The Buckland Review of Autism Employment

Written in February 2024

This review looks at the picture of autistic employment in the UK. It's a fairly in-depth and comprehensive review that takes a few different angles on the matter of sustainable, meaningful employment for autistic adults; one of these focuses on autistic school leavers, recognising that school can be a difficult time for autistic people, leading to potentially worse employment prospects.
 

The review proposes a change to the apprenticeships route that would allow people to join without meeting all the standard requirements for the core maths and english skills. There are already exemptions for disabled students with an EHC plan, and the report suggests allowing self-declaration of autism to allow autistic students (who haven't been provided with an EHC plan) to access the apprenticeship route most suitable for them.

 

I think that closing this gaping hole in the net could make a massive difference to the prospects of young people entering the world of work for the first time. An apprenticeship teaches useful transferrable skills as well as industry specific skills and this can lead to more sustainable, long-term employment in the model of a “job for life”, more akin to the picture of employment 40 or 50 years ago.

 

The current gig economy can be hard for autistic people to navigate; although it works for me, enabling me to pursue different types of work along a single thread, stable employment in one job offers the security and familiarity that many autistic people need to thrive.

 

Although I'm far beyond the school leaving age, I felt well represented in the report. Many of the insights that came from the autistic people consulted were aligned with what I think and feel as well. The insight, for example, that career progression shouldn't be forced upon people if they are happy with their role and responsibilities, may come as a surprise to neurotypical readers.

 

Those consulted also agreed that disclosure should be voluntary; with just 35% of autistic employees able to be fully open in the workplace, and the poor experiences of people who have disclosed in order to ask for reasonable adjustments it is clear that a lot of workplaces are not safe for autistic people.
 

Employers seem to show some prejudice towards autistic people in terms of social skill perception with a YouGov poll showing that 34% of employers thought autistic people wouldn't fit into their team and 28% believing autistic employees wouldn't be a “team player” These numbers may not be particularly high, but when you account for the fact that fitting in socially, and being a “team player” are seen as the key attributes in the hiring process (consciously and unconsciously) this is actually very significant.

 

Something else highly significant is that employers feel inadequately supported/informed to support disabled, autistic or neurodivergent employees; a 2020 poll found that 50% of managers would be uncomfortable hiring a disabled person. In terms of barriers, cost and ability of making reasonable adjustments was cited as the most significant, but when it came to autism specific barriers we circle back to the usual biases and stereotypes seen in the YouGov poll.

 

Training, like my Understanding Neurodiversity training, is vital in busting these myths and informing employers about the reality of employing disabled or neurodivergent people, especially when it comes to making reasonable adjustments. The Adjustments Passport trial will be a great help for people entering a new workplace – sadly people seem to listen more faithfully to a third party than to the person asking for the adjustment.

 

It was no surprise to see that of the autistic employees surveyed, 1 in 3 felt unable to discuss adjustment needs at all, while 1 in 4 had been refused their requests. A further 10% felt that their adjustment was poorly implemented or not maintained. My experiences of asking for accommodations is in line with this; I struggled to advocate for myself and when I did, I was refused without even so much as a conversation exploring why I needed the adjustment, and what might be possible.

 

It was great to see that culture of inclusion by design is being championed; this mindset change and cultural approach will be a determining factor in the success of this initiative and in the success of changing the workplace for people with all types of need, whether due to physical disability, neurodivergence, or any of the other protected characteristics defined in the Equality Act (as well as menopause, which is criminally not recognised but which has a significant impact on someone's life for several years).

 

I think the most relevant bit to me here was the highlighting of the need for control over the sensory environment. This is why I prefer to work at home where I have a choice of places to sit for the right lighting, privacy or sensory environment for the task I need to do. I wonder whether the idea of battling through and being under pressure or discomfort has become a sort of merit badge in the workplace, so people having their needs met are somehow not being a “team player”?

 

I have signed up for Autistica's Neurodiversity Employers Index, a tool designed to help organisations see where they are on the journey to meaningful neuroaffirming status, and I will certainly air my thoughts on that when it's available. Some kind of matrix is needed, adjusted for some industries, to allow employers to understand what they're already doing and what they need to improve on. With a lack of knowledge and confidence being one of the major barriers to employing disabled or neurodivergent people, this tool can help shine the spotlight on the areas of learning that need to be addressed next – it can act as a sort of roadmap.
 

Trials of new aspects of the Access To Work fund as well as building cross-industry support networks will help employers and employees find their feet with neurodiversity and disability, providing some extra funding and some meaningful support and (reverse) mentoring that will ensure learning about neurodiversity never stops.

 

If you're reading this as an employer or business owner, and you want to get a headstart on educating your workforce, book me for training to become a neurodiversity confident workplace.

 

Read the review here

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