It’s been rather a while since my last post due, to an extremely heavy workload in work the last few years, and so I have been thinking that it’s about time I posted an update; I thought I would use the opportunity to share something that I wrote and shared with my colleagues in work this time last year, and again this week as a reminder. This weekend sees the close to World Autism Awareness week; why is this relevant? In 2009 I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (AS), an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), also known as “High Functioning Autism” (HFA).
I wrote a short E-mail to spread awareness of autism within my workplace; I shared the same again a few days ago to remind previous recipients and inform anyone who wasn’t with us at that time. As an individual on the spectrum I feel it is important to increase understanding both at work and in every day life, especially due to the lack of knowledge of the “condition” and the distinct lack of employment for those with it, to both encourage understanding to aid autistic people but, further, recognise the positive contribution they can make and therefore the potentially significant benefits we can recognise as a business.
Now with this article (slightly adjusted) I hope to extend this knowledge to others outside of my workplace and bring further benefit beyond those who have already thanked and praised me for sharing my knowledge with them.
Did you know that only 16% of autistic adults are in full-time paid employment? Yet, people with autism have very valuable skills that, if applied correctly in the workplace, can allow them to make a normal to significant contribution. These can include:
- Strong analysis skills
- Pattern recognition
- Problem solving
- Undertaking repetitive tasks
- Extreme focus
What is autism?
Whilst there is a general awareness of autism, many people are not particularly aware of what it means to be autistic, or how autistic people can struggle to interact with others; they may not even be aware that the people they see in daily life are autistic, after all there are often no physical, or, obvious signs.
Autism is a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others. Autistic people see, hear and feel the world quite differently to other people. If you are autistic, you are autistic for life; autism is neither an illness nor a disease and cannot be ‘cured’. Often people feel that being autistic is a fundamental aspect of their identity, and many feel proud of that identity as it is a key aspect of what makes them who they are.
Autism is a “spectrum condition”. All autistic people share certain difficulties, but being autistic will affect them in different ways. Some autistic people also have learning disabilities, mental health issues, or other conditions, meaning that autistic people need different levels of support. All people on the autism spectrum learn and develop. With the right sort of support, all can be helped to live a more fulfilling life of their own choosing.
There are around 700,000 people in the UK living with autism; more than 1 in 10 – statistically there could be, and likely are, more than a handful of such people within your organisation.
What can I do?
As autism is a spectrum disorder, i.e. covering a range of issues, it is not possible to state with any certainty that an autistic person will behave, or perceive, in a specific way. Issues can include:
- Being very literal
- Possessing limited multi-tasking ability
- Social communication (such as trouble with facial expressions, tone of voice, apparent sarcasm etc.)
- Social interaction (we may appear direct or insensitive, require time alone or feel uncomfortable around unfamiliar people, or demonstrate “strange” behaviour)
- Displays of repetitive behaviours or have requirement for strict routine
- Possessing highly focussed interests
- Sensory issues (under sensitive as well as over sensitive, e.g. difficulty operating in loud environments, sensitivity to light or touch)
For this reason it’s very difficult to identify someone as autistic, or to understand how to interact with them – so we shouldn’t do anything, right?
No! Whilst some people may feel comfortable telling others that they are autistic, in which case a perfectly normal conversation with them about it is likely to help them feel understood and respected, others may not. There may be signs that they are autistic, or they may be too subtle. So again, we should do nothing, right?
Again, no! In this case just remember, we are people like everyone else – whatever we are displaying, or not, we have feelings and worries, perhaps deeper than yours. More often than not we are expected to leave our world and enter yours; instead try stepping in to ours. Please be kind and take time to understand your colleagues and people you generally interact with.
Whilst you may not understand their motivations, if you give someone the time and a chance to get to know each other in order to understand and respect their motivations, you may be pleasantly surprised; acting in this way will also generally work with non-autistic people too and ensure a happy and healthy work environment all round.
I expect most autistic people would say they just require time, understanding and some minor accommodation; what they don’t want is to be excused, misunderstood, or worse, simply ignored.
If you’d like to learn more about autism you can read more here: http://www.autism.org.uk/about/what-is.aspx and if you’d like to donate to the National Autistic Society you can here: http://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/donate.aspx. If you’re an employer and want to learn more about autism in work you can read the National Autistic Society’s report here: http://www.autism.org.uk/~/media/nas/get-involved/tmi/tmi%20employment%20report%2024pp%20web.ashx?la=en-gb.
Or if you’d like to talk about autism, or my experience with it, I’d be more than happy to do so – please feel free to leave a message.