This month, we’re focusing on what it means to be neurodiverse, recognising that our neurodiverse colleagues may experience the workplace differently.

Alison Hayden, Project Support Coordinator and Mental Health First Aider, explains more about her personal experiences with autism.

“I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder as an adult in 2017. I was talking to an autistic girl online and what she described really resonated with me. This made me think that I should learn more about it. Prior to this, I knew very little about autism but whilst researching, I discovered more and more that what I was reading about sounded much like myself.

I talk very openly about being autistic and hope to play my part in helping others to understand what it means. I don’t see it as something to hide or be embarrassed about, it’s just part of who I am.

How being autistic affects me

There are both positives and negatives for me living as an autistic person. I did really well at school, I have always been eager to learn new things and take on new responsibilities with work. I have a very creative mind and for those that know me well, I am often making them smile and laugh with the unusual things that I come up with. I do, however, find it difficult to make friends.

I can be terrible at keeping a general social conversation going and I get anxious in new places and with new faces. I also have sensory processing issues, so more often than not, noises that are repetitive, loud or unexpected and lights that are bright or flashing can be overwhelming for me, and I need to escape from it until I settle down.


Most autistic people prefer to identify as an autistic person, rather than a person with autism. For example: she is autistic. Some people may say on the autism spectrumAspergers is no longer given as a medical diagnosis and so it’s no longer widely used.

Some people refer to autism as a condition or neurodevelopmental difference, and some people use disability.

Autism and mental health

According to the autism research charity Autistica, seven out of ten autistic people have a mental health condition such as anxietydepression, or obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). There are a few reasons why –

  • Individuals can struggle to try to fit into or make sense of the world, which can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety
  • They may face delays in getting their mental health problems diagnosed
  • They are more likely to face stigma and discrimination
  • They are less likely to have the appropriate support available. For example, group therapy might not be suitable for some autistic people, or therapists might not know how to adapt their approach for an autistic person.

Stigma, a lack of awareness, and lack of appropriate infrastructure (such as office setup) can end up excluding people with neurodevelopmental differences. Understanding and embracing neurodiversity in communities, schools, healthcare settings, and workplaces can improve inclusivity for all people. It is important for all of us to foster an environment that is conducive to neurodiversity, and to recognise and emphasise each person’s individual strengths and talents while also providing support for their differences and needs.

How can you help?

There are many ways we can help autistic people:

  • Ask direct questions rather than vague open-ended questions.
  • Do give as much relevant information upfront as possible.
  • Share questions in advance, as well as maps and pictures of new environments to help minimise anxiety.
  • Don’t expect eye contact. For some people, it is hard to interpret facial expressions and listening is easier if when they look away.
  • Avoid abstract language, sarcasm, or metaphors – some autistic people find it confusing and can take things literally.
  • Ask them how they’d like to communicate, an example of this is that they might not like talking on the phone or might find video calls can cause sensory overload.
  • Do be patient and understanding. They may take longer to process the meaning of your words, give them a little time if they need it.
  • Try to give advance notice if plans are changing and provide a reason for the change, sudden changes to routine can be difficult to process and cause anxiety.
  • Be mindful that they may fidget and use fidget toys or may need to get up and walk around
  • Try not to have loud conversations with other people whilst standing nearby an autistic person, this can affect concentration and cause sensory overload.
  • Avoid using negative language such as ‘disorder’ or suffering from autism’. This can be misleading, stigmatising and disempowering. In many cases it is a co-occurring condition, such as anxiety or depression that causes difficulties – not autism.
  • Avoid language such as the terms ‘mild’ or ‘severe’ or ‘high’ or ‘low’ functioning. They are simplistic and can be offensive.”

Thank you for sharing, Alison!

What is autism?

Autism spectrum conditions (ASC) are a number of different neurological conditions that include a wide range of symptoms and different levels of ability. It’s not an illness or disease, it just means an autistic person’s brain works in a different way.

People with ASC may behave, communicate, interact, and learn in ways that are different from other people. 

Like everyone, autistic people have things they’re good at as well as things they struggle with. Some need help with every day living whereas others can live life with little to no support. This is why it is known as a spectrum disorder – no two people are the same.

A few examples of challenges that come with autism are having difficulty recognising or understanding other people’s feelings and expressing their own, finding things like bright lights, loud noises and crowded spaces stressful or upsetting and taking longer than a neurotypical person to understand information.

Learn more

  • Join m’power on Tuesday 25 April in Carnival House for Think Different, an event to raise awareness of hidden disabilities and neurodiversity. Click here to find out more.
  • If you’re a manager, download our new guide to help you understand more about neurodiversity and the actions you can take to support colleagues to be their true selves. Click here to download the guide. 

Supporting you

What makes a good day at Carnival UK is different for each of us. One colleague might be looking for financial advice, while someone else is focused on eating well for heart health, and another needs guidance on mental health support for a team member. Take a look at our Wellbeing hub for more information.

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