Autism Spectrum Disorder

Autism Spectrum Disorder - A guide for human resources and management

Autism spectrum disorder - the facts

autism A pervasive developmental disorder of children, characterized by impaired communication, excessive rigidity, and emotional detachment: now considered one of the autism spectrum disorders.


autism spectrum disorder Any of various disorders, as autism and Asperger’s syndrome, commonly manifesting in early childhood and characterized by impaired social or communication skills, repetitive behaviours, or a restricted range of interests. Also called autistic spectrum disorder, pervasive developmental disorder



Asperger’s Syndrome: A developmental disorder characterized by severely impaired social skills, repetitive behaviours, and often, a narrow set of interests, but not involving delayed development of linguistic and cognitive abilities: now considered one of the autism spectrum disorders.


autism IIIWhat to look out for – how autism spectrum disorders affect people and how to identify them in the workplace

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It should be noted that it is unlikely that someone with severe autism would enter medical school, but it is possible for someone with Asperger’s syndrome (highly performing autism) to qualify in medicine or dentistry. 

About Asperger’s syndrome

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Asperger’s syndrome is a form of autism, which is a lifelong disability that affects how a person makes sense of the world, processes information and relates to other people.

Asperger’s syndrome is mostly a 'hidden disability'. This means that you can't tell that someone has the condition from their outward appearance. People with the condition have difficulties in three main areas:

  • social communication 
  • social interaction 
  • social imagination

autism IPeople with Asperger’s syndrome sometimes find it difficult to express themselves emotionally and socially. For example, they may:

  • have difficulty understanding gestures, facial expressions or tone of voice 
  • have difficulty knowing when to start or end a conversation and choosing topics to talk about 
  • be very literal in what they say and can have difficulty understanding jokes, metaphor and sarcasm. For example, a person with Asperger’s syndrome may be confused by the phrase 'That's cool' when people use it to say something is good

Many people with Asperger’s syndrome want to be sociable but have difficulty with initiating and sustaining social relationships, which can make them very anxious. People with the condition may:

  • struggle to make and maintain friendships 
  • not understand the unwritten 'social rules' that most of us pick up without thinking. For example, they may stand too close to another person, or start an inappropriate topic of conversation 
  • become withdrawn and seem uninterested in other people, appearing almost aloof


The characteristics of Asperger’s syndrome vary from one person to another but as well as the three main areas of difficulty, people with the condition may have:

  • love of routines 
  • special interests 
  • sensory difficulties

Adjustments to facilitate retention in the workplace

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There may be occasions where problems do arise for the person – particularly in social interactions, where communication can break down. If you become aware of any of these problems, try to deal with them swiftly and tactfully, and make colleagues aware of the potential for misunderstanding.

  • If the person seems aloof or uninterested in talking to colleagues, or often says the 'wrong' thing, remember (and, where appropriate, remind colleagues) that this is probably unintentional and is likely to be due to the person's communication difficulties
  • If the person tries too hard to fit in and irritates colleagues by seeming to 'muscle in' on a conversation, be patient, and explain the boundaries if necessary 
  • If the person becomes anxious for any reason, try to find out what is causing the problem. One-to-one sessions are probably the best situation for doing this. You may need to think laterally. For example, the stress may not be caused by a difficulty in the job but by a colleague not being explicit in their instructions, by things not working efficiently (such as a computer crashing), or by difficulties in getting to their work Trying to think around the immediate issue may help, as well as supportively asking the employee specific (though not invasive) questions to try to get to the root of the problem.


primarily links to external sources

  1. NHS Choices (This includes a helpful video)
  2. The National Autistic Society
  3. The National Autistic Society
  4. NHS Choices
  5. (this is an article about Asperger’s as employees)
  6. (this article gives advice to Human Resources, and includes little case study scenarios)