A recent study by the UK’s National Autistic Society shows that only 12% of people with high functioning types of autism like Aspergers Syndrome have full time employment.
Ironically, people with autism tend to thrive in environments where routine, consistency and structure are the norm. Logically that description should describe the vast majority of workplaces, but when dealing with a hidden disability like Autism, things become much more complicated.
Firstly, we have the biggest hurdle, the interview. Now modern interviewing techniques are so Autism unfriendly, it is almost absurd. Question with esoteric or philosophical answers, like “What do you think are your best and worst features?” or “Give me an example of a time you lead by example.” These kinds of ridiculous pseudo psychological interrogations are not likely to be well met by someone with ASD.
And then we have the worst interviewing technique of the lot – the role playing exercise. Most people with high functioning ASD will manage fine in a real situation – but put a psychological spot light on them, make them the centre of attention and give them some preposterous scenario they have to pretend to deal with, just sit back and watch them crack.
Secondly, we have the issue of Social Anxiety in a new job. Starting a new job is a big thing for anyone. A new environment, new people and a new role to adapt to. Being open and engaging with new colleagues in a new workplace presents a whole new set of challenges and first impressions tend to count. Coming across as ignorant or rude because of an inability to engage appropriately can be a real concern.
Thirdly, we have continued employment – it is easy for people with ASD’s to fall into a rut. Often times they find themselves in the same monotonous job for years at a time, largely ignored and repeated over looked for promotion, and all to often disposable. When you fail to engage with colleagues, managers, employers ect, you lose any form of career traction. It isn’t uncommon to find Autistic people with years under their belt at a specific job, but no real wider job experience that would encourage an employer to take a chance on them. Obviously, this can become a situation which can contribute toward depression or worse.
Lastly we have the all to common problem of bullying. Perhaps bullying is to narrow a term – because although bullying in the workplace is not uncommon due to differences which become increasingly obvious over time. It is also common for people to take advantage, whether that be taking credit for something or shifting blame. For many people with ASD, confrontation is a real issue and best avoided, so in these types of situation, it can be easy to be taken advantage of.
So what can be done?
Firstly, employers need to rethink interviewing strategies and to adopt a more no nonsense, common sensual approach to interviews. Stick to what is relevant and pertinent when asking questions. Rather than role playing exercises, try written exercises, and if that is too much of a compromise, try a one day on the job evaluation.
Secondly, training! 1 in 88 people are on the autistic spectrum. If your company doesn’t employ any of them, you can be sure you will find them among your clients and customers. Autism awareness training is available from most Autism awareness charities, so there really is no excuse not to be aware of at least some of the issues and challenges faced by autistic people.
Lastly, give them a chance! People on the Autistic Spectrum have a whole wealth of unique and interesting skills and perspectives to bring to a company and can be a vast resource for unique ideas latent talent.