More than three-quarters of unemployed autistic adults want to work, study finds



But misconceptions and ‘outdated views’ prevent employers recruiting people with autism, experts warn

More than three-quarters (77 per cent) of unemployed autistic adults want a job, yet only 16 per cent are in full-time paid work, according to new statistics.

The National Autistic Society study found that 40 per cent of respondents have never worked at all. Just under a third (32 per cent) are in some kind of paid work, compared to just under half (47 per cent) of disabled people, and 80 per cent of non-disabled people.

A separate YouGov poll found that 60 per cent of employers worry about getting support for an autistic employee wrong, and that they don’t know where to go for support and advice.

Mark Lever, chief executive of The National Autistic Society, said: “Autistic people have a huge contribution to make to our economy and society, including in the workplace. But our research shows that autistic people are being failed by government programmes and overlooked by employers – in many cases because of misconceptions about what autism is and worries about getting it wrong. Autistic people have so much to offer. They just need a chance.”

The survey of 2,080 autistic adults is part of the charity’s three-year campaign, which strives to transform public understanding of autism and open up the world for autistic people.

Half of the 2,080 autistic adults surveyed by the charity as part of its Too Much Informationcampaign said that support, understanding or acceptance would be the single biggest thing to help them into employment. Meanwhile, in the YouGov study 48 per cent of respondents who had experience of a working environment reported bullying, harassment or other forms of discrimination and unfair treatment because of their autism, and just 58 per cent disclosed their autism to their most recent employer.

Individuals with autism are instantly disadvantaged in the job-seeking process, said Emma Jones, partnerships and employment training manager at The National Autistic Society. “Many job descriptions include skills that aren’t always essential for the job; ‘excellent communication skills’ and ‘good team player’, for example, are nearly always included. But many autistic candidates may feel they have difficulties in these areas. Autistic people can also find visually busy application forms confusing and may not find it immediately obvious what information they need to provide.”

If candidates make it to the interview stage, “outdated views of autism” could be a barrier to employment, said Alexandra Mizzi, senior associate at Howard Kennedy. “A hiring manager who doesn’t know about autism won’t be able to make the necessary adjustments to the hiring processes to reduce any disadvantages experienced by the candidate,” she said. “Employers may be wary of hiring individuals if they have a limited understanding of their condition.”

Although a growing number of organisations – including SAP, Microsoft and GCHQ – are actively recruiting autistic people, more than a third (34 per cent) of employers believe an autistic person would be unlikely to fit into their team, the YouGov study found. More than a quarter (28 per cent) said that an autistic person would be unlikely to be a team player in the working environment. Two-fifths (40 per cent) believe it costs more to employ someone with autism.

To ease autistic employees into the workplace, particularly those who have little or no work experience, employers should avoid using a one-size-fits-all approach, said Mizzi: “Employers need to gain a full understanding from the individual of their condition and how it affects them, rather than relying on stereotypes. That takes commitment on both sides and a relationship of trust.

“Employers may also wish to take specialist occupational health advice as to what adjustments should be made. There may be an element of trial and error if the individual has not worked before.”

Jones said adjustments that could help autistic workers included ensuring all staff understand autism; allowing autistic employees to wear headphones or ear defenders if they feel overwhelmed; and offering apprenticeships, work experience and volunteering to give autistic workers the opportunity to build confidence and demonstrate skills.

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