Category: testimonial, Government, Hidden Disabilities, Autism, Jobs in Government, Disability and Neurodiversity, Staff Testimonial, UK Government, Intellectual Property Office, intellectual property, action on disability, disability awareness training, disability at work, Autism awareness week, world autism awareness week, hidden disability
This week (March 29th-April 4th 2021) is World Autism Awareness week with Friday April 2nd being Week World Autism Awareness Day. In this article we want to raise awareness of Autism, and share a colleague’s experience of living with autism. You may also hear people call Autism:
- ASD (Autism Spectrum Disorder – the current medical term):
- ASC (Autism Spectrum Condition – used by many who do not like the term “disorder”)
- Asperger Syndrome (a term that was previously used when diagnosing Autistic individuals with average or above average intelligence – sometimes described as “high-functioning” Autism)
What is Autism?
Autism is a lifelong neurodevelopment disability that affects roughly 1 in 100 people in the UK and is often diagnosed in childhood, but some people are diagnosed later in life. It is not known why people are Autistic; our understanding of Autism, the way it affects people, and the ways in which we diagnose, and support individuals is improving as more research is done about the condition.
Autism affects people in different ways and no two people with autism are the same. For someone to be diagnosed with Autism two key areas of difficulties are communication & social interaction and repetitive & restrictive behaviours, additionally Autistic people often have different sensory experiences.
Communication & social interaction: Autistic people may avoid eye contact when talking to you and may struggle to understand abstract concepts, sarcasm and tone of voice. They may not understand the unwritten rules for social interaction, such as what topics are okay to discuss in office conversations, how to start a conversation or when it is the right time for them to talk.
Repetitive & restrictive behaviours: Many Autistic people use routines to organise their day-to-day life. When these routines are disrupted, it can be difficult for Autistic people to understand what they do. Some Autistic individuals use repetitive movements to calm themselves sometimes called “stimming” (such as using a fidget cube).
Different sensory experiences: Autistic people can be over or under sensitive to touch, light, temperature, smell, taste, sound etc. As a result, some Autistic people may seek out extremely bright lights as they need that sensory input or wear ear protectors or noise cancelling headphones to reduce auditory input. Often Autistic people struggle with the feel of certain materials or labels in clothes.
Autism can also be associated with strengths in the following areas:
- High levels of concentration
- Reliability, conscientiousness and persistence
- Accuracy, close attention to detail and ability to identify errors
- Technical ability, such as in IT
- Detailed factual knowledge and an excellent memory.
Hi! I’m Rianis. I’m a Patent Examiner in EX12. When I joined the office in 2015, I did not know that I was Autistic or Dyslexic. I struggled with the office environment and this meant I was not able to keep up with my work targets. With advice from the staff counsellors and support from HR I was able to be diagnosed as Dyslexic – which then led to an Autism diagnosis. Having my Autism diagnosis has helped me at work because we have been able to put in place adjustments to ensure I can work to the best of my ability. These have included: home-working, reduced output requirements, and preferred methods of communication. I use the Workplace Adjustment Passport so that I can easily share what I need with new managers.
For me, being Autistic affects me in many ways. I find the office environment difficult to work in because I find the multiple overhead lights and constant noise and movement of people overwhelming. Working from home I have been able to create a suitable environment. I also find aspects of social interaction difficult at work. Phone calls are not a suitable method of communication for me – this is because I do not have enough time to process what is being said and work out how I am supposed to respond. My team make adjustments such as giving me feedback in written format and sending me a message before they call so I know what to expect.
Although being Autistic means that I struggle with things that others may take for granted the differences in the way my brain works does have some advantages. I can think very logically and have good attention to detail – because of this I was always good at maths at school and did a degree in Mathematics, and I use these skills every day in my job as a Patent Examiner.
Why is awareness important?
Autism awareness is important, especially in the workplace. Only 20% on Autistic people are in employment compared to half of all disabled people and 8 in 10 non-disabled people. One of the reasons for this is that traditional recruitment processes do not enable Autistic people to successfully communicate their skills and potential. Also, when they are recruited autistic people can struggle with office environments and unwritten expectations.
Unfortunately, there is still stigma surrounding Autism. This means that many people do not feel comfortable disclosing their diagnosis or seeking an assessment for themselves or their child.
By increasing awareness of Autism, we hope that more people will feel comfortable to seek and disclose their diagnosis, access support they might need and in talking about Autism.
There are lots of things you can do to help Autistic people at work and in the wider world. Every Autistic person is different – and if possible, it is best to find out from them what support they would like. But some examples are:
- Be specific and avoid ambiguous language like metaphors and analogy.
- Initiate conversations
- Do not be offended, or think they are not interested, if an Autistic person does not look at you when talking.
- Break down big tasks into small steps.
- Ask closed questions instead of open ones (e.g. “Did you see your parents this weekend?” instead of “What did you do this weekend?”)
What the IPO does to support Autistic people and how you can get involved
At the IPO the iThink network supports neurodivergent individuals, including Autistic colleagues. The network runs support meetings and awareness training, we also provide advice and support for managers of Autistic colleagues.
The IPO also works closely with Autism Spectrum Connections Cymru (ASCC) to provide support for Autistic staff and training courses for all staff members.
Here are some resources if you would like to learn more about Autism: