*We acknowledge that since the publishing of this post that terms, diagnoses and language have altered.
My name is Alexandra and I have been working at BeyondAutism for almost three years. I have a degree in creative writing and media studies and I have nonverbal learning disability, a neurological disability that is possibly on the autistic spectrum.
Life after university was very difficult for me in terms of job searching and applying for jobs in a very competitive market – media and the arts! Not only did I have to prove to these employers I was the best person for the job/internship, I also had to declare my nonverbal learning disability if their application included an equal opportunities form. How do I sell myself? How do I explain that my nonverbal learning disability is a strength and not a weakness?
These are the top five things I want employers to know about hiring a person with autism:
1. Employees with autism and intellectual disabilities are more likely to be highly dedicated to their job than neurotypical people.
In an Environics Research study, 84% of employers rated employees with an intellectual disability as being the following: highly productive, dependable, engaged in their work, and motivated with great attendance records and strong attention to the quality of their work. 86% of employees with a disability rated average or better on attendance than their colleagues without a disability. Employees with intellectual disabilities are more likely to stay in their job for a long period of time. Staff turnover for those with intellectual disabilities is only 7%. Staff turnover for those without intellectual disabilities is 49%. Employers want employees who value their job and they want their employees to stay with their company for a long time. It can be stressful investing time and money into training and rehiring new employees.
2. We all have our own unique strengths.
Employers need to focus on what we CAN do rather than what we CAN’T do. Some of the strengths people with autism may have include strong attention to detail, having good working memories, high levels of concentration and focus, and technical abilities like computers and programming. Some good examples of hiring employees who have autism with these particular strengths are being able to proof read colleagues’ work and tell them their mistakes and errors; being able to concentrate on a task for a long period of time without getting bored/frustrated; remembering information other employees may not remember; and helping colleagues who have computer issues. I personally enjoy proofreading other people’s work and I can concentrate on a task for a long period of time. I feel comfortable with the repetitiveness of certain tasks. However, I am not personally able to assist my colleagues with their computer issues!
3. There are different types of autism and employers should not assume they are the same and stereotype us.
Asperger’s syndrome is the most commonly diagnosed and well-known autism spectrum disorder. I have nonverbal learning disability which is possibly on the autistic spectrum. As someone who has a nonverbal learning disability diagnosis, I don’t want an employer to assume I have Asperger’s because there are differences between both conditions. It is important to ask an employee what their personal diagnosis is, understand how it affects them and how you can support them, such as offering a quieter room to work in and informing them in advance of any changes such as, meetings being cancelled and/or rescheduled. Some employers may unknowingly make stereotypical assumptions about autism, so it is important to take the time to understand that person’s needs before they start the job. Luckily, some of my jobs have been in the autism and SEN fields, so my employers already had a good understanding of autism and learning disabilities and they knew how to support my needs.
4. What may seem like a small achievement for a neurotypical employee may be a big achievement for people with an autism spectrum disorder.
Sending out a well written e-mail or helping a customer on a phone call may be everyday tasks for some neurotypical employees, but for employees with autism, each step we take in life can be a milestone for us. If we seem happy when we have achieved a small task, this is the reason why and do not mistake it for arrogance. My telephone skills have improved greatly since working for BeyondAutism. I used to freeze whenever I answered the phone and had great anxiety due to not knowing what to expect when I answered the phone. My confidence has grown over the years when dealing with telephone calls due to the support I have received at BeyondAutism and the telephone skills some of my colleagues have taught me. Whenever I handle a phone call to the best of my ability, I still feel proud of myself two and a half years of working here. I remember how much progress I have made over the years and I develop as a person every day. It is important to recognise and support these achievements to boost confidence and encourage further progression.
5. Explain what it is you need exactly from employees with autism.
Avoid rushing through your instructions, being vague and unambiguous and missing out some of the steps. Some people with autism need information to be as detailed as possible. An employee who has autism needing detailed information is not a weakness. It shows the employer we care about what is being asked of us and we want to perform that task to the best of our ability. A piece of work which may have taken longer for an employee with autism to complete, may be written better than a rushed piece of work written by a neurotypical employee.
I believe everyone should live by the motto, treat others the way you would like to be treated. You would want to be employed and given the support you need at work if you had autism or an intellectual disability, correct? What if it was your child or sibling? Empathy is what makes us human, we need to embrace it and use it every day. We need to change the world one step at a time together. One day, in the near future we can all live in an inclusive disability friendly world and we won’t have to fight for access to employment anymore. Thank you for reading.