When imagining a spectrum, one thinks of a broad range of differences. Multiple variations and iterations of a theme or subject. A rainbow, for example, light refracting through glass – not only do we anticipate that range and are aware of it, we don’t think of it as negative. So why is there still such an unspoken fear of hiring those on the autism spectrum in a lot of businesses?
Did you know that 1 out of 100 people in the UK are on the autism spectrum and that only 16% of those people are in full time employment? You have to wonder to yourself, why is this?
I blame Rain Man. Whilst Dustin Hoffman’s portrayal of a character with high functioning autism does his character justice, it is just that... a character. One version of a larger and broader spectrum, but I will cut the bloke some slack - it's only recently that autism has grown in awareness. Groups like the National Autistic Society and productions like Simon Stephen’s adaptation of A Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time & the BBC’s excellent A-Word have explored autism in ways that are helping the general public to become more aware of what autism is. This, unfortunately, was not the case at the time of Rain Man’s release. Yet it is a cultural landmark of what people see as “autistic” - amazing at maths, zero social skills, talks funny, sees all the patterns, doesn’t understand humour or sarcasm, has little to no imagination, excels at getting tons of money from casinos… the list goes on.
I have Asperger’s Syndrome and barely scraped a C in my Maths GCSE. I also did a Theatre degree, which requires at least a half decent amount of imagination - regardless of what the tabloids might say. Suck it Rain Man.
On the other side of the coin, we have the opposite end of the spectrum (in terms of public opinion). The non-verbal individual who may need full-time care throughout their life, who from the outside, may appear to just self-stimulate all day by rocking back and forth, repeating noises and words, playing with the same toys over and over etc. The kind of person many unconsciously may go, “how awful for them,” in the kind of tone that sounds like they might be dishing out a life sentence in prison. It’s final. This is the part where I tell you how ironic these views are.
Historically, those on the spectrum see things in black and white. The grey area is what a lot of us find hard. The ifs, the maybes, the non-absolutes. The irony here is – this is how a lot of employers also seem to see autism.
They do not seem to see the person behind the lack of eye contact. They don’t seem to want to find out what’s behind the awkward sentence structure in the CV. They don’t seem to want to deal with the odd sick days when a meltdown occurs. They do not seem to want to deal with the hassle of someone who might stim under stress. Nor do they want to give us the opportunity to show them the human being, with human emotions, feelings and aspirations beneath all of this.
These are broad strokes I know. But 16% is low when it comes to percentiles. Somewhere there must be a problem. That ingrained social view we have of disability as a society as something that needs to be fixed. That is wrong. That isn’t normal.
Autism these days is diagnosed as Autism Spectrum Disorder. I once heard another person on the spectrum describe everything else around them as disordered, not them.
Disorder implies something needs to be changed in order for it to fit in. Why not, and I know this might sound a bit mental, take a chance? You want some sick analysis of your product with extreme attention to detail? We got that. You want punctuality and hard work? We got that. You want honesty so brutal it could make you want to pack it in and wish you never started that crowdfunding campaign? We have it if you really want it. We have that and so so so much more.
I implore you to check yourselves before you wreck yourselves. Other employers are seeing what we as autistic individuals have to offer, you are sorely missing out. Microsoft, Google, HP, Paypal, SAP, Ford – I could go on, but these are HUGE companies. It can often feel daunting going into the world of work when the world around you can seem to be a maelstrom of gargantuan proportions. But one person telling you – you can do it – can give you a light in the storm. Learn from their example.
Lot of love,
An Aspie with a bone to pick xoxoxox
PS. Please hire me. Lowkey I need the work.
Written by Callum Green
A part of Young Giant blog series 'An Hour With'. We want to make space for your opinion and put you in charge - tell us what you would do, say, and change with An Hour With an institution, organisation or brand? For more information and how to get involved.
Bibliography: 1. The National Autistic Society (2016). The autism employment gap: Too Much Information in the workplace. p5