Navigating the world with an invisible disability; will business lead the way?

Travelling with a disability takes guts.  It also takes determination.  Throw in problem solving skills.  Organisational skills.  The ability to speak out and up for yourself.  Add a fair pinch of faith too.  It’s no wonder disabled people develop such strengths in these areas!  You plan each trip with military precision.  You become an expert on companies to avoid and those that you can trust.  You learn to be more flexible abPicture shows a green lanyard with a sunflower designout the time it might take.  And you develop grit.

But what about when you have an invisible disability?  Or when you’re supporting a loved one who does?  You might look the same as everyone else on the outside.  Your needs will be less obvious.  And even less likely to be understood.  Asking for help is problematic.  Barriers are less likely to be physical.  But they exist all the same.

Autism and Dementia are probably the most well-known invisible disabilities.  And too often they come hand in hand with isolation.  How do you access the same opportunities as everyone else if you experience the world in a different way?  Sadly, the answer is that many people simply don’t.  The stares, the difficulties, the barriers… They become too hard to negotiate.  Thankfully, forward thinking organisations are beginning to take steps to tackle this.

In 2015, the aviation industry led the way with lanyards! The OCS Group introduced the lanyards for travellers with invisible disabilities. The sunflower design acts as a discreet sign, signalling to staff that awareness and assistance might be needed. This simple aid enables travellers to communicate their needs without drawing unwelcome attention. And shows disabled customers that inclusion is a priority.

Since the success of the initiative, others have followed aviation’s good example. Sainsbury’s has since become the first supermarket to trial the use of the lanyards in stores. And the success of the initial scheme has led to 40 further roll outs in their stores across the UK.  The rise of autism hours in both stores and entertainment venues has increased.

Demand is there. Business is becoming more aware of the value of the purple pound. Can your organisation afford to shrug and leave disability inclusion at the bottom of the ‘to do’ list?

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The Benefits of Employing Individuals with Autism

A guest blog from Joe Thomas at All Green PR:

Autism is far more common that most people realise. In the UK today, there over 700,000 individuals living with autism, which is a little more than 1 out of every 100 people. If you were to include their families, it’s safe to say that autism touches the lives of over 2.8 million people every single day.

Individuals with autism can have exceptional talents and can prove themselves to be invaluable assets to any business, but still there remains a stigma attached to bringing autism into the workplace. In fact, a recent Labour Force survey estimated that only 15% of adults with autism are in full-time employment.

Businesses have much to gain by understanding that making their workplaces ‘autism friendly’ isn’t about ticking boxes or meeting equal opportunities objectives, it’s about seeking out and tapping into the talent of individuals who can get the job done. Given that individuals with autism often excel in certain traits, from problem solving and concentration to memory skills and sheer dependability, it’s strange that this 15% employment figure isn’t much, much higher.


What is autism?

Autism spectrum disorder (ASD) affects the way individuals interact and communicate with the world around them. It affects different individuals to varying degrees, meaning that some individuals may need more support than others. There is a misconception that autism is a ‘visible’ disability but this couldn’t be further from the truth; autism is a hidden disability that can manifest itself in a variety of different ways. Some individuals with autism may exhibit superior intellect whereas others may have additional learning disabilities.

Everybody on the autism spectrum has difficulty with social interaction, engagement and communication to some degree. Things like establishing relationships and reciprocating verbal and nonverbal communication (such as expressions and body language), can prove difficult. Some individuals with Autism may also struggle with abstract thinking, such as sequencing, organising and planning ahead. For this reason, it’s common for many individuals with autism to enjoy routines and familiar things – a trait that can prove particularly valuable in the world of work.

What are the benefits of employing someone with autism?

Many employers aren’t aware that people with autism, including those with Asperger syndrome, can be extremely well-skilled, highly qualified and employable individuals. While autism affects all individuals to varying degrees, it’s extremely common for these individuals to possess exceptional and unique skills that enable them to thrive in many everyday roles, from computer programmers and statisticians to journalists and writers. Unfortunately, due to difficulties with social skills and interaction, and a general lack of understanding of the condition among the general public, they are often overlooked as potential candidates.

As well as personal traits and individual strengths, it’s very common for individuals with autism to exude:

• High levels of concentration and focus
• Reliability and dependability
• Attention to detail and accuracy
• Technical abilities, such as coding and programming
• Factual knowledge and excellent memory

Not all individuals with autism will tick all of these boxes, but it’s highly likely that they’ll perhaps be better suited to certain tasks than millions of others. By gaining a better understanding of autism as a condition, businesses could enlist some exceptional talent while at the same time demonstrate their commitment to equality and diversity.

What you need to know about employing individuals with autism

Individuals with autism experience the world differently to other people. Autism isn’t an illness and can’t be cured, it’s a fundamental part of who these people are and forms the very basis of their identity. We’ve already mentioned that autism is a spectrum condition, so it affects some more than others, and that it isn’t a ‘visible’ condition, but these points can’t be stressed enough.

Individuals with autism have a wide range of symptoms, some considered positive and some considered limiting, that make each individual completely unique. Autism can be diagnosed at a very young age and while their behaviours and coping mechanisms are likely to evolve, many of these core ‘traits’ will be with them for the rest of their lives.

As a workplace, you need to treat people with autism as individuals, as you would anyone else. They do, however, share some common traits. Here are some things you should be aware of as a prospective employer of those with autism:

Social communication

For individuals with autism, trying to understand facial expressions and body language can be a little bit like you or I trying to understand ancient Latin with no training. It’s simply not a language they can easily engage with. Some individuals with autism may not like speaking or will speak only a small amount, but they usually understand more than they express. As a potential employer, this is an important consideration.

Repetitive behaviours and patterns

This is by no means a bad thing. Individuals with autism find communication and social interaction difficult. They see the world in a different way to everybody else. For that reason, they usually enjoy familiarity and routines that give them a clear focus. These routines can vary from what they eat and when, to regular trips to school or work. It’s something that makes individuals with autism extremely reliable and dependable.

Interaction with others

Different to communication, interaction is about how individuals with autism behave around other people. Sometimes they may appear insensitive or apathetic because they don’t recognise how somebody else is feeling. Similarly, when feeling down themselves it is common for individuals with autism to seek solitude or familiarity rather than reach out to those around them. This can make it difficult for relationships to form in the workplace.



This is less common than the other symptoms but still affects a lot of individuals with autism. They can experience particular sensitivity in one or more of their senses – sight, sound, smell, touch and taste. These senses can over-sensitive or under-sensitive which can have repercussions on everyday life.

How to interview somebody with autism

Some of the best interviews you’re ever likely to give will be with individuals who experience autism. They’re more likely than most to have a deep and rich understanding of subjects that they’re particularly interested in, many of which may have led them to apply for the role you’re interviewing for. However, it is also essential that you know a little about autism before interviewing somebody with the condition to make sure that everything goes smoothly and nobody (including the interviewer) feels uncomfortable.

For starters, find the ‘special interest’
Individuals with autism are likely to have a heightened interest in a particular field. They’re usually great at retaining facts and figures and, if you find that ‘special interest’ of theirs you’ll make them feel instantly comfortable and they’re likely to open up a lot more.

Don’t put them in a box
It’s easy for somebody who doesn’t understand autism to make generalisations, but really individuals with autism are just as unique as everybody else. Some may struggle with speech, others may be incredibly articulate. Some may be sensitive to light, others may be sensitive to sound. Some may respond well to your body language and facial expressions, others may seem despondent. Due to these differences, it’s always wise to put the needs of the individual above your own. You need to be open to adjusting the environment to making them comfortable, or perhaps be willing to communicate in an alternative way.

Dispense with social etiquette and jokes
This may not come naturally in a work environment, but individuals don’t respond well to sarcasm, jokes or certain kinds of small talk that might require them to respond in kind. Express yourself clearly and concisely and try to avoid social ambiguity and complex body language.

Be ready to go with the flow
Sometimes, in order to get the most out of interviewing an individual with autism, you need to be ready to go off on a tangent. Those with autism connect things in ways we might not be able to understand initially, and they see the world in a very different way. It may seem like they’re changing the subject or talking about something unrelated, but perhaps they’re just relating to your question or comment in a less obvious way. Tapping into this will help a great deal.

Don’t worry about delayed responses
Sometimes, when engaged in conversation with someone who has autism, it may seem like the conversation comes to a complete standstill and you may begin to feel a little awkward, but that’s okay. Some people with autism tend not to think in words and it can take them longer to process and respond to a question – it doesn’t necessarily mean that they haven’t understood the question. Patience is key here. If they didn’t understand, they’ll ask you to rephrase just as anybody else would.

Getting the most out of employees with autism

In previous sections, we mentioned all the different conditions and symptoms that an individual with autism can experience, from sensitivity to light and sound and difficulties with social interaction, to above average concentration and a great attention to detail. As an employer, here are some things to consider to make your workplace more autism-friendly:

Before their first day…
Get organised. Make sure that any induction material or corporate information is sent out beforehand so they’re fully aware of what to expect. This may include things like where they’ll be working, any uniform requirements, when their lunch break is, what holiday provisions there are etc. You may even consider a pre-start date visit, so they can familiarise themselves with the office space and the people there, which should make them less anxious on the big day.

Have a structured environment
Some people with autism really value a structured working environment. These individuals tend to enjoy routines and patterns, so work with them on establishing daily priorities and activities, and organise things into daily, weekly and monthly schedules. Sometimes, it’s better to give individuals with autism more space than others, preferably away from noise and traffic to make them less anxious.


Be reassuring and be prepared
It’s common for those with autism to be perfectionists. They can become genuinely distressed if what they’re doing isn’t meticulous or they’re suddenly pulled out of their routine in a big way. If something goes wrong at work, have a solution lined up. For example, if a printer breaks, make sure they know they can use the one on the 2nd floor, so their work doesn’t have to suffer. If they get something wrong and that thing is out of their control, such as arriving late due to traffic, make it clear to them that it isn’t a problem and work can carry on as usual.

Get visual
Many individuals with autism tend not to think in words or, if they do, they do it with difficulty and it can take a long time for them to understand. It’s one of the reasons they often struggle with abstract concepts and forward planning. Implementing visual aids can help them to process information quickly and easily, and eventually, increase their confidence and independence. Get on their page and they’re likely to excel.

The Equality Act: what you need to know

The Equality Act came into force in October 2010 and is designed to improve equality and diversity in UK workplaces. After the passing of the Equality Act, it is now against the law for employers to discriminate against individuals based on any kind of disability. The act covers interview arrangements, job offers, terms of employment, dismissal, redundancy and more. It also requires employers to make ‘reasonable adjustments’ to the workplace to accommodate those with a disability, such as providing special equipment or adjusting working hours. An employer is still allowed to ask questions regarding an individual’s health or disability but only if it majorly affects their ability to carry out the work.


People with autism can bring a great deal to any role they undertake and often possess talents and skills that are well above the national average. The more prospective employers know about autism and how it affects individuals, the more they’ll be a viable choice when seeking candidates. Much of the stigma surrounding autism stems from a lack of knowledge, but that is slowly beginning to change as we learn more about the condition and support networks become better developed and suited to individuals with the condition.

Part of breaking down that stigma is altering the way employers think about autism. Rather than seeing it as a disability or something to help with their equal opportunities performance, they need to consider people with autism as the individuals they are, with talents, skills, strengths and weaknesses just like everybody else in the workforce.

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Being a Consultant for Auticon

In line with our current theme on Autism, Evenbreak is working with a company called Auticon, established in Germany and now working here in the UK. Find out more about Auticon here, and read the account of one of their consultants below:

I’m Martin and I’d like to tell you about myself and my work as IT Consultant with Auticon. Auticon only employs Consultants who are on the autism spectrum. Most Consultants, like myself, have Aspergers syndrome.

What is the fundamental difference between a non-autistic person and myself? 

The perhaps most obvious thing is that I find it really difficult to interpret facial expressions or body language, and I sometimes can’t tell what emotions other people are displaying. I can’t read intended emotions of facial expression, gestures or tone of voice as easily as other people can. As you can imagine, this can make it very awkward to talk to people and it also makes it very difficult to build personal connections. It takes many years for me to build up friendships in the same way as others do.

In occupational contexts, it is difficult for me to remember the face, the role and the name of a colleague. In most cases I am happy to get two out of three right. That isn’t always an ideal starting point for small talk!

It is also nearly impossible for me to lie. On the one hand a good lie requires constant observation of the opponent: Do they believe it, how can I make them believe it? A skill I struggle with. But what’s worse: a lie is a distortion of reality and I couldn’t handle this distortion gracefully. My mind would scream “but it isn’t the truth!”.

In general, interaction with people is hard for me. I have to analyse every remark, facial expression and gesture individually, assess them in their context and rely on learned patterns of behaviour in order to mimic a small talk. In my mind I have about 2000 learned ‘if-then’ rules, to help me figure out what other people’s intentions are.

However: Being autistic also equips me with extraordinary skills, that most non-autistic persons don’t have!

One of those skills is that I see patterns: in behaviours and language, in pictures and films, in history and current politics, in technical connections and functions, in data and programmes. These patterns are connected to each other and they form trees: trees of possibilities, of probabilities, of functional dependencies, of interference and interdependence.

This ability is often extremely helpful, because it enables me to predict how people might behave, even if I don’t understand why they behave that way.

It is even more helpful in a technical context. I can see connections that other people cannot see. I don’t need to look for flaws or mistakes in a drawing, text or a program as these errors flag up immediately whether I like it or not – sometimes they even cause me physical discomfort or pain.

So how did I become an Auticon Consultant?

I studied informatics and civil engineering on a postgraduate level, then worked as computer programmer and civil engineer. After a day at work my wife would explain to me why people behaved the way they did, what their motivations were and how I could interact with them.

As my children were born, I saw them develop from biological machines to admirable people with needs, feelings, hopes and goals. My wife and my children were the first people I could see as individuals and understand their behaviour. So I slowly gained some of the understanding that other people are born with or effortlessly develop during childhood.

In my 30s I founded a civil engineering planning and expertise company with a long-time friend as my business partner. He would handle customers and the networking part and I was in charge of the technical know-how. I was even appointed as an official public expert. I had to vow to not let personal feelings influence my expert opinion and advice. Well, that part was easy!

But when my business partner fell ill and had to stop working, I had to take on his tasks. This put a very heavy burden on my shoulders and I wasn’t able to cope for very long. It didn’t take long for me to burn out and I knew I had to find a profession that was a better match for my skills. I don’t want to have to worry about being autistic, I want to be able to focus on the work I love and am very good at.

That was in 2011, the year Auticon was founded. The rest is history.

Over the past years at Auticon I have worked on a range of complex but interesting client projects. The feedback clients gave me was always extremely positive and encouraging. They appreciate that

  • I have a different approach to solve problems
  • I have a quick understanding of dependencies, interferences and interdependences
  • My opinion and advice is always entirely unbiased
  • I focus on the task at hand
  • I am inherently honesty and truthful
  • …and of course my experience in 35 years as an engineer and software developer

(original article here)

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The Different Thinking Styles of People With Autism

Another article from candidate Will van Zwanenberg about autism and employment. His first article looked at how employers can benefit from autistic employees, and the second addressed how interviews can exclude candidates with autism. This article looks more deeply at the differences in thinking styles between people with autism and neuro-typical people, and why they matter.

Amongst the vast majority of employers, the very different cognitive, reasoning and analytical styles of autistics is not well understood or appreciated. This is terrible shame – not to say waste – because if properly utilised, these very different thinking styles that are characteristic of autism can actually be a valuable asset. It’s a key reason (amongst several others) why employers are foolish to ignore autistics.

Unlike their non-autistic (“neurotypical”) brethren, a thinking process based solely in terms of language and words is completely alien to autistics. First and foremost, they’re visual thinkers constructing fluid, evolving pictures and images in their mind’s eye as they analyse a given problem or consider a given phenomenon. The words they use to describe that which they “see” come later; often much later. It’s only after these images have stabilised – that is, have taken concrete form – that they set about the task of describing that which they visualise by utilising language. Often that “language” isn’t actually made up of words born of linguistics, but is in fact another form of language such as mathematics, computer code or music.

Autistics do this as a consequence of their need for both precision and exactitude, coupled with a recognition that language, by its very nature, is none of these things and instead is both nuanced and nebulous such it that cannot ever satisfy this need. Simply put, language can never ever describe an object, idea, concept, or argument as efficiently or accurately as an image or diagram can.

When considering a given problem or concept, many moving images will appear and disappear concurrently. To use an analogy, it’s like playing different disks in a DVD player in their imagination and so running several different films at the same time.

It’s contrary to what one might imagine, but being able to construct images like this in one’s mind is actually a very valuable skill to have in many occupations. The ability to visualise both the shape and structure of, say, a new engine component and to be able to run test simulations of it without the need to physically build the thing or model it on a computer, could be tremendously beneficial in a profession such as mechanical engineering or aeronautical design. A product or furniture designer can save thousands of pounds and many man hours if they’re able to evaluate a new product in just their mind. Equally, to be able to conceive of a new building design, to be able to evaluate others, and to be able to identify any possible flaws with it before it’s ever built, is enormously useful in architecture. Maybe this is why the renowned architects Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano, who are both autistic, are so successful.

Visual methods of thinking, when applied to tasks or problems that are conventionally tackled in nonvisual manner, often lead to a final conclusion that much sooner and that much more efficiently. An autistic computer programmer, when tasked with creating new software will first visualise the entire program tree in their mind and then fill in the program code on each branch. This method also works in reverse however – i.e. when faced with totally new kind of problem and you don’t have any idea from outset what the solution will look like and you only have some of the data needed or the components needed to derive the answer.

With any problem they have to address, however abstract or imprecise, an autistic will formulate a general outline of the solution in their head in the form of a fuzzy, out-of-focus image. As facts or facets regarding the problem become better understood or inferences are made, it becomes ever clearer. Once a sharp image has formed, it’s then that the solution will reveal itself and its then a relatively simple matter of both describing and implementing the solution.

The process is analogous to deducing what the picture on a completed jig saw puzzle is when only some of the pieces are put together. A piece is placed in one corner, and then another, and then after about a quarter of all the pieces are in place, the autistic can determine that the puzzle has a picture of a house on it.

Precisely because of their exemplary visual cognitive skills, autistics are ideally suited for careers as:

  • Cartographers
  • Games Designers
  • Interior Designers
  • Draftsmen
  • Artists
  • Graphic Designers
  • Physicists
  • Astronomers
  • Engineers
  • Mechanics
  • Film Makers
  • Surgeons
  • Air Traffic Controllers

Employers should forgo their communication difficulties in order to foster this natural talent. Ironically, the very skills that autistics excel at are, more often than not, the very same skills employers find hardest to find people with. Why? Because in their ignorance, they’re overlooking autistics and are instead are focusing on what they can’t do rather than what they can.

William van Zwanenberg © May 2016

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Why Interviews Exclude People with Autism

A second hugely informative article from our guest writer Will van Zwanenberg on issues around autism and employment. His first can be read here. We know that interviews are a generally poor indicator of future performance, but they present particular barriers to people on the autistic spectrum. Will explains, as a candidate with Aspergers’, his perspective on why that is:

Of all the challenges autistics have to overcome in order to acquire a job, it is needing to make a good impression during a job interview that is the most challenging and where most fail to succeed. The fact that autistics are assessed using the exact same criteria and methods as that their non-autistic peers means that autistic candidates do not compete on equal terms and as such, are at a significant disadvantage. What follows is an attempt to explain why.

All job-seekers are expected to demonstrate a high degree of competency in performing tasks that are exactly what autistic people are especially bad at:

  • dressing properly or at least as expected;
  • looking someone in the eye for the appropriate amount of time;
  • engaging in small talk;
  • shaking hands with the right grip;
  • feigning enthusiasm when in fact you’re nervous as hell and have every expectation that you won’t be offered a job;
  • smiling even.

Now imagine trying to enter a professional environment where you will quickly need to establish rapport with someone. An inability to make small talk is an immediate barrier.

Individuals with autism are “neuro-atypical.” Thanks to their unusual brain structure, they struggle to cope with fundamental differences in the way they perceive the world, including:

  1. Sensitivity to the environment (lights, noises, smells, touch, etc.);
  2. Problems with social skills;
  3. Difficulty with empathy and understanding another person’s point of view;
  4. Repetitive behaviours and strict adherence to routine;
  5. Oddly enough, clumsiness;
  6. Literal use of language, inability to process or understand nuance or subtle signals/body language.

When one thinks of how nervous many interviewees are, if you were to couple that feeling with any of the challenges listed above, it’s easy to see why autistics do so badly in interviews.

Maybe you’re wearing a formal suit and tie, and the fabric is extremely uncomfortable to you due to your sensitivity to certain types of fabrics and textures. Meanwhile, as you wait nervously in reception area, the harsh fluorescent lighting is painful to your eyes and you can smell the heavy perfume of the receptionist. Suddenly, your senses become overwhelmed and you experience something akin to a migraine, and you feel ill throughout the interview, causing you not to perform well. Asperger’s Syndrome (a form of autism) sufferers describe it as a painful “red band” across the eyes that can take hours to subside.

During the interview, you tap your leg, rub your head and look extremely disinterested and preoccupied throughout the conversation. Your apparent lack of interest (almost certainly not true) causes problems in the interview and you don’t get the job.

Or maybe the interviewer is running behind schedule and the company changes the format and timing of your interview. Suddenly you’re waiting an extra 30 minutes and seeing a different person for the interview. Because your brain is so rigidly focused on routine and repetition, the change in schedule is very, very upsetting to you. You become angry when a staff member notifies you of the change, and your attitude causes the prospective employer to reject you. Maybe you’re so angry that you lose your temper, not understanding why the change is happening. These sort of scenarios might seem on the face of it to be extreme reactions but they are typical for autistics.

By default, autistics assess people at face value. It is extremely perplexing to them that the majority of people in this world don’t actually operate or even think like this. Therefore, placing an autistic into a situation where one is required to prove oneself – i.e. that you’re basically a nice person who one can easily get along with – is not only baffling, it’s positively frightening.

In addition to failing to meet the basic expectations put upon them, there are a number of immutable truths associated with job interviews that non-autistic people intuitively understand and autistics simply don’t. Namely, that the interview process isn’t actually about determining if the interviewee is the right person for the job at all. It’s about affording the interviewer an opportunity to gauge the character of the candidate. Moreover, that answering any questions put to you in a totally honest manner is not advisable.

What is being assessed is not whether the candidate can actually do the job, but whether the interviewer likes them and this necessarily entails developing a rapport. Because autistics are not party to this knowledge, both their thinking and their behaviour during an interview is not directed towards achieving this goal. In addition, the form of many interview questions are extremely confusing for literal-minded individuals with autism.

Autistics tend to answer interview questions put them in very literal (honest) manner and have no idea as what the correct – this is, the expected – type of answer is. Indeed, the very notion that more often than not, an interviewer isn’t wanting a literal answer is baffling to them and serves to offend their sensibilities.

To give an example, within the context of a job interview, “tell me about yourself” is an invitation to summarize how your skills and experience match the employer’s need; perhaps sharing some personal information about where you grew up or your hobbies. However, it means the autistic is left asking himself, and indeed needing to know: “what is it that you really want to know?” and “why are you asking me this?” “How does asking me this help you to determine if I’m the right person for the job?”

Assuming a would-be employer is aware of the fact that their interviewee is autistic, and they’re aware of the specific difficulties autistics have, is it unacceptable that the employer doesn’t seek to accommodate them when it comes time to inviting them to an interview? For the reasons I’ve outlined, it virtually guarantees they will remain unemployed.

William van Zwanenberg © April 2016

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Employers Need Autistic Employees to Fuel Innovation

Evenbreak has enlisted an expert to write about the barriers to employment faced by candidates with neurological conditions. Will van Zwanenberg has exceptional attributes in the fields of law and technology, but has found that most recruitment processes are incompatible with his reality of living with the double whammy of both Asperger’s and Dyslexia, and so employers are unable to access his talent. This, the first of three articles he has written for us, explains why employers should be exploring this particular pool of talent.

Some call it acknowledging neurological diversity, others see it as autism’s fight back. Whatever the reason, people diagnosed as being “on the autistic spectrum” are increasingly in demand by employers seeking a competitive advantage from autistic workers more used to being considered disabled than special. The reason being that employers are coming to realise that far from being a burden, autistics do in fact have many innate talents that are a positive asset for many companies which serve to distinguish them from their non-autistic peers.

Expressing a belief that “innovation comes from the edges”, German computer software giant SAP launched a recruitment drive in 2013 to attract people with autism to join it as software testers. It did so in the belief that autistics are, as a consequence of their neurology, ideally suited for such jobs. It has since spread to include all its offices worldwide. A year later, U.S. home financing firm Freddie Mac advertised a second round of paid internships aimed specifically at autistic students or new graduates.

These multinationals both say they hope to harness the unique talents of autistic people as well as giving people previously marginalized in the workforce a chance to flourish in a job.

The notion that autism bestows specific advantages upon those affected by it may be controversial, but it is nonetheless true. Irrespective of where you stand on the question of whether autism is in fact an impairment or a disability, what is indisputable is that autistics exhibit a qualitative advantage over non-autistics in terms their social interaction as manifested by a majority or all of the following traits:

  1. peer relationships characterised by absolute loyalty and impeccable dependability which are free of sexist, “ageist”, or culturalist biases;
  2. an ability to regard others at “face value”;
  3. speaking one’s mind irrespective of social context or adherence to personal beliefs;
  4. an ability to pursue a personal theory or perspective despite conflicting evidence;
  5. consideration of details; spending time discussing a topic that may not be of primary interest;
  6. listening without continual judgement or assumption;
  7. interested primarily in significant contributions to conversation; preferring to avoid ritualistic small talk or socially trivial statements and superficial conversation;
  8. seeking sincere, positive, genuine friends with an unassuming sense of humour

Moreover, they present with a social language that is characterized by at least three of the following:

  1. a determination to seek the truth;
  2. conversation free of hidden meaning or agenda;
  3. an advanced vocabulary and interest in words;
  4. an advanced use of pictorial metaphor.

Although it is always difficult to generalise, there are areas where people with an autism may excel. These include:

  • tasks where attention to detail and accuracy is required – e.g. research work, data input or word processing;
  • tasks involving numbers, statistics and facts – e.g. finance or accounting;
  • tasks where there is a clear procedure to follow – e.g. dealing with incoming and outgoing post, archiving, library work or filing;
  • highly structured tasks with a right and a wrong way of doing something – e.g. IT support, computer programming or systems testing;
  • spotting patterns or errors in data that are invisible to most non-autistics, making them attractive employees for software firms.

Even less gifted autistic people often have an extraordinary capacity to focus and an eye for detail that makes them very effective workers. They can excel at jobs that require precision and repetition, such as updating databases, stocking shelves, organising libraries or tinkering with broken cars.

It’s foolish to ignore such people. New ways of thinking often lead to discoveries that consequently discard their outdated predecessors. Similarly, the change from seeing autism as a disability to a person with unusual skills and abilities, holds interesting implications and opportunities. It could result in employers rethinking their responses and rescuing a missed opportunity to take advantage of the contribution autistics make to culture and knowledge.

Will van Zwanenberg © 18 April 2016

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