Working with autism

Not many adults with autism hold down full time jobs, just 15% in the UK1. This is despite some 61% of autistic adults saying that they would like a job2.

I am in the 15% and I realise that even though I struggle, I am immensely fortunate to not only have a job, but to be doing something I love and actually progressing my career. I have achieved things that I am sure people never thought I would – managing my own department – but I have needed help and support along the way.

I have previously read about software houses that exclusively employ autistic people. As a Software Developer with Aspergers Syndrome this seems like an awesome idea, but what about the folk who aren’t into software but still want a job? That’s where Phil Evans and Autistic Achievers come in. Phil is in the process of launching Autistic Achievers (going live in June I think) and essentially the aim is to find jobs for autistic adults in the UK.

It’s a super simple idea and the more I consider it, the more I think “Why hasn’t someone done this sooner?!”.

I don’t quite know how far Phil is planning on taking the service, I guess that largely depends on how well it all goes, but the potential is massive. Applying for a job is a scary process and for someone who is autistic it is even worse. If Phil is able to manage the expectations of potential candidates and employers and bridge the communication gap between them by presenting information to candidates in an accessible way, then he has taken away a massive barrier.

Thinking about this reminds me of how much I hate job interviews. First up, I’m in a suit and proper shoes, so I am already uncomfortable. Secondly, I am traveling to a strange place, to meet strange people who will lock on to me with their tractor-beam-like laser eyes and expect me to hold up a conversation. You really couldn’t do a much better job of designing hell for this aspie.

I realise I am lucky with the level of support I have been shown at work. I have almost never had to wear a suit, instead I am able to be comfortable in my jeans, t-shirt, hoodie and AF1s combo. I am allowed to wear my headphones all day, especially important due to the open plan nature of the office, all of the noisy tech and Shouty Phone Lady (not her real name). The lights around my desk are switched off 90% of the time and there is a sign by the switch reminding people to turn them off after they have used them, although I don’t think anyone realises that this is for my benefit and not a cost cutting measure. I am in the office most days and allowed to leave on time, so I avoid having my routine changed last minute and spiraling into a meltdown, or getting overtired and shutting down. This is a really important one for me because by the end of my working day I am spent, work is largely about survival for me, even though I love what I do.

I just think that with similar levels of support, there are many more adults on the spectrum who could be successful in the workplace and I hope that Phil and Autistic Achievers are able to facilitate this. Be sure to check out his blog!

1,2 Autism and Asperger syndrome: some facts and statistics – The National Autistic Society

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