There are around 68 million people with Asperger's globally today. It's a sad fact that only 16% of adults with Asperger's hold full-time jobs. It's a major problem, a drain on the economy, and a huge waste of talent. I'm Matt, and this is my story about how my journey with Asperger's led me to become CDO of a company called CommissionCrowd.
I've always found the world a bit confusing, but wasn't diagnosed with autism until I was 33. I performed well enough in school, but had difficulty making friends. My biggest frustration came from 'neurotypicals' (informally defined by the autism community as people not on the Autistic 'spectrum') not understanding my condition. I'd encounter employers who would look at the "disabled" label on a CV and automatically assume the applicant was unsuitable for the job.
Asperger's syndrome is a hidden disability. Walking past me on the street you would never know I had it. It's when I have to fit into a neurotypical world that the problems start. Neurotypicals are born with the skills to communicate and interact in any number of public and social situations. I was not.
The prospect of attending face-to-face job interviews and working in a busy office environment were just two deterring factors I found in my job search. My solution was to start my own company and work on a freelance basis. However, whilst I was an extremely capable web developer, my social issues presented a problem for me in making sales, and my career choices were limited to jobs that don't involve considerable social interaction.
Essentially, it came down to becoming a van driver, postman, or milkman; all of which gave me the freedom to work alone. These were all perfectly fine career choices, but my passion was still in web development and prior to meeting CommissionCrowd (the company I now work with) I was stuck in a cycle of working in jobs that simply couldn't fulfil my ambitions.
When I joined CommissionCrowd (an online networking and collaboration service driving innovation in the independent, commission-only sales industry) in March 2015, it was still a startup that was grappling with creating a website alongside their web application (app) with only one developer. Although I could help, my Asperger's presented a unique set of challenges to both parties.
CommissionCrowd's vision and scope of work involved would normally call for daily meetings and constant communication with multiple departments which I'm not comfortable with. However, their use of new and innovative communication technologies like 'Slack' eliminated the need for that constant interpersonal, face-to-face communication.
Slack is a digital workplace that connects you to the people and tools you work with everyday, enabling teams to communicate via realtime in-app messaging. It's super intuitive and has allowed me to work from home in a way that's comfortable for me while feeling as though I'm right there in the office with them. It's the use of this tool that bridged the gap and made it possible to work in a way that suited both parties.
I've never had an opportunity like this before. Ryan, Laura and Alistair - the founders of the business - welcomed me into the team wholeheartedly from day one and are constantly seeking out new and innovative technologies that make our working relationship that much easier.
New and innovative communication technologies are giving innovative and driven companies like CommissionCrowd, new opportunities to tap into a large community of highly intelligent and talented individuals, in a way that simply wasn't possible before. After two years of working together, despite having never met the founders in person or even spoken over the phone, I can proudly say that my hard work and dedication has recognised and i've have been rewarded with an equity stake in the business and promoted to Chief Development Officer. Not only that, but my dreams of putting my skills to use have come to fruition and i'm a much happier and fulfilled person that I might have been otherwise.
What advice would I give people with Asperger's trying to find jobs? I'd remind the autistic community that we are now living in a very different world, with all sorts of new opportunities that technology is helping to power at forward thinking companies. You no longer need to limit yourself to jobs or a life where you aren't able to use your full set of talents. Tech is changing the way we communicate, which yes, makes an impact for businesses in general. But for the 68 million-strong community of people with Asperger's, it makes the world of difference.