Research helps improve position of autistic people in the workplace

Mechanics working on a car

Research has led to changes in how the public and employers perceive autism, which in turn has led to increased recruitment of autistic people.

Around 700,000 people in the UK may be autistic, or more than 1 in 100. Only 32% of autistic individuals find any type of paid work in the UK compared to 46% of those with other conditions – and only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time employment.

This lost employment is detrimental to the quality of life for the nearly 80% of autistic adults who would like to work. It also costs the UK over £9 billion a year.

Dr Anna Remington, director of the Centre for Research in Autism and Education (CRAE) at UCL Institute of Education, is behind some of the most influential, game-changing research in the area of autism and employment.

Video credit: ESRC.
On-screen captions and an autogenerated transcript are available on YouTube.

About the project

Historically autism has been considered a disorder and viewed in terms of deficits and disabilities. This perception is challenged by the results of Dr Remington’s studies on how well both autistic and non-autistic people perform various computer-based cognitive tasks. The studies have revealed that being on the autistic spectrum is a source of many strengths and abilities – particularly, but not exclusively, with respect to attention and perception.

“We found that autistic people can process more information than non-autistic people at any given time,” she says. “This means in many situations autistic people perform better than their non-autistic colleagues.”

Over the past 10 years, Dr Remington has increased understanding of the huge advantage neurodiversity brings to organisations and the meaningful contributions that autistic people can make in the workplace. She has increased awareness of autism through extensive media engagement and helped organisations tackle some of the challenges and barriers that autistic people encounter when trying to get and maintain employment.

Recruitment processes, for example, can unwittingly place autistic job-seekers at a disadvantage. Face-to-face interviews and group assessment activities place heavy weighting on social skills and interaction in an environment likely to cause spikes in anxiety.

Dr Remington’s research suggests ways to help level the field. Offering autistic people work trials can help them see how well someone can actually do a job, for example. Sending them interview questions in advance allows them more time for processing.

“Adopting more inclusive workplace policies, as Deutsche Bank has done as part of its innovative graduate internship scheme, will enable more autistic and neurodiverse people to thrive in the workplace,” Dr Remington explains.

As Adam Livesey, Deutsche Bank employee and former intern points out: “I don’t work well in an over-stimulating environment. Noise-cancelling headphones, a desk positioned away from traffic routes, natural light, and work hours that allow me to avoid a rush hour commute are all examples of adjustments made by Deutsche Bank that accommodate myself and people like me, while enabling Deutsche to tap into new, diverse and underemployed talent.”

Impacts of the project

Dr Remington’s research has helped lead to significant changes in the way people perceive autism in the workplace, as well as in how firms accommodate people with autism and benefit from hiring them.

UK internships for autistic graduates

Alongside Deutsche Bank and Autistica, the leading UK autism research charity, Dr Remington developed an internship for autistic graduates – the first of its kind in the UK. Since the scheme’s launch in 2016, 29 graduates have taken part in both the UK and US. Twenty of the graduates are now in employment.

“As a result of the study, Deutsche Bank now has a better understanding of the experiences of autistic individuals in work, and aims to promote employment opportunities for them,” said Alex Wilson, group head of IBOR transition at Deutsche Bank. “The research has made us recognise the strengths associated with autism, which could be hugely beneficial for the business.”

Improving recruitment practices and workplace environments

Dr Remington’s research highlights the strengths of autistic individuals as well as how to overcome potential workplace challenges. This has helped the CEOs of UK and international organisations with more than two million employees in total to plan more autism-friendly recruitment processes and workplace environments.

International IT consultancy Auticon actively employs adults on the autism spectrum as IT consultants because of the skills they bring to the work. Some 50 organisations from the finance, IT, transport, law, banking and healthcare sectors have participated in workshops that showcase the Deutsche Bank graduate intern scheme, as well as the application of research to both graduate and non-graduate employment.

Dr Remington founded the Discover Autism Research and Employment (DARE) initiative with Autistica in 2018. This helps companies take part in research, receive guidance on the support of autistic employees, and benchmark their progress. So far, almost 2,000 people have taken part.

Changing public perceptions of autism

Dr Remington’s work has raised awareness of autistic individuals’ unique strengths and abilities, reaching almost two million people through Twitter, news articles and TV appearances. Her contribution to the Channel 4 programme ‘Are you Autistic?’ reached 1.6 million viewers.

Find out more

Dr Anna Remington was a finalist in the Outstanding Business and Enterprise Impact category in ESRC’s Celebrating Impact Prize 2020.

Read about the Deutsche Bank internship for graduates with autism in Sometimes you just need someone to take a chance on you (PDF).

Read more about Dr Remington’s research on the website of the Centre for Research in Autism and Education, which she directs.

The Discover Autism Research and Employment (DARE) website offers resources for employers, employees and jobseekers.

Watch the online lecture by Dr Remington Is autism a gift? (behind paywall).

Read DARE’s best practice recommendations for employers.

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