In an ideal world, any and all autistics would be encouraged to fine tune their traits, focus their skills into specialist areas, and then go on to attain high-profile careers, some even becoming the zeniths of their professions, confident in their abilities with any demons conquered, right?
… I know. Even Lord of the Rings sounds more feasible.
In 2016, the National Autistic Society reported that 32% of autistic adults are in some kind of paid employment, with only half of that (16%) in full-time work. I just thought I’d throw those figures out there before anyone starts thinking of me as a loudmouthed malcontent… which is essentially true, but I’m a justified loudmouthed malcontent.
People with autism struggle to find jobs. Some may put it down to autistic people struggling to adapt to the workplace, and too an extent, this is true. Autistics people struggle to adapt to social norms and adjust to society’s expectations. But that is precisely why autistics NEED jobs. They need them to earn a living for themselves and also to develop the social skills they need to get through life, and they’re certainly not going to get either if they’re unemployed. No one ever became a social darling for being a hermit.
When it comes to a lot of job adverts, some people who are well-versed in the art of job application may see an extensive list of requirements and expectations and have little to no problem filling out the formalities. But for some autistic people, who may have had difficulty engaging socially and difficulty grasping social concepts, may look at a job vacancy… and may only see a jumble of words. Trust me, when I look at streams and streams of paragraphs, it feels like trying to navigate London without Google Maps. You’re basically a web tourist.
Now, when it comes to the interview, there is crushing pressure to make a good impression. And given that some autistics may be known for speaking bluntly with no filter, they may be overly conscious of saying something – anything – that runs the risk of shooting themselves in the foot.
At that point, a job interview becomes much like the game Operation; saying the right thing feels like causing that buzzer in your head to go off… in more ways than one. I myself have made the mistake of coming to the interview without a mouth filter. For example, in one job interview, the second I mentioned the word’s public transport, I knew I was doomed.
That was actually one of the more relaxed interviews anyone could have gone through. Some employers like to add a bit of diversity to their recruitment… which means rather than have one person interviewing you, you have a group interviewing you. If you’re prone to sensory overload, you’ll be focused on every little detail, worrying about the reactions of the people sat in front of you, anxiety slowly bubbling away to the surface, until you end up finding yourself flustered, forgetting key points you were supposed to cover and inadvertendly damning yourself back to the unemployment graveyard, feeling as if you were surrounded by a pack of hyenas on the verge of devouring you…
…OK, group interviews may not necessarily go down the same way as the Lion King, but the same principle still applies; group interviews can catch people off guard. Throwing social anxiety into the mix would be like throwing a live match into a puddle of petrol, resulting in autistics being at risk of an emotional meltdown, often because you’re kept in the dark about the interview format.
Part of the problem here lies in the application. Some company application forms will have a section in which you can describe any conditions you might have, how they impact your day-to-day life and any way you might need support. This system is flawed for two reasons; firstly, some autistics are petrified of disclosing their conditions for fear that it could damage their chances of securing the job. I myself found it difficult to write down my Asperger’s on employment forms because for me, being an Aspie felt like being a pirate… which would have been alright if I had the swagger and air of confidence as Jack Sparrow, but alas, I did not.
Secondly, even if you do disclose, autism is something that impacts every aspect of your day-to-day life, its effects taking hold 24/7, playing a pivotal role in defining who you are as an individual…
…and you are expected to cover all this in a PARAGRAPH. I kid you not. Sometimes you only get a single line. I’m not saying employers should give candidates leeway to write a novel about their condition, but if they’re going to be properly supported, as stated by the Equality Act, they need more than a paragraph to make a full disclosure.
Now, from my experience, employers aren’t malicious or overly prejudiced against autism. They’re not going to kick you out of the door just because you have autism, but they’re for the most part uninformed as to how to support the condition, and therefore, unprepared to provide adequate support. It’s like trying to disarm a bomb without attending a bomb disposal class.
Since its inception, Hidden Talent has been trying to connect with employers to educate them on the key traits of conditions like autism to ensure that support is present, if not constant. No one expects employers to get everything right. Support for autistic people is very much a learning curve for everyone involved.
I’ve been very lucky with my managers. They see me as I am. Granted I can come across as a little rough around the edges, and sometimes I can be a difficult pill to swallow, even to myself (no, this is NOT an Ouroborous scenario). But they have gone out of their way to support me and develop me, accepting that I’m not a finished product and making sure I learn new things as I go along. This has really helped me to adjust socially and come out of my shell. And I am always yearning to continue my professional, social and emotional development. And while I still have a long way to go, I think I’m on the right track.
When you get committed people who want to support you, an autistic can truly thrive in their profession and achieve great things. But it is a little too infrequent for my liking. And that is something we all have to work to change. And with the right mindset, we can do it. Maybe not today, probably not tomorrow, but we will get there.
If you have enjoyed this blog, check out the other articles in the Autism Awareness Week series!