World Autism Acceptance Week: 2nd – 8th April 2024

Discover how we're adapting our recruitment and workplace processes to support autistic people

Produced by: Caroline Finn

What is autism?

We all think we know what autism is. Depending on your age, you may think of Dustin Hoffman in Rain Man or Jim Parsons as Sheldon in the Big Bang Theory.* But the neurodivergent people in my life are, of course, all individuals with their own unique personalities.

Autism is defined as persistent difficulties with social communication and social interaction, and restricted and repetitive patterns of behaviours, activities or interests (including sensory behaviour) that has been present since early childhood, and to an extent that limit and impair everyday functioning.†

Autism exists on a spectrum and affects people in different ways. It is tempting to think that the spectrum runs from mild to severe, or low to high functioning, but these terms are best avoided. Everyone’s needs are different and the level of support may vary, even with seemingly similar difficulties. Not only does the manifestation of autism vary from person to person but each individual will have days where their autism impacts their daily life more than others.

Masking is a strategy used by some autistic people, consciously or unconsciously, to help them get by at school, work and in social situations. Whilst there can be benefits to masking, such as getting on with people at work or preventing awkward social situations, masking can be extremely draining for people with autism, resulting in distress, exhaustion and mental health difficulties. While masking can make the autistic person easier to manage for neurotypicals, it makes life more difficult for the autistic person themselves so it’s important to identify strategies to support neurodiverse people in the workplace.

Autism in the workplace

In the UK, official statistics show that only around 3 in 10 autistic adults are in employment, compared with around half of all disabled people and 8 in 10 for non-disabled people. The recently published Buckland report identified several initiatives to raise awareness, reduce stigma and help autistic people access employment from recruitment to workplace practices. The report was produced in association with Autistica, an autism research and campaigning charity. Autistica provides high-quality information and evidence-based resources to help companies recruit and support neurodiverse talent. While not an exhaustive list or tick-box exercise, here are some examples of ways to support neurodiverse people in the workplace:

  • Firstly, ask the autistic person for their preferences: Every neurodivergent person has different needs, preferences and ways of working so there isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ approach.

  • Make things predictable where possible but provide support during periods of change: Uncertainty causes anxiety so provide clear agendas, deliverables and timeframes; consider practical strategies such as allocated desks and set break times; when change is required, provide as much notice as you reasonably can, and offer support and re-assurance.

  • Think about the sensory environment: Ask about sensory distractions such as noise, smells, light and temperature; things that might help include noise-cancelling headphones, moving the individual’s workspace to a quiet place, and having a dedicated quiet room.

  • Clarify expectations and provide clear information: Be explicit, concise and specific; avoid confusing language such as acronyms or jargon; follow-up verbal instructions with an email, especially if it's important.

  • Make time for processing: Before a task or meeting, allow time to plan ahead; afterwards, create space for reflection.

  • Have an organised, well-structured workplace with clear processes: Help establish a routine; prioritise activities into daily, weekly or monthly tasks; breakdown larger tasks into small steps; offer a mentor or empathetic colleague who they can go to if they are feeling stressed, anxious or confused.

  • Performance reviews: Provide appropriative accommodations for people with autism; consider brief but frequent one-to-one meetings; give honest and direct feedback, which should be consistent and delivered sensitively; don’t just focus on the areas for development but highlight the person’s strengths.

  • Turn commitments into actions: Once adjustments have been agreed, ensure they are implemented.

  • Help other staff to be more aware: Provide information and guidance on autism to all staff.

How are we supporting autistic people at Mednet

At Mednet, we are committed to ensuring our recruitment process is inclusive and accessible, by anticipating and providing reasonable adjustments, and supporting employees with a disability or long-term health condition to stay in work. Mednet is a certified disability confident committed employer and is working with Lighthouse Futures Trust (LFT), an organisation aiming to change the lives of young adults through workplace engagement programmes. We have recently partnered with LFT to provide work placements and experience to young people who are neurodiverse to help them develop vital skills for employment. 


Key facts

Autism is a lifelong developmental disability which affects how people communicate and interact with the world. More than one in 100 people are on the autism spectrum and there are around 700,000 autistic adults and children in the UK. Autistic people each have their own strengths and weaknesses but difficulties that autistic people may share include:

  • Social communication and social interaction challenges

  • Repetitive and restrictive behaviour

  • Over- or under-sensitivity to sensory information: light, sound, taste, smell or touch, as well as interoception (an internal sensory system in which physical and emotional states are consciously or unconsciously noticed, recognised and responded to, e.g., tiredness, hunger, pain, etc.)

  • Highly focused interests or hobbies

  • Extreme anxiety

  • Meltdowns and/or shutdowns


*Note: Sheldon has not been diagnosed as autistic in the show but is perceived by many viewers as representing a stereotype of autistic behaviour.

†American Psychiatric Association. Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders. 5th ed. Arlington, VA: American Psychiatric Association; 2013.


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