Autism and the workplace

Stephen McHugh
This post was last updated on
August 17, 2022
Category :

PinGetting into and remaining in employment is a challenge for all of us. There’s the interview stage, establishing and maintaining relationships with colleagues, and clients whose projects we may be working on.

Effective communication skills are necessary, so that one can understand what is required of a project. This can all prove especially problematic for those of us on the autistic spectrum, where poor social skills can hinder us.

With the right support measures in place, I believe those of us on the spectrum could thrive, and really show the workplace what we can offer. 

Interviews

Job interviews can, no doubt, be daunting and pose a significant barrier to all of us when trying to get jobs. And this can be especially true for those of us who may have difficulties trying to communicate and relate to other people. That includes those of us on the autistic spectrum.

The difficulties can involve both verbal and nonverbal communication. Some people may have difficulty maintaining eye contact when engaged in conversation with other people. This, I already knew about, since I’ve displayed similar behavioural traits in the past in other social situations.

Inappropriate behaviours can be displayed too, unintentionally, since those on the autistic spectrum may not easily understand various forms of body language, voice tones and other mannerisms. 

The links below give possible ideas regarding modifications to the interview process, including the ways questions could be asked. Whenever interviews have been testing for me, some of my answers could be too brief when I needed to elaborate more.

In addition, for those of us on the autistic spectrum, it can take longer to process information and communicate responses. One thing that stood out for me in the first link below was the recommendation for interviews to be more direct and literal.

Microsoft is mentioned in the second link below. I like the way they train potential candidates for interviews as well as training hiring managers to conduct autism-friendly interviews. Prospective colleagues should, I believe, be trained about autism and its effects so that appropriate understanding and support is provided when necessary. There is the building of Lego robots where prospective candidates are assessed on their ability to work together as a team.

Situations like these above can give people chances to show what they can do whilst developing social skills further.

hireautism.org/resource-center/interviewing-your-applicant-with-autism

https://www.ft.com/content/68bf2ca6-a063-11e6-891e-abe238dee8e2

At one interview stage, after an informal chat with one of the team leaders for a data input position,  I was asked to do a typing test, which proved instrumental in helping me get the job offer. It was here I demonstrated my speed and accuracy at typing. I’d regularly been practising typing tests, being focussed on the target speeds all the time.

Having interview rehearsals before the actual interviews themselves can put you more at ease, since you'll be better prepared for questions you're likely to get asked. Some jobs I've done have involved applying via recruitment agencies, including short term ones. Here you may have an informal chat with a consultant about your CV, work history and career aspirations. 

On the day of one interview one recruitment consultant, to whom I was very grateful, did a mock interview before leaving for the interview itself. The advantage here was that I did the interview rehearsal with a person I didn't know too well, meaning any thoughts about my efforts would be unbiased. This gave me much needed assurance and a timely confidence boost.

The end result was that I ended up impressing my prospective employer enough to get the job as a data capture technician. It was during this role I’d be involved in data preparation, capture and input.

Turning weaknesses into opportunities

Seeing so many jobs advertised requiring good communication and interpersonal skills put me off to an extent, since I always felt my people and social skills were amongst my weaknesses. This led me to believing the range of jobs I could take would be rather limited.

You may feel more comfortable answering the phone at home. Finding myself in a position to do it at work I found rather daunting, since there are more pressures in the workplace. What if I was alone in the office at work and the phone rang? What if I was unable to help the person speaking on the other end?

In hindsight I needn't have worried, for it turned out to be more of a confidence thing than anything else. If you find yourself in similar situations described in the paragraph about, why not talk to your manager about your feelings. I felt comfortable doing this because I already felt valued in the workplace, given my attributes and contributions, and was given tips about what to expect when answering the phone in the office. 

Once I took my first call and saw how surprisingly painless it was, I felt confident about doing it again in the future.

Companies specialising in Autism

Being interested in how things work automatically and logically led me to thinking a longer term career in an IT related role like programming might be suitable. One example of this was getting a mini lift to work and stop at certain levels during a practical session on an IT course.

However, I felt slightly put off by the lack of high level qualifications like degrees in the relevant subject areas. There can also be the issues of social interaction between you and a client, such as understanding and getting your work to best match their requirements.

A company called Auticon, which has offices in London and Edinburgh, employs specially trained job coaches who can facilitate communication between the IT consultants employed and its clients. This approach benefited me when I designed and maintained a website for an MP some years back. My older brother worked for them and through him got designing and maintaining the website for the MP.

Once he left for a different role he continued to help with communication between me and his replacement until the MP stood down.

The application process for the role of a consultant here includes skills demonstration during a three day preparation workshop along with an informal technical chat. Below are more details about this workshop quoted from its website.

The key points for me are project preparation, skills promotion to succeed in the workplace, stress and anxiety management and the channelling of individual strengths.

‘The Preparation Workshop is a three-day recruitment seminar and includes various soft skills workshops and technical or cognitive tasks. During the workshop applicants work independently as well as in small groups with other candidates, generally preparing for future project placements. This part of the recruitment process is aimed at promoting the skills to succeed in mainstream work environments, manage potential stress and anxiety, and to develop strategies to channel individual strengths in a focused manner’.

I’m sure other like minded people would be interested in working for them, especially if they had offices in other major UK cities like Birmingham and Manchester, me included. For me one reason being the way they support their employees.

Another, but more important reason is that it recognises the unique cognitive strengths autistic people can bring to the workplace such as: attention to detail, logical analysis, pattern recognition and accuracy etc. These, along with special intense interests in areas of IT, mathematics, technology and, in my case, music, are widely prevalent in the autistic community. After having read through this I immediately thought to myself, “I can, to an extent, relate to all of this''. 

It also goes on to state on its website that such skills can significantly enhance the output quality in the areas of IT or compliance.

Companies with focus on autistic employees

http://aspiritech.org/

http://specialisterne.com/

From the news

http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=123567371 - For Some Jobs, Asperger's Syndrome Can Be An Asset

http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/scotland/4627264.stm - Asperger's call to boost business

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-39052653 - CEO Secrets: 'Why I headhunt people with autism'

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/technology-46538125 - The firm whose staff are all autistic

https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-47197918 - Autistic adults sought for tech jobs in Scotland

Conclusion

People with autism can find getting into and settling into a work environment can be challenging due to issues not limited to communication and the way they may interact with others and the wider world. However, with supportive measures and the right approaches, the chances of negotiating such hurdles can be increased, which may lead to meaningful employment. Let me know about any of your views, comments regarding your experiences. Comments from any employers who may have encountered autistic individuals will be welcome too.


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2 comments on “Autism and the workplace”

  1. Hi Stephen, thank you so much for replying to my tweet and sending me a copy of your Autism in the workplace write up which was really interesting. I read it through tonight and am going to read it again tomorrow. I tried to message you but I am not sure if it went through? I wonder if you would be interested in being interviewed by me about your experiences in a few weeks time? Regards Lisa

    1. Thanks Lisa for taking the time to read my blog post.I am pleased that you found it interesting, and I hope many others can find it interesting and informative.

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