'It's OK to say the word': What's it like to be autistic in the workplace?

  • Rory O'Regan went to meet James Montgomery to hear about being autistic in the workplace.

Autism Jersey is calling on employers to make their workplaces more welcoming and accommodating for autistic islanders.

The latest Office of National Statistics figures show only 29% of autistic people in the UK are in work, and the charity believes the figure is similar in the Bailiwick.

Autism Jersey says small changes in the workplace can make a massive difference the needs of autistic employees.

Autism: Your questions answered

What is autism?

Autistic people often see the world in a different way to others. It is sometimes also called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). As it is a spectrum, each person experiences it in different ways. People are born autistic.

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What are the signs of autism?

Autism is a spectrum, meaning each person experiences it in their own unique way.

Some people find it hard to communicate and interact with other people, some find it hard to understand how other people think or feel, while others find things like bright lights or loud noises overwhelming, stressful or uncomfortable.

Other signs of autism include becoming anxious or upset about unfamiliar situations and social events, taking longer to understand information and doing or thinking the same things over and over.

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How common is autism?

It is thought around 1-2% of people are autistic.

This means there could be around one to two thousand people in Jersey with the condition. Autism Jersey is the leading charity on the island for supporting autistic people.

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James Montgomery works for a finance company in St Helier and says disclosing his diagnosis to his colleagues has not only made his time at work more enjoyable, but has widened their perspectives on the condition too.

James explained to his employer how noises can often be overwhelming and has found that making a few minor changes in the office environment has improved his experience at work.

The changes include being provided with headphones and working in a space far away from slamming doors.

He called the changes "quick wins" but massively helpful.

James says: "When I first published about [being autistic] around the workplace, for a lot of people this was the first time they realised I was autistic, they would come up to me afterwards and say 'I didn't know you were... you know?'

"They couldn't actually say the word autistic and I think it's a very strong point to come across to people that it's okay to say the word autistic. It's okay to say dyslexic, I have a disability.

"That's for a better word, your way of saying 'I need help and this is what I need in place to get the best out of myself'."

James organised a presentation for his colleagues where he spoke about being autistic. Credit: ITV Channel TV

For Autism Jersey, James' situation highlights how small conversations can lead to big changes.

The Head of Charitable Services at the charity, Lesley Harrison, says autistic people can sometimes struggle in a working environment if their boss or colleagues do not understand the condition.

She added: "If people aren't aware of what autism actually is and what the strengths and what the weaknesses are, and how to work with individuals, then that's going to be a barrier.

"But the more that we can talk and the more that we can move it on from awareness to acceptance. It's okay to recognise that everyone has their individual needs."

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