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How can employers better support autistic employees in the workplace?

Last week marked neurodiversity celebration week (18 to 24 March 2024). In this blog, we look at the findings of a recent report on autism in employment and share its practical tips for employers to better support autistic employees in the workplace.


Around 1 in 70 people in the UK are autistic. For autistic people, employment can be critical to wellbeing. For employers, autistic employees can bring unique strengths and offer different ways of thinking and working.

Despite this, autistic people have the lowest employment rate among disabled groups in the UK (ONS). Stigma, a lack of understanding of autism and poor support are key factors. The Buckland Review of Autism Employment has considered how autistic employees can be better supported to access and remain in employment.

We’ve summarised some of the key takeaway points for employers below. Although the Review was focussed on autism, it’s important to note that these tips may be useful for employers supporting other neurodiverse employees.

Tips for employers 

  • Overcoming stigma

Stigma and a lack of understanding of autism are key factors preventing autistic people from succeeding at work. It’s important for employers (and their staff) to understand the value autistic people can bring. Dispelling inaccurate and unhelpful stereotypes is vital.

Education and training are key. The Autistica Neurodiversity Employers Index is a useful employer tool. 

  • Supporting autistic people to begin or return to a career

Volunteering, internships and apprenticeships can allow autistic people to develop their experience and skills. Employers are encouraged to offer these.

There’s a lack of awareness around existing government schemes to support employers/employees (e.g. Access to Work and the new Universal Support Programme).

  • Recruitment 

Autism is likely to meet the test for “disability” under the Equality Act 2010 (EqA). If so, employers are under a legal duty to make reasonable adjustments to the application process; however, the Review found most employers do not make any. 

Traditional recruitment methods, like CV screening and face-to-face interviews, often disadvantage autistic applicants. Interviews that ask the typical “tell us about yourself and your achievements” can be stressful and many autistic applicants struggle with eye contact (although not all).

Typical job descriptions can also be overwhelming. Many autistic applicants rule themselves out of applying because they think that the role is beyond their capabilities.

Further, AI tools that analyse eye contact and mannerisms can unfairly penalise some autistic applicants. 

To maximise inclusion and help autistic candidates better demonstrate their skills for the job, employers should consider (as a default for all) setting practical tests and assignments that test actual skills for the job. Such tests could be completed before, or instead of, interviews.

  • Reasonable adjustments

Research has found that employers are concerned about the cost and practicality of reasonable adjustments. 

The Review highlighted that such concerns should not be a substantial deterrent to employers, given that many adjustments for autistic employees are low cost or even free. 

Whilst individual adjustments will depend on individual circumstances, examples might include providing noise cancelling headphones to reduce sensory overload and help concentration, being flexible with start and finish times, or providing a quiet space for autistic employees to take some “time out” to manage stress/anxiety.

  • Culture

The Review emphasised that disclosure of autism should be voluntary. Some autistic people do not want to be identified as autistic. Some may not have had a diagnosis. Other autistic people are proud of their identity.

Regardless, employers should create a safe space for disclosure and foster a supportive culture. This might be through listening to autistic employees and valuing their input, prioritising their mental health, making adjustments and taking personalised approaches to understanding and supporting needs (and more). 

  • Inclusion by design

“Inclusion by design” involves employers creating flexible workspaces and practices to enable any employee to adapt their own work environment to suit them without needing to disclose their autism (or indeed other conditions). Aspects of the work environment, like bright lighting or high noise levels, can be distracting or stressful for autistic people. Flexibility and “inclusion by design” can help create a comfortable work environment for all.

  • Training

It’s critical that employers understand autism and how this can vary from person to person. Good quality training can help to reduce stigma and stereotyping. Employers are warned against using outdated, one-size-fits-all training models, which only serves to reinforce stereotypes.

  • Crucial Role of Line Managers

It’s important that autistic employees feel comfortable asking questions or clarifying tasks without fear of judgement.

Line managers should adapt their style, understand potential adjustments, and advocate for their autistic staff. Providing training and making guidance available to line managers can support this.

  • Appraisals and Goal Setting

Clear, structured appraisals and goal setting are important for autistic employees. The Review highlighted the following issues for autistic employees in 1-1 meetings:

  • Giving feedback which is too direct and failing to offer reassurance that the employee is successful in other areas of work
  • Leaving the employee to pick up on social cues and not being explicit enough regarding negative feedback
  • Failing to give timings for tasks
  • Failing to provide well-being checks as part of the discussion (including for example how any adjustments are working, or if any further adjustments are required).

 Employers should keep the above in mind and ensure line managers are adequately upskilled and supported.


The Review provides useful tips and guidance for employers to implement – much of which is low cost. 

Whilst the Review stresses that disclosure of autism should be voluntary, there may be circumstances where an employer is legally obliged to investigate an employee’s health. Namely, if a disability (i.e. autism) causes an employee to suffer a substantial disadvantage in the workplace when compared to a non-disabled persons (e.g. performance issues), employers have a legal duty to consider and implement reasonable adjustments. A failure to do so could amount to discrimination.

This duty applies even where an employee has not disclosed their disability, but an employer could “reasonably be expected to know” about the disability based on the employee’s signs and symptoms. This could be difficult/sensitive where an employee doesn’t yet have a diagnosis or is reluctant to discuss their health. For the purposes of the law, it's irrelevant whether an employee has a formal diagnosis if there is otherwise evidence from which an employer can reasonably deduce a mental (or physical) impairment which is long-term and has a substantial, adverse effect on the employee’s day-to-day life.

In such circumstances, employers will need to (sensitively) consult with the employee (and in some cases a medical professional) to understand what adjustments are required. Employers should take legal advice to get this process right.

As the Review highlights, “inclusion by design” is a way for employers to reduce the need for these types of difficult conversations. To better support neurodiverse employees, employers are encouraged to review all aspects of employment – from the recruitment process, to the working environment, to how it supports career progression – and make this as inclusive as possible, as a default.

A more inclusive workplace clearly presents benefits for all. 

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