Autism and Employment

This week I was lucky enough to hear Janine Booth talk about Autism and employment. Janine found out she had autism when she was in her 40s. She describes the experience as being like someone who, having spent a life time in a darkened room, is entering into bright light. She’s a political activist and has been working for many years to improve working lives for people who are on the autistic spectrum.

The National Autistic Society estimates that only 15% of adults with autism are currently in work. This needs to change!

As a parent of a teenager with autism I want to be confident that his autism won’t hold him back once he starts looking for work in a few years time.

Janine described some of the problems encountered by autistic adults looking for work and also suggested ways employers could make reasonable adjustments to work schedules and environments to accommodate autistic workers.

If you are an employer do you advertise jobs asking for people who are excellent communicators and good team players? If these skills are not essential requirements for the particular position, did you realise that you may be discriminating against some perfectly capable autistic people?

In interviews are you looking for people who communicate well or people who have the right skills for the job? These two things may be mutually exclusive for some job roles. An autistic person may not use eye contact and body language in the same way you do. They may take language more literally and fail to pick up if you are hinting rather than asking them a direct question. Interviews may not go as you expect but this does not necessarily mean that you have a poor candidate before you.

So if you ask; “Can you tell me how you found your previous job?” and the answer you receive is,  “I saw the ad on the website.” The person before you may not be trying to crack a poor joke, they may be autistic and answering your question very literally having taken the meaning at face value. You need to be sure that you are asking the right questions if the answers you receive seem odd.

If you are an employer have you thought about how autism friendly your workplace is? Could someone with autism thrive and get on under your management? Would they struggle with sensory issues around noise, lighting and temperature? Are expectations for normalistic communication so entrenched that they would struggle to become a valued member of your team of employees?

Many autistic individuals have incredible strengths that many employers would do well to tap into.

According to this BBC article some technology companies, including Microsoft, Vodafone, SAP and Hewlett-Packard Enterprise, are active in reaching out and hiring people with autism. It would be great if more companies followed their lead.

If employment and autism is a topic of interest to you I recommend Janine’s book, “Autism Equality in the Workplace” and visiting her website – JanineBooth.com

Janine is also a poet and she finished her presentation with her poem, Manifesto behind the Mask, which she has kindly allowed me to publish.

Manifesto From Behind the Mask
Make me a mask so that no-one can see
That the face that I’m wearing is not really me
Get me a glaze to go over my eyes
To look like I’m looking while melting inside

Fetch me some specs that can read between lines
Fit me antennae that pick up the signs
Lend me a lens that reads unwritten rules
Bless me with patience to help suffer fools

Find me a babel fish trained to translate
The looks and the hints and the traps and the bait
Arm me with ammo so I’m never caught
In the crossfire of banter without a retort

Fit me a filter to sift out distraction
Teach me a trick to predict a reaction
Create me a coat like the back of a duck
So nothing will stick when they throw enough muck

Install me a switch that will turn off my thinking
Considering, probing, deciphering, linking
At least fit a dimmer or slow-mo or pause
To turn down the volume or close all the doors

Give me that gift that they call ‘inhibition’
So I know when to hush and reserve my position
Programme an app that decodes all the crap
Build me a bridge ‘cross the processing gap

Alternatively …

Make me a world where not every place
Is buzzing with noise or invading my space
Set up society so you can converse
And I can obsess and neither is worse

Where statements are clear and where reasoning’s sound
Where some holes are square ‘cos not all pegs are round
Where life on a spectrum is not to be feared
Diversity’s normal and no-one is weird

Ditch the requirement for all to conform
Broaden our meaning of what is the norm
Change the arrangements, compete rather less
Co-operate more, re-envision ‘success’

Where a living’s a right not a gift or a perk
Where we’re working to live, we’re not living to work
Where skills are acknowledged and talents are freed
From each by ability, to each by need

Design a fresh start where there’s room to relax
To think, to imagine, to heal up the cracks
Agree some new rules where we all have control
Of our workplaces, life spaces, world as a whole

A future where fear, hate and bullying stop
A system where people not profit come top
Surely this isn’t too much that I ask
But until we achieve it – please make me that mask

image courtesy of flickr creative commons

Spectrum Sunday
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