We believe that autistic people have a lot to offer the workplace, the economy, and the wider community. But there are a lot of stereotypes about what those with autism can and can't do. Autistic people can excel in any area that they are interested in. Some can bring unique ways of thinking to the workplace; others excel at repetitive tasks - and there is everything in between.
Robust and reliable dry-stone walls, an original feature and valuable part of our landscape, have weathered many storms for hundreds of years. They are not built out of equal-sized, block-shaped stones, but gain their impenetrable strength from the diversity of the rocks that form them. Why should we not apply this concept to people and introduce more diversity in our workforce to make it stronger, more reliable and more original? Why do so many employers insist on recruiting only people, who conform to one-size-fits-all criteria?
I have been asked many times “Aren’t we potentially creating constant disruption in our workplace if we employ autistic people who cannot conform?” On probing why employers should think this way, I have always found that this belief is not based on experience but purely on speculation and misinformation or even ignorance. For example, employers such as Goldman Sachs have been discovering the value that autistic people bring to the workforce.
Therefore, a considerable dent has to be made in the belief that autism equals incapability or disruption in the workplace. And to go even a step further, I herewith boldly claim that employers need autistic people if they want to gain a dry-stone-wall-like impenetrable strength and weather the storms of competitiveness and disruptive innovation.
Imagine a workforce where employees just focus on the job at hand. They do not waste valuable company time with small talk, are not obsessed with their social media accounts and do not partake in office politics. They just want to get on with their job and do their best. The effect on productivity would be tremendous. This is exactly what an autistic workforce could do for employers. Autistic people tend to be less interested in people and spend much less time socializing than they do undertaking the tasks they have been given. They also often look into them in more depth and with greater understanding. In addition, many autistic people have developed distinctive ways of thinking due to the need of overcoming their many sensory and other issues. These distinctive ways of thinking make up the following 11 reasons why autistic people make perfect employees:
- An excellent eye for detail
- High boredom threshold when doing repetitive tasks
- Excellent at recognizing patterns that are not obvious to everyone else
- Brilliant at creative, outside-the-box thinking
- Extremely good at art: painting, drawing, sculpture
- Good at design
- Amazing long-term memory (although some have poor short-term memories)
- Detailed factual knowledge about what interests them
- Very good at logical thinking
- Brilliant problem solvers
- Good at understanding and working with complexity
No autistic person will have all these traits and some may only have one or two. However, it is not unusual to find a combination of up to six of these ways of thinking in one autistic person.
There is a perception that autistic people should be steered towards employment in IT, which is reinforced by the fact that organisations such as Specialisterne, Microsoft and SAP have recently and very publicly commenced to actively recruit autistic people. This is far too stereotypical. There are in fact as much autistic as non-autistic people who are not good at IT. In reality, a person with autistic traits can excel in any area in which they take an interest. They are often steered away from occupations involving interpersonal interaction. But this too is wrong. Many people with autism cope well with structured conversations (which are the kind generally required in a working environment) and are very open to learning social skills, which can be acquired through appropriate training. Indeed many caring professions train all their staff in these skills. It is also wrong to think that autistic people are all introverted and don’t like being with people. While many are like this, there are also large numbers who are natural extroverts and love being with people. They are the ones who suffer most from rejection by society and prolonged periods of unemployment.
A large proportion of people with autism could have a massive impact on the performance of a company. But, they are not being given the chance to shine, because the understanding that would enable them to be involved, even in decision-making at the highest level, is just not there. This needs to change. The business world needs autistic people because they are:
- Acting with integrity
- Conscientious and reliable
- Wanting to get the job done
- Not interested in politics or gossip
- Having high levels of concentration and the ability to focus
- Resourceful, because they have had to overcome many challenges
And with better awareness, understanding, and simple, effective strategies, autistic people will easily become perfect employees, having a noticeably positive effect on a company’s efficiency and therefore its competitiveness on the market. Autistic employees can become a fully integrated part of the business landscape; strengthening it through diversity and making it weather many storms.
Further information on this subject, on training courses and workplace assessments and on how to obtain Access to Work funding to help you understand and support your autistic employees, can be found at www.aspiedent.com.