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Felicity Carter

Friday 26 June 2020

A day in the life of an Autism Exchange internship

Our Autism Exchange programme offers autistic young people the chance to experience the workplace in an autism-friendly environment.  

Recently one of our interns, Henry, took part in a three-month placement at the National Employment Savings Trust (Nest).  In this blog we shine a spotlight on his experience, and the help and support he received along the way.  


Recruiting for the internship  

Nest has been set up by the Government to ensure every employer has access to a workplace pensions scheme.  

The Autism Exchange internship was offered in Nest’s Testing and Quality Assurance team, a vital role in ensuring the smooth running and functionality of IT within the organisation. The team were keen to offer support to someone who may otherwise have struggled to access the workplace.  

Once the team and role were identified, the Autism Exchange team provided feedback on the initial job description and developed a job advert to recruit to the role.  

There were eight suitable applicants and the team at Nest chose to interview two candidates. Prior to the interview the questions were reviewed by the Autism Exchange team who made adjustments to ensure the autistic  candidates would be able to showcase their talents successfully.  

For example, asking questions based on past experience, rather than hypothetical scenarios which rely on social imagination - something which can be a challenge for autistic people.  

These questions were then shared with candidates in advance along with a welcome pack which included visuals of the location, pictures of interviewers as well as access instructions and other key information.  

There was a fire alarm test planned during one of the interviews. This information was shared with the candidate in advance and an alternate time was offered.  

Adjustments like these can make a huge difference to autistic applicants’ capacity to perform to the best of their abilities, factoring in differences in social communication, interaction, imagination and sensory processing.  


Training and support for managers  

Those that applied had a wide range of experience from across the IT sector but the team were keen to find someone who would benefit the most from the training throughout the placement. The successful applicant, Henry, was in the process of leaving education and beginning his job search.  

Before the placement began, Ambitious about Autism ran a half day training session to ensure managers, team members and the recruitment team understood the different needs of autistic employees and how to adapt their practices to support different ways of working.  


The placement  

The three-month placement initially started as a full-time office based job, however this pattern of working was reviewed in the first week and reset to enable Henry to avoid challenging rush hour commuting. He was able to work 10am until 4pm in the office and additional hours at home in order to complete the training required for the role.  

Henry then chose to gradually extend his working hours in the office and have occasional days working from home if he didn’t feel that facing the commute would end in a productive day in the office. This pattern worked well as the wider testing team work flexibly on a regular basis so were used to team members working in this way.  

Henry worked really hard in order to complete the training which was organised and run by his support team of four including his line manager.    


Henry’s ‘invaluable’ contribution  

During the three-month placement Henry’s work was valued and his dedication to prove his ability was respected by the team. Henry’s attention to detail has proved invaluable, including noticing a flaw in one of the communications he was working on very early on in his training. He also showed exceptional focus and work rate. 

Feedback from Henry’s team is that the internship had a positive impact on everybody.  

His line manager, John, said: “I found the experience highly rewarding. I’ve trained people in the past but this was different, with new challenges. Structure, time-frames, language, working environment and even entry to the building needed to be considered on a more than usual detail level.” 

Head of the team Kate, added: “Initiation and recruitment with the Ambitious about Autism team was fantastic, efficient and easy. It was a positive experience for us and I think most of that was due to the team and its strong lean towards process. We put a team of buddies together, all of whom volunteered, two of which have experience with autism within their families.” 


The team are planning to continue using some of the tools suggested by Ambitious about Autism during the recruitment process, including incorporating information on the interview process on the advert and using a welcome pack for new starters. 

Henry was very keen to continue his career in IT and as the placement was coming to an end he interviewed successfully for another testing role within Nest. A brilliant conclusion to his placement! He says the placement made: “moving into employment a lot easier.” 


Find out more about our Autism Exchange programme.  


About the author 

Felicity Carter is Autism Exchange Project Manager. Find out more about Felicity by reading her one page profile