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Monday 11 January 2021

Creating a more neurodiverse workplace

As a twenty-three year old recent graduate, with a degree in English and Creative Writing, I was feeling pretty unhirable. Add a global pandemic and things get even tougher. Now imagine being autistic on top of all of that. Would you hire me? I was feeling pretty confident that nobody ever would before I took part in my internship with the Civil Service.

Autism Exchange is a programme run by Ambitious about Autism which aims to match autistic individuals with paid work placements. It began in 2015 with the Civil Service. Other companies have since joined the programme but the Civil Service continues to offer internships specifically for autistic individuals every year. Through the exchange, 91 autistic adults have gained invaluable paid work experience - invaluable, because only 16% of autistic individuals are in full-time employment


A virtual internship

This year, for the first time in its existence, the Civil Service Autism Exchange ran entirely virtually (for obvious reasons). Not an ideal situation, certainly, but one that came with unique benefits; the normalisation of remote working will undoubtedly be a benefit to autistic jobseekers, many of whom will be able to work much more comfortably and efficiently from home. And despite never having met face-to-face, I felt a real sense of connection with my team.

In fact, the members of my team - and indeed every single civil servant who was kind enough to lend me their time - acknowledged me as an autistic woman, offered me support, but never once treated me in the condescending manner that people often do when they learn I am disabled. The culture of the Civil Service is, to echo the sentiments of fellow intern Rashida Denbow: “a workforce that celebrates difference”. 


A host of experiences

On a practical level, in just two weeks of work I have gained a whole host of experiences - training in project management, insight into business operations, networking, recruiting skills and one-to-one career coaching, to name a few. It’s an excellent CV booster and a few interns even go on to forge careers within the Civil Service. Back to that 16% statistic - in a world where many autistic individuals find mainstream work difficult, but where access to disability benefits is becoming more and more scarce for those with learning difficulties and the guaranteed interview scheme is often ignored by employers, the government has a duty to its autistic citizens to create suitable career opportunities. 

I am immensely grateful for the experience provided to me by my department, the GCF Capability Team, and I want more of my fellow autistic adults to have access to such a valuable opportunity. If your department would be willing to collaborate with  Autism Exchange to offer paid work experience and receive comprehensive training sessions on autism, drop an email to to find out more.