Even though we’re in the third decade of the twenty-first century, it’s still a tough time to be an autistic adult seeking work in British Columbia. A recent study showed that almost 80% of the province’s 50,000 adults with an autism spectrum disorder diagnosis were either unemployed, or underemployed, where they’re in work that doesn’t utilise their unique skills and talents. There are many reasons for this discrepancy, from general negative stereotypes across society to biassed application and interview techniques that heavily favour neurotypical jobseekers. A big root cause, however, is plenty of awareness of autism, but not much in the way of understanding.
What Is Awareness of Autism?
For many people, autism is still a condition to be feared. This position continues to be fueled by the disinformation from the 1980s when autism was incorrectly linked to childhood vaccination programs. The doctors who published that research have since retracted and apologised for their misleading science, but this hasn’t changed the majority of society retaining negative stereotypes about autism. This is why October has been set up as autism awareness month in Canada. Autism awareness is about spreading correct information about the condition, and giving autistic people and their allies the opportunity to dispel myths that people hold about the condition.
What is Understanding of Autism?
By itself, autism awareness isn’t good enough. It’s the same idea as Canadians being aware of soccer; it brings the issue to the public consciousness, but it’s still a niche concept that only concerns people with the condition. As a society, we have to move from awareness to understanding. Autism understanding is where neurotypical people are not only clued into the symptoms and lived experiences of autistic people. But they also seek out ways to include autistic people in mainstream society. The overall goal is autism acceptance. Where having an ASD diagnosis will be no different to any other mental health condition.
What Does Understanding Look Like In The Workplace?
When you’re looking to gain a competitive edge in your hiring process. You should look to major corporations such as Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, and SAP. They have set up dedicated autism hiring programs to get the best high-quality autistic workers. To do this, they have had to build from autism awareness to autism understanding across their workplaces. This will include changes such as:
- Simplified communication. – one of the biggest changes that will lead to autism understanding is a simplification of communication across your company. This means that agendas and meetings need to be short and concrete. Office gossip and rumors need to become a thing of the past. Most autistic workers tend to deal in very concrete terms. Your staff need to understand how to communicate with their new colleague to help the whole team succeed.
- Whole team support – the typical management structure of team and team leader tends not to be supportive of autistic workers. In this hierarchical model, frustrations with autistic workers are left to the supervisor to resolve. which puts a wedge between them and the rest of the team. A whole team approach, where colleagues are encouraged to problem solve issues together. Leads to a greater understanding of what autism is. And how to work together with autistic colleagues for the benefit of the entire team.
- Independent staff research – finally, there is a great difference between staff sitting through some autism awareness training. And the same people being asked to go and conduct their own independent research and come back with questions. Independent research is a way to remove some of the scepticism. That will meet your announcement about hiring autistic workers as your staff will find ways to come to understand. How autism brings many strengths to the table.
How To Work Towards Understanding?
As with any major change in your business, it’s one thing to have the idea of hiring autistic workers, and another to change your staff’s beliefs and attitudes from awareness to understanding of autism. This is where getting professional autism employment support will be essential. These organisations are staffed and run by people with many years of experience working with autistic adults. They will be uniquely situated to help you and your staff move from autism awareness to understanding. Part of this will be talking and discussing everything about autism with your existing staff. As well as being hands-on during the onboarding process. This will make sure everyone has a clear understanding of the needs and goals of the individual. And how everyone can work together to bring success to your company.