My name is Maxwell and I have high-functioning autism. I am part of the huge number of autistic adults in the UK who struggle to find full-time employment.
Autism is sometimes seen as a hidden disability. As someone on the autistic spectrum, I often have much to say, but I am not always given the time or understanding to get it out. This is something which needs to change – and change urgently.
Just 16 per cent of autistic adults in the UK are in full-time employment, and this figure hasn’t changed in over a decade. According to global talent consultancy CSG, it is estimated that one per cent of the world’s population has an autism spectrum disorder, and 80 per cent of people in this group remain unemployed.
This is especially alarming if you consider that the vast majority of those affected who aren’t in employment would like to be.
The reasons behind this statistic cannot be solved overnight, but they can begin to be tackled with greater flexibility in recruitment practices and a more open-minded approach by employers.
This means assessing people’s talent through more than the prism of experience on a CV or standard interview situations. Traditional recruitment processes are fundamentally social, built on a candidate’s ability to speak comfortably and confidently about their skills and previous experience. This can mean that the talent of autistic candidates goes unrecognised at the first stage, despite the desire and the ability to fit into the world of work.
The key to unlocking a more diverse range of talent is to look beyond technical experience and embrace new ways to identify potential, which can be subsequently nurtured alongside supportive colleagues and within an inclusive work culture.
One of the main barriers I have personally faced in interview situations is the pressure of having to sell yourself and demonstrate your confidence within as little as 30 minutes. I am someone whose confidence grows once I settle into an environment – once this has happened, I can communicate and achieve as much as anyone else. Yet, I cannot achieve my potential if I am being pushed away from the environment that will allow me to do so.
Employers also need to recognise that individuals on the autistic spectrum can bring huge benefits to businesses if allowed time to integrate and become part of a team. Encouraging greater diversity enables teams to solve problems differently and approach tasks from a new standpoint.
Autistic individuals are often highly creative, can think outside of the box, and be extremely focused and determined. (I know from personal experience how resilient you have to be to face knock after knock and keep going.) Detail-oriented and technically adept, autistic people demonstrate a high level of accuracy in their work and close attention to detail. These are all qualities that employers are surely crying out for.
Despite these benefits, many businesses lack the awareness and necessary support to accommodate autistic employees. But some are making real strides. One company setting an example in this area is Microsoft. In April 2015, it launched the Microsoft Hiring Programme with the specific aim of hiring people with autism for full-time positions.
Through this programme, applicants are allowed to enter into an interview academy, instead of a phone or face-to-face interview. This consists of part interview and part workshop, allowing potential hires the opportunity to better demonstrate their skills.
As Autism Awareness Month this April comes to a close, why don’t you consider opening your talent pool to more autistic candidates, and see the positive effects this can bring yourself?