How workplaces can create difficulties for workers with autistic dependants

From the TUC handbook, Autism in the Workplace

Refusal of time off: An employer may refuse a request for time off, for example a career break or a period of leave to adjust and make arrangements when a
dependant is diagnosed with autism.

Childcare: Few employers provide workplace childcare; of those that do, few provide care suitable for autistic children.

Career progression being held back.

Unkind comments or ‘jokes’: by managers or workmates.

Stress and isolation: being (or thinking you are) the only person in this position.

“When my son was small, he had behavioural problems, and speech and language delay. Childcare was tricky. When he was four, he got his diagnosis of autism. I was working as a marketing manager for a children’s charity. I asked for six months unpaid leave to get myself together and sort out provisions to meet his needs. They refused, so I resigned.
“I spent 18 months taking him to appointments, getting a Statement, and settling him into school. I went back to full-time work when he was six. I had to take a step back in my career. I had to take time off for appointments, but my boss was fine about it.
“One colleague used to make jokes about people ‘being autistic’. One day when he made a joke I marched up to him and said to the office that if I heard one more ‘autism’ joke, I would punch the next person. Not a recommended way of approaching things, but nobody ever made that joke again … All parents have a certain amount of stress, but it is hard to share when you are thinking about the “meltdown” that your kid had because they didn’t remember where they’d put their homework.”
Former charity worker

Need for regular working hours to ensure predictability for the child’s routine.

Stress affecting health and relationships.

Lack of care/support by employer: who may see the employee’s caring responsibilities as a problem.


Rates of pay: A low rate of pay will make it harder for a worker to exercise options like taking unpaid leave or working part-time.

Business ethic: The notion that a public service has to run as a business can lead to employers not providing support or adjustments if that is considered too expensive.

“I used to work on a railway station. I have a young son, Christy, who has several disabilities, including autism/Aspergers. I am a single mum, after the pressures of trying to balance work and parenting broke up my marriage to Christy’s dad.
“I used to do late shifts, but a new manager told me I had to work shifts around a roster. This was very disruptive for Christy, who relies on a predictable daily routine. His behaviour became problematic, with more frequent ‘meltdowns’. I had to take time off, and became ill due to stress. The company issued me with warnings for absence; my manager told me ‘We are running a business, not a crèche’.
“Like many autistic kids, Christy did not sleep well, so I was losing sleep too. I had commendations for my work, but I felt that my employer considered me a problem not an asset. A manager said to me, ‘You should consider what your priorities are’, implying that I could not be both a railway worker and the mother of an autistic son. This manager suggested I go part-time, but I would not be able to live on a part-time wage.
“They stopped me doing work projects (eg. school visits, first aid) and stopped me doing a secondment and taking promotion three times. Eventually, I had no choice but to leave.
“I took my case to Employment Tribunal, but while my employer admitted some failings and was prepared to settle, their lawyers found a technicality and got my claim kicked out. I only got an apology.”
Nikki, former railway worker

Getting time off work to attend appointments.

Being allowed to leave work to deal with an emergency; lateness or absence due to emergencies.

Loss of income due to unpaid leave.

“I did shiftwork. I had to take Saturdays off to take my son Joe to therapy. The law gave me the right to take this leave, but it is only an entitlement to unpaid leave, and my employer would not go further than this legal minimum. So every time I was rostered to work on a Saturday, I lost a day’s pay. It added up to quite a lot.”
John, railway worker

Shift patterns or irregular working hours.

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