Did you know it is believed that more than 1 in every 100 people in this country are on the autism spectrum? And although we’ve all heard of autism, many of us will be less sure what it actually means or the effect it can have on people’s day-to-day lives, especially in the workplace.
My name is Steph and I’m the People and Development Manager in HMRC’s digital delivery centre in Newcastle. I’ve a real interest in raising awareness of autism, to dissolve barriers and prejudice, and to give everyone a fair and equal chance in their working life.
Last year I was approached by a local college looking for an opportunity for some work experience for a young man on the spectrum. He said he was interested in a clerical role and joined us on a 6 week placement. This was the start of his journey into the world of software development.
Our whole team was involved in his learning experience. They made sure discrete tasks were brought into the sprint (cycle of activity when developing new services) for him and made specific enough so he could take ownership of them and complete them himself, giving him a sense of accomplishment but also contributing to genuine teamwork.
The change in him was incredible. At the start of his placement he couldn’t attend team meetings, he wasn’t comfortable with so many people, but gradually he flourished and his confidence grew. We were so impressed by him we extended his placement to 15 weeks.
At the end of his placement we had a feedback session with his college. Not only had his confidence grown while he was with us but that confidence was also evident in his college and personal life. And he now wants to be a coder.
Hearing this gave us a huge amount of satisfaction, that we had been able to provide an opportunity and open doors that would have otherwise been closed. But the road doesn’t stop there. Yes we have helped one person in expanding their ambitions, but what about the other hundreds of thousands of talented people in our society that could be shut out due to a lack of awareness on neurodiversity.
Our Diversity Champion in the IT space, Jon, has been running a series of autism awareness sessions across HMRC. They are focused on the need to ensure that we don’t lose out on some incredible talent and make sure our recruitment processes are geared up to bring spectrum people into HMRC. They also help show how we can make reasonable adjustments in the workplace for people who are diagnosed and declared as on the autism spectrum (including our legal obligations under the Autism Act of 2009).
Jon has also been working very closely with our Estates teams, giving colleagues on the spectrum a say in the design and layout of the new regional centres HMRC is moving to over the next few years.
As a result of Jon’s sessions, several local initiatives have started. For example, colleagues in Liverpool have set up a Civil Service Local, cross government group called Autism Wide. This aims to create a buddy network to help support managers with this complex hidden condition and staff on the spectrum to communicate their sometimes complex needs.
Knowing there is such a strong movement right now around increasing autism awareness, it gives me hope that by the time children on the spectrum today are developing into adults even more progress will have been made. And autistic people will be better understood, accepted, and embraced for just being themselves.