Autism in the Workplace: Autism and trade unionism

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2015 National Disabled Members' Conference
3 July 2015
Carried as Amended

Autism is a term which covers a wide range of conditions that reflect neurological differences among people. A neutral descriptive definition is: Autistic Spectrum Conditions.

Conference this is a trade union issue for a number of reasons as it affects both adults with autism who experience difficulties in the workplace, their parents, carers and children with the condition, who have difficulty working or becoming employed because of a lack of understanding, care/support by employers who may see the employee’s caring responsibilities and needs as a problem.

A motion was passed unanimously by the TUC Disabled Workers’ Conference in 2013 entitled Autism in the Workplace and issued its first guide Autism in the Workplace to support autistic workers and their families.

How Workplaces Can Create Difficulties for Autistic Workers


Treating the autistic worker differently from, or less favourably, than other workers.

An example may be failing to put into practice reasonable adjustments recommended by occupational health.

An employer failing to acknowledge that the cognitive processing of an Autistic person is different to their own.

Anxiety is a core factor in an Autistic person’s profile, partly due to their cognitive processing systems. Acute anxiety can be misinterpreted as being Behavioural problems and lead to needs being dismissed.

Lack of communication and support.

The individual person should be core to all meetings and decisions, in order for the person to feel secure and valued by the employer.

New work processes:

The imposition of new arrangements at work may cause difficulties for workers on the autistic spectrum. Anxiety

Self-confidence may be decreased:

By experiences of discrimination or bullying.

Performance management:

May cause undue pressure and distress to autistic workers.

Working environment:

Autistic workers may need a ‘benign’ environment with fewer distressing factors.

The size and design of a work place can intensify anxiety and confusion and increase an Autistic person vulnerability to Sensory overload issues e.g. Noise, light, smell.

Disruption of routines.

A worker with undiagnosed autism may not get support or adjustments, and even a professional diagnose may not guarantee a willingness by the employer to provide appropriate support and adjustments

Unexpected events or disruption of work schedule.

These will cause stress, anxiety, lack of confidence and low self-esteem.

Conflict with colleagues or managers. This may be due to Misunderstanding rules, policies or instructions. Difficulties organising ones work.

Feeling that autistic positives/skills are not recognised.

This can occur despite managers and colleagues receiving training if there is no willingness to accept the person for who they are.

The cognitive processing abilities of an Autistic person are different from that of a Neurotypical person, communications and understanding will be different not defective.

Conference calls on the National disabled Members’ Committee to do the following:

1. Develop a UNISON guide to Autism in the Workplace based on the TUC guide to provide guidance to union reps and branch

2. To Encourage and recommend to Branches that they organise autism awareness training for reps and Branch officers

3. resolve to challenge the discrimination and negative portrayal of autistic people

4. resolve to campaign for autism-friendly workplaces, recognising that the measures involved will benefit all workers.”