Today, 2ndApril 2019 is World Autism Day, designated by the United Nations to raise awareness of Autism Spectrum Disorder throughout the world.
Here at Bona Fide Business Development we passionately believe in diversity within the workplace, whether that is race, sex, gender, ability, personality….the list goes on. We are all different and perceive the world in different ways, that means we all bring something unique to a business.
To honour World Autism Day, we look at the positive attributes of people who are on the Autistic Spectrum and steps you can take to help them thrive in your business. I deliberately left out the word Disorder because that implies a negative to me and this post is about positives.
What is autism?
Firstly, autism affects people differently, there are a number of ‘symptoms’ but every person with autism has their own personal combinations of these ‘symptoms’. This post will for the sake of brevity and readability make some generalisations but please remember everyone is different and has different abilities and challenges.
The National Autistic Society (UK) describes autism as a lifelong developmental disability that affects how a person communicates with and relates to other people, and how they experience the world around them. It is a spectrum disorder indicating that people are affected to differing degrees.
There are an estimated 700,000 individuals within the UK (about 1% of the population) who are on the autism spectrum and it is suggested that only 15% are in full time employment compared to 57% of the ‘normal’ population. All will have difficulty with social engagement, interaction and communication to some degree. Some will have a need for a clear set routine, exhibit repeated behaviours, have issues understanding social rules and conventions or struggle with sensual sensitivities. The world can seem a very confusing place!
The benefits to an employer
Everyone in the world has their own story and issues, autistic people have their own set. By learning to cope with these and to function in a world that feels alien this gives them a certain resilience.
People with autism are often very focused and have considerable skills in specific areas. Some of the transferable skills include
- attention to detail
- high levels of concentration and focus
- a methodical approach
- strong research skills
- good long-term memory
- excellent record-keeping.
By viewing the world in a different way autistic people bring different insights to problem solving, that can only be a good thing. Thinking ‘outside of the box’, or more likely not being constrained by the box, is always good in solving business issues. Ironically an autistic person’s literal take on the world means they will find the phrase thinking outside of the box confusing, after all you actually don’t think in a box.
Your autistic employee will more than likely not play the political games that often goes on in companies, these are superfluous and not in the company’s interest. Instead you will probably get an honest, fact-based assessment of the truth. As a business leader, what do you want? The politically spun answer that is related to someone’s personal agenda or the truth, sometimes told with brutal honesty. I’d go for the truth any day.
Supporting an autistic employee
Like any investment you need to create the right conditions for your investment to flourish and to gain the benefits of employing someone with autism you need to give them an environment in which they can flourish.
You will need to make adjustments to your recruitment and HR processes and to your working environment and rules.
- At the interview avoid be precise with language and avoid idioms, as mentioned above an autistic candidate can struggle with metaphorical language.
- An autistic person may struggle to sell themselves, be aware they may talk in facts but not understand the nuances of self-promotion.
- Open ended or abstract questions may be problematic.
- Possibly allow someone to accompany the candidate who can rephrase questions.
Once you have employed someone with autism:
- Plan their induction well, help them settle into a routine that benefits them, make it structured.
- Maybe appoint a colleague as a mentor to help them.
- Provide autism awareness training for other members of staff.
- Give detailed instructions for tasks, possibly in a written form.
- Be clear, honest, open and understanding with feedback.
- Promote a culture of respect for people’s different strengths and challenges.
As mentioned at the start at Bona Fide Business Development we are advocates for diversity within the workplace. Employing a mix of people in roles that suit their individual strengths and being supportive of all can only make business stronger.
It may be hard at first making adjustments for an autistic person and there will in all honesty probably be mistakes on both sides but getting the right person into your business and everybody learning along the way can be a positive change for all concerned.
Next time you are recruiting, remember World Autism Awareness Day and consider would someone on the autism spectrum be able to make a positive contribution to your team?
To link to the National Autistic Society in the UK click here
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