Employment is difficult for everyone - but if you are on the Autistic spectrum, there is an extra layer of challenges, barriers to overcome, more hoops to jump through. According to the national Autistic Society, 16% of Autistic adults are in full-time employment; 77% 0f unemployed Autistic adults said they wanted to work. (Source) While the world is on pause, and we talk about whatever a ‘new normal’ is supposed to mean, here are a few ideas about how to help Autistic individuals with employment - from the perspective of an Autistic woman.
If you are lucky, your area may offer some sort of service to help individuals into employment.
However, it could be helpful if this support was tailored to the individual - and not just focused on the end goal of getting someone into employment. I was lucky enough to be a recipient of such support. I left the organisation, as I felt like what I was saying, and asking for help for, was never taken on board. It was always ‘let’s look for jobs’ - something I had been doing anyway. It was counterproductive, and I didn’t get a single interview.
If support was tailored to our particular needs, it would be a lot more helpful.
Job ads need to be made clearer
One thing Autistic people may find difficult is to separate crucial information - such as if someone is speaking non-stop.
Job adverts can sometimes be confusing, especially if they are not written clearly. One business near where I live put out a job ad that was so confusing, simply as it was grammatically incorrect, there was excessive text, and words that masked meaning. It was also more than a page.
However, that employer almost exclusively employed people such as myself - but within a wider category. I was also told that the employer wanted to improve their job ads - by putting them out into the world, to see who’d apply.
This approach is counterproductive, because how can someone who doesn’t understand the job ad apply with confidence, and be accepted into the position?
Job ads could be so much clearer - such as by using concise and clear language, being straight to the point, being explicit about all demands for the position. It would be helpful if diversity accommodations could be in place, too - such as if there’s any disclosure procedure, what accommodations can be made, etc.
While we’re in a pandemic, why not offer outreach programmes?
Covid 19 has impacted us all - but for people on the spectrum, it has added another layer.
Support has often been cut and not adapted; there have been anecdotes of individuals and families left without any support.
While we’re in the odd situation, I’ve been trying to ‘upskill’ myself - such as by attending masterclasses via Zoom. In the space of just over an hour, I learnt how to create a CV. I was also given lots of hints and tips - and they wouldn’t have been obvious, without being verbally stated.
Outreach programmes at this time could have a wonderful impact. They could help Autistic individuals.
Sign up to newsletters
Newsletters are everywhere at the moment - and they could potentially help with employment. I also find them a lot easier to understand, as they have been written and tailored to their audience.
A few I’d recommend include:
I’ve also set up my own! Each week I interview someone, and link to resources - including to help Autistic people through the pandemic. I am also raising a small amount to pay contributors! You can sign up here. If you’d like to donate to help pay Autistic people to write, why not consider buying me a cup of coffee?
Job interviews are inaccessible. Let us show you what we can do
Job interviews are inaccessible to the point of being obstructive.
Explaining requirements clearly would be extremely helpful. I was lucky enough to have a job interview at my favourite newspaper - and it seemed to me we’d pitch three ideas, to receive feedback from all other candidates. We got to pitch one - and I hadn’t realised, and started with the worst out of the three I had! The idea was not “newsworthy enough”. The interview wasn’t adapted very well, either. If I ask you to rephrase what you say, to understand you better, please never, ever repeat the same phrase verbatim, but slower and/or louder.
A job interview is reliant on communication - and people on the spectrum communicate very differently. Let us show you what we can do!
Note: a reasonable adjustments ‘duty’ under the 2010 Equality Act requires employers to remove barriers Autistic individuals experience.
Autism is not me - I am an Autistic person
A lot of the time, people see my label before they see me. But I am an Autistic person - one who will always be on spectrum, but who can do so much more. My diagnosis is probably the least interesting thing about me..!
Bosses have seen my label before seeing me - reverse it, and we’d have had a far more fruitful relationship. It is not the be all and end all. I may need extra support at times, but my diagnosis does not mean I am incapable. Sometimes I have simply carried out what I perceive as a task, not a challenge - like interviews, travelling, setting up meetings and more. And when complete, the reaction has sometimes been “how the Hell did you do that?”
Well, I am a trained journalist. I have a good contacts book. I ask questions. And I am fortunate enough to know how to manage (most of) my needs. I’d like to think that I try my hardest in all that I do. My ASD is an asset. It presents challenges - like hypersensitivity to sound - but challenges can be turned into assets.
Do not underestimate or overestimate me because I am on the spectrum. As a friend once quoted in a blog post she wrote: “What if I fall?” “Oh but my darling, what if you fly?”
Be an ally
I have had employers that have said they’re an ally. If you’ve met one Autistic person, you have met one Autistic person. It is a spectrum..!
One employer fired me. They forced eye contact, always criticised me (never the neurotypical employee), gave contradictory instructions, and so much more. They were a false ally - because they clearly hadn’t the faintest idea about how to deal with me, nicely.
Be an ally. Read up about Autism, be accommodating - and if all else fails, you could just ask us!
The gendered expectations you should be aware of
Dr Gemma North has been researching Autistic women and employment. However, because of the inequalities faced by women in relation to development opportunities and pay, it’s reasonable to wonder if the same could be experienced by Autistic women.
Two focus groups and ten 1:1 interviews with the women involved in North’s research provided insight into the experiences. Themes that stood out include eye contact - where a female was more likely to be seen as not being trustworthy - and stereotypes, such as Rainman.
According to North’s research, “Autistic behaviours may be misinterpreted by co-workers and friends as being ‘lazy’ or as an unwillingness to participate” - and that “they [women] may be perceived as or less able or intelligent than they are.”
There is an “unexpressed expectation on women to do unpaid ‘emotional labour’ (Hochschild, 2012); to smile, be friendly …….. that is not necessarily in their job descriptions.
Be aware of gendered expectations. It’s the twenty first century; they have no place in the workplace.
We are delighted to be able to offer work opportunities to people with Autism #teamnono. We are able to include young people with range of abilities in the kitchen, packing room, to model for our media photos, illustrators, photographers and now, journalist - Lydia Wilkins who is an NCTJ qualified journalist; her work has appeared in places including The Independent, The Independent, Readers Digest, Refinery 29 and others. She also used to be a columnist for The Mid Sussex Times.
Her favourite thing is interviews - and interviewees have included Alan Rusbridger (former editor of The Guardian), Anastacia ("I'm outta love"), Jacqueline Wilson, and Sir Harold Evans, former campaigning editor of The Sunday Times.
She blogs over at mademoisellewomen.com, where she documents life on the Autistic spectrum. She also writes a weekly newsletter for disabled freelancers.