The JA Away Days: Autism & Future Employment – Bush House 19th July 2018
The word auditorium is synonymous with size; spacious, echoic chambers of theatre for those who boom and those who get boomed at. The auditorium at Kings College London, London inside the triumphant Bush House, then, surprised me. Glossed wood, neutral blues and soft furnishings all neatly arranged in a space that resembled a bank branch or a small claims court. Never has a place with four balconies seemed so modest.
It was here that from 1pm-8pm, that speakers from across the autistic spectrum and those that employ them spoke at length about what they perceived to be a ‘neurodiversity crisis’. Autism effects one in every 100 adults in the UK and of those 700 000 people on the spectrum in the UK only 16% are unemployed. Make no mistake this convention was no social responsibility-engendered celebration of the injustices those in the autistic community suffer (although these are prevalent and will be touched on in a sister piece by The JA). It was a lucid exposition on how employers can benefit from this gargantuan untapped pool of talent.
Although not all autistic persons are the same in any way there are usually shared skills that come as a by-product of being autistic. These include but are not limited to attention to detail, sustained concentration, logical analysis, error detection, pattern recognition and very, very honest feedback.
Ray Coyle, CEO of Auticon seemed very keen to express the last of those benefits was a double-edged sword. When it came to questions after his talk, those members of the autistic community that had attended made it fairly clear why that was the case. Whereas I had been fairly impressed by his concise words and praise of the benefits of a neurodiverse workplace, it seemed he had made a handful of errors that he was picked up on directly.
‘Auticon’ is an I.T consultancy firm that is active all over Europe and the U.S. It belongs to a very exclusive members club of businesses that employ autistic people and autistic people only. Every consultant is picked not through CVs or interviews but on trial shifts to test coding ability and I.T proficiency.
Organisations like Auticon are rare but with conventions like the one I attended popping up in auditoriums, lecture theatres and stages throughout the land, this provokes conversation and stirs the national consciousness into action. Acting on the talent that’s out there that can grow your business.
Autistic people naturally struggle with office culture, the politics of work and the soft skills that others develop at a faster pace. In this sense in order to optimise the autistic workforce’s potential companies are encouraged to let them be themselves. Their technical proficiency can be astounding and it is not simply limited to information technology.
Prodigy is often a word you’ll see associated with many diagnosed with autism. It’s because 3/8 child prodigies also have autism. Compare that statistic to the 1/100 people who actually have autism and its clear that seeing autism as purely a disability is not only reductive but insulting.
While coaxing them into work may be a struggle as only 50% of Auticon employees were in full time employment before they began at Auticon, it was clear as the speakers progressed that those with autism feel naturally discriminated against and many have simply given up with the world of work.
Conventions like these should be a waking jolt for employers with predominantly neurotypical workforces. Think of it as altruism and making your business more progressive if you like but the facts are these: those who foster a neurodiverse workforce see exponential growth in their business. Just ask Auticon, or indeed a little company called Microsoft. Neurodiverse workplaces are for the socially responsible and for the business savvy.