The more I've learnt about the world of autism and how to best help those with autism navigate the world, I've been struck by something.
Almost everything that has proved to be a genuinely useful solution, isn't anything that's autism specific but is actually just good practice communication.
At the moment, there seems to be a lot to be optimistic about for those connected to the autism world like myself (my younger brother is autistic) and equally, a whole lot to be fearful and frustrated about.
Let's focus on the positives first: I've seen a lot to be optimistic about with employers beginning to engage with prospective autistic employees and not be afraid of any initial awkward interactions. The easiest examples to mention are companies such as Auticon or Microsoft and certainly since the introduction of the "Too Much Information" campaign launched by the National Autistic Society there have been signs that some things are starting to shift. Slowly. Even on the global sporting stage, we've had proof that autistic people can be elite athletes.
Yet, to me, a painful irony still exists, shaped by the Disability Discrimination Acts and even the Autism Act that was introduced in 2009. They are pieces of legislation that were designed to protect those who are vulnerable and yet in many cases, have led to isolation rather than any empowerment of sort. I mean that many of us would rather avoid the risk of saying something wrong or awkward than actually engaging with anyone in the workplace.
Nevertheless, this isn't an autism-specific argument. It feeds into a wider context with how many of us interact with minority and disability groups. If you're uncertain or well up for a giggle, the Last Leg's #IsItOK on Twitter is full of people who are trying to engage with people with disabilities, no matter how awkward it might be at first. Beyond the laughs, things like this may make that small difference which has a huge impact when it comes to the workplace.
There is yet to be an update to the report made a few years ago, which found that just 15% of adults with autism are in full-time employment, while another 9% are in part-time work. More than a quarter of all graduates with autism are unemployed, the highest rate of any disability group nationally. Given that 79% of people with autism on out of work benefits want to work, I would love to know where we are at now.
If we are all to start improving things, it's not going to take any fundamental changes in laws but simple, practical steps in our own lives that will make a HUGE difference. What can these be?
A great example would be one which was shared with me at this year's Employ Autism event in February, where in advance of the interview the employer sent the autistic applicant a sheet with what the office looked like, the layout of the interview room and the faces and names of who they will be interviewed by. That allowed the interviewee to deal with the anxiety just a bit better than they otherwise would. Anxiety, which I'm sure many of us can empathise with. The point is that there's no competitive advantage in any of that and yet the impact is massive. It eases the anxiety and unpredictability of the scenario and allows that individual to represent themselves as best they can in what is still an incredibly poor way of recruiting and selecting anybody.
Does that take much at all on the behalf of any employers? Nope, not at all. Reasonable adjustments.
Whatever your day-to-day looks like, what reasonable adjustments could you make to create a more accepting and engaging place for people with disabilities?
We can do this.
If you do have other examples of reasonable adjustments or any experiences you'd like to share, please do comment below or send me a tweet.
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