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Thread: #autism #employment statistics are unreliable but 44 years of working has taught me this: #autistic people struggle to reach their full potential unless organisational culture and environmental issues are addressed.
I once did some work on job design and evaluation for the NHS. In attempting to improve #employment outcomes for #autistic people we often start in the wrong place. It’s no good trying to fit people into roles that are unsuitable, and this applies to working environments too.
A degree of mutual adaptation is possible, but true workplace inclusion begins with design.
We have plenty of information about common challenges experienced by autistic people - our #sensory and #communication differences are well-defined.
So what seems to be the problem?
In the late 1970s the world of work was very different. Communication was less immediate (memos and letters not emails). We had more physical space and there were staff rooms and canteens so food smells didn’t intrude into offices. No mobile devices to blur boundaries either.
It was far from perfect back then, there were ridiculous rules like ‘women can’t wear trousers’ and sexism was far worse than it is now. On the other hand the structure and routine of work often seemed clearer. Organisational hierarchies and expectations were more explicit.
Over the years individual offices have largely disappeared. Open plan and agile working present challenges to many #autistic people. A desk of your own can be an anchor - a predictable, personalised, safe space. Hotdesking can feel chaotic.
Open plan working often creates noise problems, a common autistic #sensory issue.
Acoustics are neglected in office design even though they have a profound impact on communication. Headphones tend to be the ‘go to’ solution but this can increase isolation.
With increased emphasis on remote working it’s important that technology is inclusive too. Autistic auditory processing issues can make conference calls challenging - particularly if the sound quality is poor, or if more than one person speaks at once.
On reflection I realise that formally chaired, structured meetings (university exam boards, Department of Health meetings) were easier for me to contribute to. In addition to being autistic I have high frequency hearing loss, so communication challenges have been even greater.
When I visited a purpose built educational setting to set up a student placement I realised how much difference the #environment makes. Visual, spatial and auditory #inclusion had been designed in. And the staff had been trained in inclusive communication.
It was liberating!
In another thread I mentioned that after being diagnosed #autistic I was given advice on what kind of #job I’d thrive in. But nothing being advertised met the criteria.
That’s why we need to take a step back and design roles and #workplaces where autistic people can succeed.
Ignoring sensory discomfort often leads to meltdown, shutdown or eventual burnout. If this happens autistic people often feel (wrongly) to blame.
Instead of seeing these as part of being autistic we should recognise they may signify something in the environment needs fixing.
Just after I got a diagnosis of hearing loss, aged 51, I overheard some concerned colleagues in a huddle debating the best position for my desk. They meant well but it wasn’t helpful to be excluded from the discussion.
We’re experts on our own needs.
I’m 60 and impatient for change so I don’t believe inclusion of autistic people at work will be achieved by awareness-raising and incremental change. Or if it is I won’t live long enough to see it. We need a radical, rights-based #employment campaign led by #autistic people.
The alternative is to continue as we are trying to fit into #environments and working practices not designed to meet #autistic people’s needs. With the state pension age increasing future generations may find it difficult to survive their #working life, let alone thrive.
It’s striking being part of the online #autism community how many talented #autistic people have effectively been excluded from the labour market. A few initiatives are addressing this, targeting young people, IT/tech but there’s little for older people with other interests.
Worklessness among older autistic people seems to be a problem that’s being allowed to work its way out of the system. This reflects the lack of investment in research and services for older autistic adults generally.
Sometimes it’s hard not to feel invisible and unimportant.
The government believes everyone of working age should work so #autistic people will come under increasing pressure.
I’d love to know what other autistic people think we can do to improve things so everyone can survive and thrive at #work.
Please also share any examples of #inclusive working environments and practices that help autistic people to feel comfortable and achieve their employment potential.
This will help lift me out of despair!
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