Managing an Autistic Employee

What is Autism?

Autism is a complex neurodevelopmental disorder that affects how a person communicates and relates to other people, as well as their ability to process stimuli from their environment. People with autism may experience difficulty in social interactions, communication, and repetitive behaviours.

People with autism can experience deficits in social understanding and communication, such as difficulty interpreting facial expressions, body language or sarcasm. They may find it difficult to make friends or join conversations due to difficulty making sense of social norms. Autistic individuals can experience trouble expressing their own feelings and recognising the physiological changes that occur when we experience emotions.


Their senses can be hypersensitive or hyposensitive – impacting the way they experience the environment. This can lead to becoming overwhelmed by emotions and the environment seemingly suddenly. Additionally, an individual with autism may be prone to having very rigid routines to create predictability, which reduce distress for them. These can include rituals such as specific clothing habits or certain items being placed in particular places each day.

It is important to acknowledge that everyone’s autistic experience is unique; while some may need more support than others depending on the severity of their condition, no two people will have the same challenges or needs when it comes to managing employees with autism. This means that employers need to consider each individual case when creating methods and strategies for supporting those who are affected by the disorder.

Overall, understanding what autism is and being aware of its impact is the first step towards providing support for employees. By creating an environment which supports those affected by autism and placing importance on accessibility within workplaces, employers can ensure they’re doing their part towards making sure all employees feel accepted and included at work regardless of their diagnosis or abilities.

At its most basic level, anxiety is the body’s response to stress. When a person perceives danger or feels out of control, the body responds by releasing stress hormones hormones including cortisol and adrenaline into the bloodstream. This triggers certain physical and psychological reactions including increased heart rate, restlessness, difficulty concentrating and muscle tension.

How can Autism go Undiagnosed in Childhood?

It can be difficult for parents or medical professionals to identify the signs and symptoms of autism in children, leading them to go undiagnosed until later stages of development or even adulthood, meaning that individuals would have spent significant portions of their lives struggling more than necessary. 

  • Unclear Diagnostic Criteria: The diagnostic criteria for autism been updated over time, and is still evolving. This means that some adults were overlooked as children as they didn’t meet the diagnostic criteria or understanding at that time. 
  • Subtle Symptoms: Autism can manifest itself differently in each child, meaning certain behaviors may be interpreted as normal when they could actually be a sign of the disorder. Autism in girls is often misinterpreted as shyness, and excelling in specialist interests may mask challenges elsewhere.
  • Co-Occurring Disorders: Commonly, autism occurs along with other conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) or language delays which can mask the underlying condition or make diagnosis more difficult. 
  • Misunderstanding Behaviors: It’s often difficult for adults to understand why autistic children behave differently than other kids their age. Autistic behaviors like spinning objects, repeating words or phrases obsessively, or rocking back and forth are all behaviors that may be understood away by adults. 
  • Lack Of Awareness: Sometimes parents or teachers simply aren’t aware of autism, and thus can’t consider it for their child.

Diagnosing autism isn’t always easy; however early detection is incredibly important for a child’s wellbeing.  

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How can Autism Present in Adults?

Autism is a neurodevelopmental disorder that is life-long. There is no “cure”, nor can somebody recover from autism, though with the right support there should be no reason to want to. 

Adults with autism can display behaviors that can be hard for others to understand. These can include difficulty engaging in social interactions, problems understanding body language or facial expressions, or struggling to understand other people’s emotions. They may also show signs of anxiety or depression and have difficulty managing stress.  

Adults with autism may also have trouble with communication. They may talk too quickly, repeat themselves, speak at louder or quieter volumes than typical, or struggle to find the right words to express what they are thinking.  

In some cases, adults with autism may display stimming behaviours such as rocking back and forth, repeating certain phrases or motions over and over again, talking loudly without realising it, flapping hands when excited or frustrated, making noises in public places, and so on. This type of behavior can be confusing for employers and colleagues who do not understand that stimming is the body’s way of regulating itself and providing the right level of stimulation for that individual. 

Managing an autistic employee requires patience and understanding on the part of employers and colleagues alike. Creating a supportive workplace environment for autistic employees is key for encouraging productivity and wellbeing among all workers within an organisation.  

How Autism Impacts Individuals in the Workplace

Employees with autism can face unique challenges in the workplace. Autism is a complex and varied condition, and each person with autism will experience different challenges. It’s important to understand how autism can affect an individual’s behavior and performance so that employers can create an environment that is conducive to their success.  

One of the most common issues faced by individuals with autism in the workplace is difficulty interacting socially. People with autism might struggle with communication and may communicate in ways that are outside of social norms, such as being direct and literal in their expressions and being highly honest, leading to misunderstandings or frustration. As a result, they may struggle to form strong relationships at work or find teach working anxiety provoking. 

People with autism might also find themselves overwhelmed by sensory input from their environment. This could lead to overwhelm when the environment changes, as well as confusion and frustration if the environment is over or under stimulating. Additionally, some individuals may take longer to learn new skills (though their understanding can be greater as a result), meaning they may require patience and repetition. 

Autistic employees may need extra time and understanding from managers when adapting to new tasks or changes in job responsibilities. Autistic employees may also need extra support during periods of high stress caused by deadlines or increased workloads as they may become agitated more easily due to this heightened anxiety level.  

Through careful consideration of autistic workers’ needs, employers can create an environment that helps employees reach their full potential while being mindful of any difficulties posed by their condition. With the right support structure in place, employees with autism can thrive and be valued for their many strengths and contribute positively towards the success of the business.

Environmental Factors in the Workplace That May Impact Autism

Environmental factors in the workplace can have a significant impact on employees with autism. It is therefore essential for businesses to consider creating an environment that is supportive of their autistic employees. Here are some environmental factors that may need to be addressed to ensure that autistic employees feel safe and comfortable in their workspace:  

  1. Sensory Overload: Autistic people can be highly sensitive to sensory inputs such as bright lights, loud noises, intense smells, or environments being too hot or cold. Businesses should consider adapting the environment such as by offering quieter workspaces and avoiding too much clutter and chaos. Installing blackout curtains may also help to reduce light sensitivity, while providing ear defenders or noise-cancelling headphones can minimise sound distractions.
  2. Social Interactions: Autistic people often find it difficult communicating and socialising with others, so having a quiet place where they can take breaks from socialising and collect their thoughts may be beneficial. Providing ways for autistic employees to communicate with colleagues without having direct face-to-face contact, such as instant messaging or emailing systems, can also help them feel more comfortable interacting with coworkers. 
  3. Structure & Routine: Autistic individuals often prefer more structure and routine within the workplace environment; this helps them stay focused and organised while completing tasks. Designating specific areas for each task (e.g., meeting space, workspace) as well as clearly outlining expected tasks and deadlines will provide a sense of clarity for the employee—allowing them to feel more secure within their work setting.

Creating an environment that takes into account these environmental factors is key for businesses looking to support their autistic employees properly in order to promote a more positive mental health atmosphere across the organisation as a whole. 

Strengths of Autistic Individuals

Autistic individuals can be a valuable asset in the workplace if their strengths are recognised and supported. Not only do they bring new perspectives and skills to the team, but they also demonstrate a deep commitment to their work.  

Autistic individuals often possess strong analytical skills, meaning they may excel at data analysis and understanding complex information. They tend to have an excellent memory for facts and details, enabling them to recall information quickly and accurately during projects or tasks. Additionally, many autistic people are creative thinkers, bringing out-of-the-box solutions to situations and helping businesses stay ahead of the competition.  

Individuals on the spectrum also tend to be highly independent workers who can work well with minimal supervision. Their focus on detail makes them extremely reliable when it comes to completing tasks, and their commitment to accuracy often results in high quality work outcomes. Furthermore, autistic employees often demonstrate strong problem-solving skills which help solve tough issues related to projects or daily operations.  

In addition to these excellent cognitive strengths, autistic individuals are known for being emotionally intelligent as well. While those on the spectrum can have difficulty understanding social cues from others, many of them can still read nonverbal indications such as posture and facial expressions in order remain aware of others’ feelings in a conversation or situation. This type of emotional intelligence helps autistic employees build trusting relationships with coworkers while fostering an efficient working environment.  

Finally, autistic individuals are passionate about their work and enjoy taking responsibility for accomplishing important tasks or goals within a business setting. Their enthusiasm for their trade can be inspiring for other members of the team, while their reliability helps ensure that deadlines are met on time and projects reach successful completion levels.  

Reasonable Adjustments for Autistic Employees

Reasonable adjustments for autistic employees can help them to thrive in the workplace and become highly valued team members:  

  1. Provide a secure and predictable environment – Employers should strive to create a safe and predictable working environment where autistic employees are aware of what is expected of them and can plan accordingly. This could include allowing extra time if needed, creating a routine for tasks, or structure which helps minimise any anxiety or stress. 
  2. Reduce sensory overload – One of the main struggles faced by those with autism is sensory overload. This can manifest itself as being overwhelmed by loud noises, bright lights or strong smells which can have an adverse effect on their mental health and wellbeing. Employers should consider ways they can reduce any potential sensory overload as much as possible from creating quiet spaces where necessary, investing in noise-cancelling headphones, ensuring machinery works properly etc. 
  3. Encourage acceptance and understanding – Many autistic people struggle with social interactions and communication; something which can lead to misinterpretation and judgement from others and create a hostile and stressful work environment for autistic employees.  Employers should encourage compassion, acceptance and understanding from all employees to prevent ableism and discrimination.
  4. Offer support – Working environments can be intimidating for those with autism so it’s important that employers provide necessary support whenever needed whether that’s access to specialist professionals such as occupational therapists or arranging regular meetings with supervisors/managers who understand the employee’s individual needs better than anyone else in order to offer appropriate guidance and support when required.

By implementing these adjustments into the workplace, employers will be able to ensure their autistic employees feel fully supported and comfortable within their working environment; ultimately leading to better performance levels and overall productivity within the business itself! 

Normalising Reasonable Adjustments for All

When it comes to supporting an autistic employee, it is important to remember that reasonable adjustments in the workplace should be normalised for all employees, regardless of any disability or diagnosis. Not only does this help to ensure a safe and comfortable working environment for everyone, but it also helps employers maintain compliance with their legal obligations under the Equality Act 2010.   

It is important that employers take a proactive approach in their duty of care towards employees with autism. This means approaching the issue holistically and taking into consideration the individual’s unique needs and abilities when establishing reasonable adjustments. For instance, if an employee has difficulties interacting socially at work, then they may benefit from opportunities to work from home to reduce pressure to interact socially. Similarly, if an employee finds it difficult to concentrate on tasks due to sensory overloads then employers can provide noise-cancelling headphones as well as clear instructions and expectations regarding deadlines and performance targets.  

In addition to creating a supportive environment tailored to the individual’s needs, it is also important that employers provide appropriate training and support around autism awareness among staff members – both those directly managing autistic employees as well as co-workers across all departments within the organisation. This helps create an inclusive culture in which everyone is aware of how they can best contribute towards accommodating any reasonable adjustments which may be necessary in order for the job role(s) in question to be fulfilled safely and successfully by all involved parties.  

By understanding how best to accommodate their autistic employees through focussing on each individuals’ needs – organisations can create great teams where everyone feels valued and respected.  

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