

Understanding autism in the workplace

How to make your workplace more welcoming for neurodiverse people

Equality and diversity have been given greater space in the media this year. From the gender wage gap data, to the #MeToo movement, to Black Lives Matter, we are all fighting for and driving towards a more equal future. But one form of diversity — neurodiversity — hasn’t quite received the same level of attention.

In fact, very few of us understand what neurodiversity is. To quote author and academic John Elder Robison, an influential figure in the neurodiversity movement:

Neurodiversity is the idea that neurological differences like autism and ADHD are the result of normal, natural variation in the human genome. This represents a new and fundamentally different way of looking at conditions that were traditionally pathologized; it’s a viewpoint that is not universally accepted though it is increasingly supported by science

It is also important to understand that there is no such thing as a “normal” mind. For those of us who aren’t neurodiverse, our brains are in the language of the neurodiversity movement, neurotypical.

Can autism be cured?

Conditions such as autism aren’t diseases that can be cured; rather, they are different ways of seeing, different thought processes, and different understandings of the world around us.

Contrary to popular belief, autism cannot be treated. There is no miracle cure. And nor should there be. Throughout history, some of the greatest minds of their generations were autists. From Mozart, to Albert Einstein, to Charles Darwin, the world would be a very different (and possibly bleaker) place without these unique perspectives driving knowledge and creativity forward. If you don’t embrace neurodiversity in your workplace, you could be missing out on potentially groundbreaking talent.

Unravelling the autism myths

First of all, let’s dispel some myths about autism. Autism is a lifelong development disability, it can’t be grown out of, and it can’t be cured. It’s also important to stress that autism is not new, despite some people’s insistence that it is a recent phenomenon.

More than one in a hundred people are believed to be on the autism spectrum — though the figure is likely to be much higher, with many people living undiagnosed. Many people choose to live undi-agnosed too.

As the saying goes within the neurodiversity movement — if you have met one person with autism, you have met one person with autism. Not everyone who is on the spectrum will display identical tendencies. In fact, it is very unlikely. Autists are as unique as neurotypicals. How many non-autists do you know that have identical personalities?

The different ways neurodiverse people experience the world

There are, generally speaking, four areas of experience differentials. These are social communication, social interaction, sensory, and social imagination. Not every autist will have different ways of noticeable differences in all four areas, with some people only displaying significant differences in one area.

For many autists, heightened sensory awareness is an everyday occurrence. Though we are always taught that we have five senses, there are actually seven, with autists having different experiences in one or more. 

  1. Tactile
  2. Auditory
  3. Visual
  4. Olfactory
  5. Gustatory
  6. Pro-prioception
  7. Vestibular

How to make your workplace autism-friendly

Now that we all understand what autism and neurodiversity are, the question is: how do we make workplaces autism-friendly? The charity Ambitious about Autism recommends the following accommodations:

  • Use someone’s name first to get attention
  • Try to find what works well for the individual
  • Do not assume that the person knows what you intend to do — explain what will happen and why
  • Speak and write in clear, literal sentences
  • Allow 6 seconds for people to process information
  • Use visual information to reiterate your point where possible
  • Be aware of the sensory differences listed above
  • Never promise anything that can’t be guaranteed
  • Deliver what you say you will
  • Don’t expect or demand eye contact
  • Ensure meeting times and agendas are set in advance
  • Formalise catchups on defined times and days
  • Support the generalisation of concepts and skills from one task/project to the other
  • Favour the assignment of clear tasks whilst allowing space and time for creative thinking in specific workshops
  • Break down the sequence of tasks to achieve and be clear on timelines
  • Give advance warning of any changes or cancellations

Whilst these tips aren’t all encompassing, they are simple steps that every organisation can make to accommodate neurodiverse staff. Beyond this, they are steps that should be useful to all staff, making a working environment that is more inclusive for all.

Diversity & inclusion at Guidant Global

Our approach to diversity & inclusion has always been a proactive one, and with the launch of our INfluence programme this year our focus is to continue to lead, educate and inspire all things inclusion.

We were extremely proud to host a breakfast seminar with Ambitious About Autism to bring awareness and education to our employees and partners alike. We plan to host many more of these seminars throughout the year, covering a variety of important and inspiring topics.

There are so many unnecessary barriers that society has created around certain groups of people and it is our job to actively remove those barriers

Nicky Hale, Head of Talent Engagement 


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