World Autism Awareness Week 2021 is here. It's an opportunity to raise awareness of neurodiversity and equip ourselves with the tools to support colleagues in the workplace.
In the UK, there are estimated to be 700,000 people with autism - that's 1 in 100 people. It's also estimated that 15% of the UK population are neurodivergent - yet only 16% of autistic people are in full-time employment. The covid-19 pandemic has been particularly tough for many autistic people and their families with access to services limited. Not only that, but the constant and sometimes confusing guidance and restrictions can be impenetrable or impossible for people with high support needs to implement.
What is autism?
Autism affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. It's considered a developmental disability.
Autistic people see, hear and feel the world differently to other people. If you are autistic, you are autistic for life; autism is not an illness or disease and cannot be 'cured'. Often people feel being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity.
Autism is a spectrum condition. All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways. Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, mental health issues or other conditions, meaning people need various levels of support. Autism is not a barrier to living a fulfilling life, with the right sort of support.
What is Neurodiversity? Neurodiversity refers to the different ways the brain can work and interpret information. It highlights that people naturally think about things differently. We have different interests and motivations, and are naturally better at some things and poorer at others. Most people are neurotypical, meaning that the brain functions and processes information in the way society expects. However it is estimated that around 1 in 7 people (more than 15% of people in the UK) are neurodivergent, meaning that the brain functions, learns and processes information differently. Neurodivergence includes Attention Deficit Disorders, Autism, Dyslexia and Dyspraxia.
Support at work
Neurodivergence is common, yet there is still a lack of understanding around most forms of neurodivergence, and misperceptions persist. Taking steps to recognise the importance of neurodivergence and supporting colleagues helps to create a more inclusive workplace. Everybody is different.
Creating a workplace that supports neurodiversity is particularly important for neurodivergent employees, the actions and strategies put in place can benefit all colleagues and helps get the best out of everyone.
So, what support is available?
- The National Autistic Society has produced a guide for employers called employing autistic people
- Check out the guide support at work for employees
- The CIPD have produced a guide on neurodiversity
Disability: Your rights at work
Being neurodivergent will usually amount to a disability under the Equality Act 2010. This means an employer has a legal obligation to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace and the individual's role that will remove or minimise any disadvantage to them.
Having a workplace that is set up to proactively think about what can be done to support the needs of each employee can make it much easier to identify and implement adjustments for neurodivergent staff.
In December 2020, we launched an interactive eBite for our members which helps understand what disability is, and the kind of support that you can expect. Having a workplace assessment or using your employers Occupational Health can be a fantastic way of understanding what adjustments may help you.
Genius Within and development programmes can help you reach your potential and to perform at your best, by recognising how you can use your neurodiversity.
Lloyds Banking Group and TSB have a range of activities taking place this week, including:
- telling colleague stories
- promoting the use of the sunflower symbol - which is used to indicate hidden disabilities
- awareness calls
- coffee & chat sessions
Check out what your employer is doing, and get involved to raise awareness, seek education, and support your colleagues.
Interested in running your own event? Check out this quiz which you can use to run your own awareness session.
About the ED&I Group
The Accord Equality Diversity & Inclusion group’s aim is to ensure every individual has the right to an equal opportunity to maximise their potential, regardless of background, and to be treated with dignity and respect. It’s a place where diversity is celebrated, and all contributions are welcomed and cherished without prejudice or judgement. It’s also a chance to collectively learn from our experiences, allowing us to remove barriers and enrich each other’s lives.
The group has a calendar of activities we'll be getting involved in across the year on a broad spectrum of topics. If you’re interested, why not get involved — email us at [email protected] or register to join online.