If you have any concerns about your autistic staff, approach them respectfully and compassionately, as you would any employee. Privately invite them to discuss the problem.

My employers have told me I can always approach them if I have any autism-related issues

Kevin - autistic employee

Legally, you must treat your autistic employees as well as anyone else, but there are some other things to keep in mind:

  • Stress and anxiety – Autistic people function really well when allowed to work in a way that suits their needs. Stress may not be evident in the person’s face but may show in the way they act with others. Sometimes, the concerns that you have about an autistic employee may be caused by stress and anxiety resulting from the environment. These issues may be resolved by making reasonable adjustments. It is helpful to provide a place where all staff can retreat without disruption to allow them to relax. Every person will be different, so talk to each member of staff to ask how they want to handle stressful situations.

  • Dealing with situations swiftly and tactfully – When there is a misunderstanding, relationships can break down quickly. Always deal with a concern quickly, before they are irreparable.

  • Looking out for bullying – It is possible for bullying to inadvertently exist in your workplace, especially if there is a lack of understanding about autism. An autistic employee may feel bullied even if the person bullying them is unaware that their behaviour is being perceived in this way. Increasing the level of understanding about autism amongst all staff will help create understanding. There are legal ramifications to bullying so it’s important to resolve it immediately.

  • Difficulty with communication – As autism is an invisible condition, colleagues may think the individual is being rude, unfriendly, insensitive or not listening when this is rarely the intention. Conversely, vague or nonliteral communication can sometimes be difficult for an autistic person to understand. As a manager, it will be your responsibility to clarify and mitigate miscommunication regardless of the parties involved. Again, informing all staff about autism will help to reduce misunderstandings.

  • Workplace transitions and scheduling disruptions ­­­– Autistic people often feel comfortable when they have a regular and expected routine and may feel anxious or distressed when a routine is disrupted. Give warning about changes in task or routine, and ask your staff member how to make transitions or changes easier for them.

  • Transport difficulties – The commute to the workplace presents a host of potential problems for autistic employees. Traffic or road closures might distress an autistic person who relies on the comfort of a regular routine. Autistic employees who rely on public transportation may face their own difficulties when getting to work, like overstimulation from noise and crowds. Allow time and space for someone to calm down.

  • Sickness and timekeeping – Autistic people are usually highly punctual and likely to go to work even when they are feeling ill. They may also be under significantly higher levels of stress on a daily basis. Be clear about the company attendance policy and work with them to reduce their stress.

  • Housing, finance and mental health skills - When work lines up well with an autistic person’s skills and passions, they can function brilliantly at work. However, they may struggle to manage issues outside the workplace such as housing and living independently. These issues may bleed over into the workplace and they may require signposting to sources of support.

  • Sensory hypersensitivity – Autistic people can be exceptionally sensitive to light, sound, and smells, and this can lead to stress, pain or being overwhelmed. Allow adjustments to accommodate an individual’s needs.
For some people, being able to wear earphones or have the lights turned down makes the difference to being able to cope in a workplace

Dean Beadle - autistic freelance speaker

This list may seem intimidating, but every person is different and may not face every, or even any of these difficulties. But all employees may experience some of these sources of stress. When you see an employee struggling in the workplace, regardless of whether they are autistic, it’s important to approach them in a collaborative way.

Make it clear to employees that you will work with them to resolve concerns