Opinion: Autism – challenges on entering the workplace

nas-logoBeing diagnosed as having High Functioning Autism can come across as a bolt from the blue. However, a few weeks ago I was told that I have the condition at the ripe old age of 24. I am not alone in the country facing this issue; across the country there has been an increase in the number of people diagnosed as being on the Autism Spectrum Disorder range.

Until around 18 months ago the Government provided funding to the National Autistic Society to allow them to assist people with Autism Spectrum Disorder into full time meaningful work.  Despite my best efforts in obtaining a reason no reason has been given for stopping the funding.

The label “Autism” has been around since the 1960s, but it is only in the last decade that there has actually been any measurable progress in the quality of care and support given to people with the condition. Indeed, before Cheryl Gillan’s Private Member’s Bill (The Autism Act) in 2009 it was very difficult to get an actual diagnosis on the NHS as an adult. Since then there has been an improvement in the accessibility of services to adults, despite the fact that there is still several months wait in some areas of the country before an assessment is carried out.

People who have Autism Spectrum Disorder have a number of characterises that need to be navigated; these include having difficulties in social situations such as communicating and being in a group. As a consequence the Aspie (Autistic person) might need to have an office on their own because being in a large open plan office would prove difficult to work in. Avoiding social situations, such as clubbing when I was helping in the Local Elections in 2009 based in Newquay, is perfectly fine but not when entering the workplace.

Another area of concern is our lack of empathy and the ability to see things from another perspective, writing cover letters and getting on with our co-workers.  This may not necessarily mean that we are loud;  in my experience we can also be too quiet and polite since we are unsure about whom we are dealing with.

The loss of funding meant that there was a loss of knowledge and relationships between the National Autistic Society and firms that have taken on people with Autism Spectrum Disorder  in the past, thereby making life harder for us still in this complex world. A lack of understanding of the condition makes employers less likely to hire people with Autism, which contributes to the 85% of people with Autism Spectrum Disorder  being unemployed.  Unfortunately local Job Centres and Government providers are not equipped to deal with us.

That being said Aspies make for wonderful employers after adjustments have been made. We are extremely loyal, with our superb long term memory combined with our special interests means we are able to get to the top in our field. Notable people today with Autism Spectrum Disorder include Tim Burton and Susan Boyle. This is because we are able to think outside the box, since we do not see a box to restrict our movements. We can be a great asset for the workplace.

“If it weren’t for Aspies humankind would still be sitting in caves because someone would have to invent the wheel and non-Autistics would be  gossiping round the fire”


* Matt Casey is the Chair of ASD Lib Dems and a Liberal Democrat activist on the Bexley/Bromley border.

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  • liberal neil 11th Jun '14 - 11:34am

    Well done Matthew for writing this article and bringing an important issue to people’s attention.

    One of the difficulties with Asperger’s and other forms of Autism is that, as Caracatus says, it is a wide spectrum and everyone is different. It is also an area where our understanding is still quite basic, and a lot of research is ongoing, so what we know about it will change rapidly.

    The important thing for me is that many people on the spectrum have a lot to offer as employees (and employers!), it is just about fitting the right people to the right roles for their skills.

    I’m glad to say that my son, who was diagnosed two years ago after serious problems with school, is currently sitting in his 11th GCSE exam of the season, with full attendance so far, something we wouldn’t have dreamed possible even a year ago.

  • I agree as another person with an autistic spectrum disorder there can be negatives but we do have advantages also.

    No-one know where we’re coming from. Like a spitfire diving on a victim (figuratively speaking) we can bring a new perspective on life thus enriching those around us.

  • Good additional points Caracatus, liberal neil & Edward Thompson.
    Matthew, I would take your diagnosis positively rather than negatively – as it gives you an insight into why you are you and why something’s are easy and others difficult or even impossible and hence can be very helpful in your choice of career and specific jobs and tasks you choose to accept. I suggest giving the Mensa admission test a go.

    With respect to government funding, I wonder whether this is in part due to changes in the way funding is being routed. So instead of receiving funding directly from government, organisations are having to bid for slices from regionally held funding pots.

  • Brenda Lana Smith 11th Jun '14 - 3:52pm

    ((((((( Matthew ))))))) from an octogenarian, “41 on Autism-Spectrum Quotient test,” probable Aspie… a new label for the “Learning different” 1930s dunce-cum-1960s dyslexic-cum-more recently attention deficit disordered me… I am the second generation of four known generations of learning impaired biological males in my family… hence my advocacy for a better understanding of matters gender-variant and the Autism Spectrum… for the record my Learning Different teenage grandsons are yet to be blessed with the extraordinary lifestyles enjoyed by their learning impaired paternal lineage…

  • Michael Da Silva Pearce 11th Jun '14 - 5:36pm

    The new Children’s and Families Act 2014 includes a revised Code of Practice for Special Educational Needs and Disability (which would also include children and young people on the autistic spectrum). If local authorities, schools, health services and social care services take on the valiant intentions behind the SEND Code of Practice, all people who learn differently (and their families) will have better and more relevant support when growing up that will take them into adulthood as well as equal opportunities in life and greater acceptance. I truly hope all professionals who work in this area fully embrace the new act and make it work the way it is intended.

  • SIMON BANKS 17th Jun '14 - 9:35am

    Part of the problem in the workplace is failing to allow for how different different people can be and assuming that someone who doesn’t fit a model of an employee is a problem, not a resource. Change managers and the like produce neat diagrams straight out of an article and expect everyone to fit into them. This also leads to disaster when relations with outside bodies – such as voluntary organisations to a statutory body – aren’t understood beyond the flow chart.

    My last employer was Essex County Council and while I think diversity was better provided for and used than in many organisations – we had an autistic teenager doing work experience with us for a couple of weeks and he left passionately enthusiastic about his reception and the work he’d done – we went from individual and two-person offices to increasingly big open plan to flexible working without anyone (other than the most senior managers, of course) having their own work station, and at every stage equality and diversity issues were not properly considered. But then the planners don’t think about that any more than they think about the broken-legged keyboard that migrates around the flexible working office for months because it’s always easier to sit in another place or fit another keyboard than to report it.

  • Part of the problem in the workplace is failing to allow for how different different people can be and assuming that someone who doesn’t fit a model of an employee is a problem, not a resource

    It’s a question of how much net benefit someone brings, isn’t it? If someone isn’t particularly great, but has no problems and simply slots into the structure like a model employee, then their contribution is likely to be net positive, albeit small. But with every extra effort that has to be made to accommodate someone, their net benefit falls, so unless their positive contribution rises to compensate you can end up with a situation in which someone is costing more in adaptations to practices to accommodate their differences than they are contributing in increased benefit to the employer.

    In which case they simply can’t be kept on. It is unfair to the other employees to keep on someone who is a net drain, because it is the other employees who will have to pick up the slack and increase their net benefit in order to cover for the net drain.

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