Only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time employment in the UK, with lost employment detrimental to quality of life for the majority of autistic adults who would like to work, and costing the UK over £9 billion a year. Research into how to improve employment opportunities has changed public perceptions around autism, increased recruitment of autistic people and changed culture and practices in a number of UK and international organisations.
- Dr Anna Remington, with Deutsche Bank and Autistica, the leading UK autism research charity, 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: 20 of whom are now in employment.
- Her research highlighting the strengths of autistic individuals as well as how to overcome potential workplace challenges has helped the CEOs of UK and international organisations with more than 2 million employees in total to plan more autism-friendly recruitment processes and workplace environments. Some 50 organisations from the finance, IT, transport, law, banking and healthcare sectors have participated in workshops to showcase the Deutsche Bank graduate intern scheme and the application of research to both graduate and non-graduate employment.
- She founded, with Autistica, the Discover Autism Research and Employment (DARE) initiative in 2018 which 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.
- Her work has raised awareness of autistic individuals’ unique strengths and abilities, reaching almost 2 million people through Twitter, news articles and TV appearances. Her contribution to the Channel 4 programme ‘Are you Autistic?’ alone reached 1.6 million viewers.
- Identification of specific barriers for autistic job-seekers led to a series of bespoke best-practice recommendations for employers (https://dareuk.org/resources).
"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. The research has made us recognise the strengths associated with autism which could be hugely beneficial for the business.” (Alex Wilson, Group Head IBOR Transition, Deutsche Bank)
About the research
Around 700,000 individuals in the UK may be autistic, or more than 1 in 100 in the population. Only 32% of autistic individuals find any type of paid work in the UK compared to 46% of those with other conditions. Yet almost 80% of autistic adults without jobs want to work.
Historically autism has been considered a disorder and viewed in terms of deficits and disabilities. Challenging this perception, Dr Anna Remington’s studies of how well both autistic and non-autistic people perform various computer-based cognitive tasks 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.” Indeed, international IT consultancy Auticon actively employs adults on the autism spectrum as IT consultants because of the skills they bring to the work.
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 real challenges and barriers that autistic people encounter when trying to obtain 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 anxiety-spiking environment. Dr Remington’s research shows that offering autistic people work trials to see how well someone can actually do a job or sending interview questions in advance to allow more time for processing could help level the field.
“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.”