The Undiscovered Potential of People with Aspergers Syndrome/Autism

Last Wednesday 18th May I attended an information day on employment for people with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome. I have blogged several times about the difficulties faced by people on the Autistic Spectrum so thought it would be good share some thoughts about this event.

It was organised by Diana Elliot, Branch Officer, NAS Avon Branch. She did an excellent job especially as she and her team raised the funds for the event themselves so they could make the tickets free.

The moment I entered the event I know there was something different about it. Often people with Aspergers Syndrome and Autism feel very isolated and alone. This event was special because it brought people on the spectrum, support workers, employment advisers, medical professionals and employers together.

Justify FullThe event featured speakers from many different background discussing various employment options and issues.

The issues that were raised, however, were nothing new. The NAS did a survey of 16 people with Aspergers Syndrome between the ages of 21-54 and found only 2 of them were in full-time employment. People with this condition find it more difficult dealing with interviews and work environments because they communicate differently. They also often have a high sensitivity to light or sound which can make open-plan offices difficult to work. They find office politics confusing to navigate too.

Under the Disability Discrimination Act employers are required to make reasonable adjustments to the workplace to accommodate the difficulties faced. While some have taken this on or others still fail to fulfill this requirement. They often will find other 'convenient' reasons as to why the person is not suited to the a job to cover their backs. This makes a discrimination very difficult to prove if it occurred.

However, this is only one side of the story. The speakers at the event all underlined the fact that people with Autism/Aspergers Syndrome have a vast amount of potential and value to offer. Anne O'Bryan (speaker with expertise in supported employment) pointed out that that many of the aspects that some employers find 'annoying' are actually strengths when looked at from a different perspective.

For instance people with Autism/Aspergers Syndrome need fixed routines and structures. This is ideal for roles that require a process to be repeated over and over again in the same way. Also people on the spectrum can spot potential problems that other people may miss as well as coming up with solutions to them. This is a classic situation where employers misunderstand and think the person is just being awkward.

Some other positive traits employers should consider are punctuality, dedication, loyalty and attention-to-detail. People on the spectrum are often very passionate and focused on certain areas. If these are aligned with their career then it surely the start of something successful.

What people with Autism/Aspergers Syndrome want is to be valued for their skills and be given the chance develop a career like everyone else. All to often employers place hurdles in the way of this mostly due to lack of understanding. This was a common theme that I got from the event.

All-told the event looks to be the start of brighter things for people with Autism and Aspergers Syndrome in Bristol area (and hopefully elsewhere). However, there is still a long way to go....