As an adult on the autistic spectrum, and as one who has Asperger syndrome I know how difficult it can be to both find work and keep a job. Navigating everyday life can be very frustrating. We face uphill battles with councils regarding provision of services and with employers who may not see our value and potential as workers. Perhaps it can be argued that many employers simply do not understand autism. Autism Anglia’s website states that only 16% of adults on the autistic spectrum are in employment and a 1/3 of those people are bullied at work. As autistic people our struggle to understand non-verbal communication and unclear instructions makes life at work difficult.
Kathryn Moore from Peterborough spoke to the Guardian newspaper about her difficulties with unclear communication in the workplace. When Kathryn revealed her autism to her employers they transferred her to another department with a bad tempered manager. She now has a new job with an employer who is more understanding. I am privileged to be able to say that I have had kind employers, and that honesty about my autism did not put me at a disadvantage, however have had difficulties with some colleagues.
We will always give employers quality in our work, but our focus on small detail can annoy other people who don’t understand why we are so fussy about detail. One manager could not accept the way in which I worked even though I did a good job and met deadlines. Eventually she did understand and appreciate the bigger picture, which was that I delivered high quality work. Despite this, it would arguably have been easier for me if I had been praised for what I achieved, rather than criticized for working in a different way to other people.
“People can forget what you say or do, but they will almost never forget how you inspired them to feel” (www.aspergerexperts.com)
It is not very motivating for someone with autism to sense stress and fear when they are being asked to do something and there many helpful things that employers can bear in mind, particularly at the interview stage, which would be helpful to an autistic person. For example, The National Autistic Society have suggested that employers:
- Should not consider a lack of eye contact and facial expression from us as meaning that we are not interested in a job role.
- We should be allowed to talk about what we can do rather than what we would do in make-believe situations.
There are lots of local resources available, particularly on the Autism Anglia website to help autistic people on the road to success. Hopefully with renewed support for the Autism Act these will increase in number this year, when the government conducts its review of the promises made by local authorities to produce a plan of action to help autistic adults. The strategy changed to ‘Think Autism in 2014’ and contains many valuable ways forward including help for autistic people to get a job and to live in a dignified way of their own choosing. We are still waiting to see these changes, however there are also other groups setting up websites who are taking action in to their own hands.
If we want to really push things for our benefit then I call on those of us that do and have had successful or even unsuccessful employment experiences, to become role models by speaking out publicly about their own stories. Hopefully this will inspire employers to learn more about autism and autistic people to be more confident about their chances.
For general information on help for autism:
For stories from autistic people:
Written by Elizabeth Seal