Under the Equality Act 2010, autism is a lifelong “mental impairment”. However, this term is not often used by autistic people themselves, and is best avoided in communication with or about autistic employees and applicants.

The definition of disability in the Equality Act 2010  disregards the benefit provided by any medications, treatments, or aids. For example, a condition that causes pain would be measured as if no painkillers were taken.

It is reasonable to assume that an employee who tells you they are autistic is likely to be disabled for the Equality Act. They have identified that they face difficulties in certain areas of their life, often including sensory and verbal processing, ambiguous communication and /or understanding implied social expectations all of which are involved in carrying out normal day to day activities.

Assuming your autistic employee is a disabled person under the Act means you can make the right adjustments and get the best out of your autistic employee, and the rest of your workforce

Autism and mental health

Autism itself is not a mental health problem, but a neurological difference. However, autistic people may also have mental health problems, which could well be disabilities in their own right under the Act. If you make the required reasonable adjustments for your autistic staff, it is likely to have a positive impact on their mental health. Conversely failure to make reasonable adjustments for autism may trigger or exacerbate mental health problems.

The charity Mind provides resources on looking after the mental health of your staff

Autism and physical health

Autistic people are known to have higher than average rates of a number of rare physical conditions. These could amount to disabilities in their own right under the Equality Act. Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, Hypermobility Syndrome, Fibromyalgia and ME / Chronic Fatigue syndrome are among the physical conditions more commonly diagnosed in autistic people than non-autistic people. These conditions have common symptoms in that they can cause chronic pain and fatigue, both of which can be exacerbated by stress.