Under UK employment and equality law, people with disabilities or certain conditions that affect how they perform at work can request what are known as “reasonable adjustments” in the workplace which can make it easier to carry out their duties.
The costs, if there are any, are to be borne by the employer and this should not be used as a reason to end someone’s employment or to overlook them for promotion and career advancement. These adjustments can vary from person to person and for neurodiverse people, ie those on the autistic spectrum, these will often differ markedly between individuals.
Reasonable Workplace Adjustments for Neurodiverse People
Ask for Clear and Logical Expectations and Rules
People with neurodiversity often find it hard to interpret a complex series of instructions when it can be unclear what the priority is for their attention. They can often benefit from asking for very clear and precise instructions. This can help to counter the possibility of executive dysfunction getting in the way of fulfilling the tasks that were set within an acceptable time frame. This is an easy adjustment for most employers to make and has no cost attached to it.
Request a Static Workstation
Processing changes can be more difficult for people on the autistic spectrum than for most people and it may cause stress and anxiety if their workstation is always in a different place, for example in a hot desking scenario. In situations like this, a reasonable adjustment would be to ask for a specific workstation to be reserved on the days that they are in the office. Again, this is a relatively simple adjustment but it can make a big impact on the wellbeing of the worker.
Reduce Sensory Stimulus
Many people who fall under the neurodiversity umbrella have difficulty with sensory overload issues, and being able to ask for sensory stimulus and input to be reduced where possible can really help. An example of this would be asking to be moved to a quieter part of the office, or to be moved away from next to the kitchen area so that the sights and smells of coffee and lunchtime food aren’t as distracting. Where it isn’t practical to be moved to a quieter part of the office, asking to use noise-cancelling headphones can be an option, depending on the type of job.
Working from a Different Location
It can benefit neurodiverse people to be able to change the location from which they work to be nearer their home, so they don’t have to travel as far on public transport. If the company has two locations and one is closer to the employee’s home, it is entirely legitimate to ask if it is possible to work from that one, rather than the one that is further away and takes longer to get to. This may not always be possible depending on the job and the composition of the teams at the different sites but it is definitely worth considering.
Ask to Work Fixed Hours Instead of Variable Shifts
People who are on the autistic spectrum tend to find a consistent routine easier and therefore changing shift patterns can be difficult to work with. It isn’t unreasonable to ask to work fixed hours instead of a changing shift pattern. Many employers will be happy to grant this reasonable workplace adjustment when it is explained that it will help their employee be more productive and less stressed.
Clear Routine and Structure
Neurodiverse people often thrive on routine and structure and being able to have this while at work will probably yield the best possible results for both employee and employer. Employees shouldn’t be afraid to ask to schedule their work around a routine that works better for them than the one that was in place initially.
Another excellent way to ensure that routine and structure are adhered to is to use scheduling apps like Monday.com or Hubspot to ensure that tasks are being done at the appropriate point in the work week. Asking the employer to pay for a scheduling app may be a reasonable adjustment.
Extra Breaks at Short Notice
Being able to take some extra breaks to calm down can be especially helpful as sometimes a particularly intense working day and sensory overload can combine to cause what is known as a “meltdown”.
This is described by the National Autistic Society as “an intense response to an overwhelming situation. It happens when someone becomes completely overwhelmed by their current situation and temporarily loses control of their behaviour.”
People who are on the autistic spectrum can often tell when they are nearing a meltdown and the ability to leave the room and go somewhere quiet can either cause the feelings to subside and avert the meltdown before it starts, or allow them to experience it alone, rather than have the indignity of losing control in the workplace in front of all of their work colleagues.
Access to Work Grant and Next Steps
If the employer believes that the reasonable workplace adjustments that have been requested are too expensive to implement, it may be possible to get financial assistance from the Government via the Access to Work grant. This grant has no bearing on any other benefits that you may be receiving and there is no financial qualifying criteria attached to it. This means you can receive it regardless of how much you earn, at no disadvantage.
In order to ensure that you get the assistance that you are entitled to, it is important to understand your rights under the Equality Act (2010). This is the legislation that underpins the rights of people with disabilities or other health conditions and compels employers to make reasonable adjustments to the working conditions in order to allow people to fulfil their potential.
If you are currently looking for a neurodiversity-friendly job try our specialised job search board, read our comprehensive job application tips and find out more about disclosing a disability to your employer.
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