Employment is one of the key factors underlying autistic wellbeing and quality of life. Yet according t the Parliamentary report autistic unemployment is the highest of all disability groups, stagnating at 77% for decades while the rate of progress is slowing down. The two rounds of Autism Strategy since the Autism Act 2010 and government efforts to reduce the disability employment gap didn’t’ make an impact on the employment for autistic people.
Positive autism identity, being employed, autism acceptance and recognition of the role of autistic people in society are significant factors of autistic wellbeing and quality of life [1, 2, 3, 4].. Being employed encapsulates all these important factors.
Autistic unemployment is highest of all disability groups, stagnating for over a decade. Only 16% of autistic people are in full time employment while 77% are unemployed and want to work, 58% among them want some help getting into employment, but don’t get any .
According to the NAS, ‘The UK Government promised to halve the disability employment gap by the end of this Parliament, meaning they have to increase the disability employment rate from 47% to 64%. So, to make sure that autistic people aren’t left behind, the Government needs to commit to doubling the number of autistic people in work .’
The government has recently committed to monitor autism employment gap, which is a significant first step .
The general disability employment gap has not changed in last decade and is as high as 30%, according to Scope . Government drive to reduce the employment gap did not make an impact for autistic people.
NAS survey found that ‘when we asked about the single biggest thing that needed to change to help autistic people get into work, over 50% said support, understanding or acceptance.
60% of employers NAS polled told that they are worried about getting support wrong and they don’t know where to go to get information about supporting autistic employees .
Please note all of our course materials, videos and webinars are provided for general information only. Their contents do not represent legal advice. Their content represents original work and are protected by copyrights and are intellectual property of NDSA Partnership C.I.C.
Experiences of autistic people in employment are surprisingly similar.
Managerial attitudes and prejudices to autism in society, discriminatory HR provisions, criteria and practices, as well as pervasive bullying are the key barriers autistic people experience.
Often autistic people report not being taken seriously and listened to after disclosure.
Research highlighted subconscious unfavourable attitudes to autistic people in ‘blind’ observation tests , which might underpin some of the bullying. However, the causal relationships and mechanisms of these unfavourable attitudes require further research.
Autistic researcher Brett Heasman uncovered a similar understanding and attitude gap due to common stereotypes about autism even within family relationships: “Perspective taking is two sided”
This and other studies provide evidence for to the Double Empathy problem theory that proposes that the understanding gap is two sided [12, 13].
Nevertheless, in terms of experience in employment, some people report positive experience with Access To Work. [link to Train Spotter}
Disclosure is often a tricky time and more often than not triggers the managerial and HR machinery that may result in pushing the autistic employee out
Please note all of our materials, videos and webinars are provided for general information only. Their contents do not represent legal advice. Their content represents original work and are protected by copyrights and are intellectual property of NDSA Partnership C.I.C.
The Equality Act 2010 [link to https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/equality-act/equality-act-2010] protects people from discrimination in the workplace and in wider society.
It is against the law to treat any person unfairly or less favourably because of a ‘protected characteristic’ such as a disability.
ACAS and other organisations provide good guidance on legal aspects in employment.
The Act also puts a duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments and a Disability Equality Duty on public service employers to take proactive reasonable steps to treat disabled employees equally.
The Act protects people at all stages of employment, including recruitment, employment terms and conditions, training, pay and benefits, promotion and transfer opportunities, dismissal or redundancy .
You must be able to prove that your condition is a disability and that with or without reasonable adjustments you are qualified for the essential duties of the job.
In general terms the Act protects a qualified employee from being treated less favourably
- For the reason of disability – just because they
are disabled, this is direct discrimination,
- including discrimination by association with a disabled person;
- due to perceived disability.
- For the reason arising from disability – for example when people have prejudices against a disability and treat less favourable because of that, rather than because of specific circumstances of the individual
- By indirectly by applying a criterion, provision or practice that applies to everyone, but puts a disabled person at a disadvantage that could not be justified;
- By failing to make reasonable adjustments to mitigate the disadvantage.
- By victimisation
Specific application of the equality act is intricate and based on an individual case.
See ACAS, Equality and Human Rights Commission guidance and archives of Equal Opportunity Commission (EOC).
Understanding the Equality Act is crucial for a successful disclosure.
Often people assume that their employment is protected by the Act and the disclosure will trigger a range of positive changes, and some people do.
Unfortunately, in practice it is not always the case due to a range of factors that can relate to discrimination, but also due to the specific circumstances of the disclosure. Understanding what the Act does and doesn’t say is crucial.
You should be qualified for the job to be protected. The Act protects employees whose disability does not prevent them from performing essential aspects of their job.
The definition of disability in the Equality Act is doing things differently or requiring longer time.
So for disclosure it is important to articulate why and how autism doesn’t prevent you from performing the role and achieving results, but requires Reasonable Adjustment to accommodate the different way or longer time you may require due to a disability.
You’re disabled under the Equality Act 2010 if you have a physical or mental impairment that has a ‘substantial’ and ‘long-term’ negative effect on your ability to do normal day to day activities.
Communication is a normal day to day activity
‘Substantial’ is more than minor or trivial, eg you do it in a different way or it takes much longer than it usually would to complete a daily task …
‘Long-term’ means 12 months or more, e.g, a breathing condition that develops as a result of a lung infection
Is autism a disability?
While individuals may not always reach the threshold in the ESA and PIP assessment, under the Equality Act and in particular under the framework of the social model of disability, it most often is. So it can be disclosed as a disability in diversity monitoring forms and in other circumstances covered by the Equality Act, like in employment and usage of services.
The government stance is clear that autism is a disability (as accessed on May 2020):
“We ask all applicants to public appointments to complete a diversity monitoring form, which includes questions about disability. We hope you will help us by providing this information. This will allow us to see if there are any unfair barriers to becoming a public appointee and whether there are any changes we could make to encourage disabled candidates to apply
To help you, please consider the following list of conditions. People with many health conditions (including but not limited to those listed below) often find that society puts up barriers, or has negative attitudes that prevent them from being able to fully participate in society.
We would suggest that you could answer “yes” to the disability question in the diversity monitoring form if you have one, or more, of the following which have or are likely to last for 12 months or more:
- Neurological learning differences, such as autistic spectrum disorders (ASD), dyslexia and dyspraxia.”
Autism as a disability
The Equality Act 2010 includes in the definition the difference in the way an activity is performed and the requirement for more time.
Autism should not necessarily be seen as a ‘deficiency’, but a difference in the way the activity in performed, which then requires reasonable adjustments.
Questions should be asked whether the criterion, provision or practice that puts the autistic person at a disadvantage by interacting with the way the autistic person functions
Reasonable adjustments should be made to accommodate the different, autistic way of doing the activity.
See page 15, paragraphs B2, B3, B7 and C17 on page 40 of this government guidance: https://bit.ly/2RtEJ0M
See also this ACAS guidance and resources on disability discrimination in employment: https://www.acas.org.uk/disability
These government resources page might be helpful: https://www.gov.uk/government/publications/equality-act-guidance
Equality Act guidance from the Equality and Human Rights Commission available at : https://www.equalityhumanrights.com/en/advice-and-guidance/disability-discrimination
Guidance from the government: https://www.gov.uk/guidance/equality-act-2010-guidance
Reasonable adjustments are steps the employer has to take to mitigate the disadvantage of the disability for the disabled employee.
The Equality Act recognises that disabled people may experience disadvantage due to their disability.
Reasonable adjustments are not a ‘favour’, a ‘perk’ or an ‘advantage’, but a legal duty put on the employers by the Equality Act. They are also not treating the disabled employee ‘more favourably’ but mitigating the disadvantage of the disability to enable a level playing field for disabled people.
What is reasonable to a particular role is subject to interpretation and it is indeed important to be able to articulate how one is qualified for the role (see the section o disclosure above) with the implementation of reasonable adjustments.
Employers only have to make reasonable adjustments if they are aware or reasonably expected to be aware that the employee has a disability.
The definition of what is reasonable is left to be tested in each individual case and could be a source of disagreement between the employer and the employee. This could bee a case of inconsistent implementation of the Equality Act. What is reasonable for a multinational corporation might not be reasonable for a small business.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission has an easy description of the duty to make reasonable adjustments.
For guidance of requesting and identifying reasonable adjustments please read here the digest of the Heasman et all report (2020) that contains a comprehensive list of reasonable adjustments experienced by neurodivergent employees and a structured approach to requesting and implementing adjustments for a successful outcome.
Go to our page reasonable adjustments.
Increasingly employers opened to the opportunities of employing neurodivergent people with publications and research undertaken by influential business organisations.
CIPD produced an excellent paper ‘Neurodiversity at work’:
- Neurodiversity at work, CIPD, 2018 https://www.cipd.co.uk/Images/neurodiversity-at-work_2018_tcm18-37852.pdf
Other high profile sources:
- Neurodiversity as a competitive advantage. Austin, R.D. Pisano, G.P., 2017. Harvard Business Review: https://hbr.org/2017/05/neurodiversity-as-a-competitiveadvantage https://bit.ly/2rZz1a4
- Fortune : The next frontier in workplace diversity: brain differences. By Katherine Reynolds Lewis. https://fortune.com/2014/12/16/brain-differences-autism-workplace-diversity/
Other neurodivergent conditions
- Adult ADHD: how to succeed as a hunter in a farmer’s world. Haertmann, T., 2016, Vermont: Park Street Press.
- The ADHD advantage: what you thought was a diagnosis may be your greatest strength. Archer, D. , 2015, New York: Hudson Street Press.
- The dyslexic advantage: unlocking the hidden potential of the dyslexic brain. Eide, B.L. Eide, F.F. 2012).New York: Penguin Putnam Inc.
- The power of neurodiversity: unleashing the advantages of your differently wired brain. Armstrong, T., 2011, Boston: Da Capo Lifelong Books.
- Paper and list of reasonable adjustments: Heasman, B., Livesey, A., Walker, A., Pellicano, E., & Remington, A. (2020). DARE report on adjustments. Centre for Research in Autism and Education, Institute of Education, UCL, London, UK. https://dareuk.org/dare-adjustments-toolkit
- ACAS research paper on neurodiversity: www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=5858
- Access to Work: www.gov.uk/access-to-work
- National Autistic Society: www.autism.org.uk
- An employer’s guide to managing professionals on the autism spectrum. Scheiner, M., Bogden, J., 2017, London: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
- Business Disability Forum: www.businessdisabilityforum.org.uk
- Disability Confident: https://disabilityconfident.campaign.gov.uk/
- British Dyslexia Association: www.bdadyslexia.org.uk
- Hidden Impairment National Group: http://neurodiversityemployment.org.uk/hing/what-is-hing/
- Employers: https://dma.org.uk/article/dma-talent-neurodiversity-initiative-1
- Neurodiversity: some basic terms and definitions. Walker, N., 2014, Blog. http://neurocosmopolitanism.com/neurodiversity-some-basic-terms-definitions/
- NeuroTribes: the legacy of autism and the future of neurodiversity. Silberman, S., 2015, New York: Avery.
- The way I see it: a personal look at autism and Asperger’s. Grandin, T. , 2015, Updated edition. Arlington, TX: Future Horizons.
- What Is Important in Measuring Quality of Life? Reflections by Autistic Adults in Four Countries. Helen McConachie, Colin Wilson, David Mason, Deborah Garland, Jeremy R. Parr, Alexia Rattazzi, Jacqui Rodgers, Suzanne Skevington, Mirko Uljarevic, and Iliana Magiati. Published Online:9 Oct 2019 https://doi.org/10.1089/aut.2019.0008 Autism in Adulthood Ahead of Print
- Whiplash: How to Survive Our Faster Future. By Joichi Ito. Director, MIT Media Lab; Coauthor (with Jeff Howe), https://www.edge.org/response-detail/27221
- Scope : disability perception gap https://www.scope.org.uk/campaigns/disability-perception-gap