Why employment is so hard for Autists

I have received much training over the years on how to write a Curriculum Vitae, how to answer interview questions, how to behave in interviews, on and on.  All of which was effectively useless, as the tricky bit is keeping jobs, not getting them.

I come across as bright and a quick learner, so the problems start when someone at work thinks that because I learnt everything so easily (or because they’ve heard that I picked everything up really easily) that I can take on more tasks. 

From my perspective, I’m spending a lot of effort trying to multitask just with the job and being friendly

I “hyperfocus” on things and I struggle to both work and chat — but now I have more things to learn as well.  As I start failing to cope I come across to the person asking me to learn more as rude and unwilling.  They retaliate with dissatisfaction, quietly making it known to others that I’m not all that.

I have to guess a bit here, but it seems that some people start wondering if it was all a front I put up, and that I’m really not going to be an asset.  Maybe directly, usually more subtly, someone asks me what I’m doing, which I answer ingenuously.  Now it looks like what I’m saying and what I’m doing don’t fit. 

At this point I get the feeling something’s wrong, which is stressful

I suppose my stressed behaviour looks unwarranted, as next the thought seems to be that I have no reason to be stressed, except that I’ve been sussed and there must be something going on.  So now I’m being duplicitous and people keep an eye on me, all while my work deteriorates and I make more mistakes — or are they?  He knows perfectly well what to do, he proved that.  What is he trying to pull?

Usually, the only Autism training any of my colleagues received was from me or from a short online course, which they may well have rushed through just to get the certificate — get four out of five questions right and yay! you’ve passed the training.  People then easily forget to look at me as Autistic, or at least fail to consider my Autism when reacting in the moment.  Others, despite the training, refuse to believe that it trumps their experience — he’s a nasty one, went to a fancy university but didn’t make anything of himself, so now he takes his revenge on the world around him, trying to make out that he’s working really hard and that everyone else isn’t as good as him.  Bet he thinks it will get him promoted quickly.

Remember, at this point I’m very stressed and, just like any very stressed person, unable to multitask.  It’s either work or chat, which is the same as either do no work or be very rude.

Now it’s just a few weeks before I’m sacked again, sometimes with elaborated accusations of negligence and misconduct, just in case I was thinking of going to tribunal.

So I started thinking about how the training could be better, how to get people to “get” Autism

I got myself onto training programmes, but it was hard to engage the audience, and exercises and surveys showed that people learnt the correct answers but didn’t take anything home.  So I developed more immersive training, got people to think about how they would extricate themselves from some of the situations I had found myself in, got them to look for signs of stress and preoccupation, and how to tell them apart.

I got the chance to check back with a couple of dozen of my trainees a few years later — barely any of them remembered anything that I thought was important to the real world of working with Autists, even though most still were.

So how do employers make employment accessible to Autists?  The only times I’ve personally seen it work (if you’ll pardon the pun) are either when managers have experience of Autism at home and can bring that combination of understanding and experience to the workplace, or where the desired skills and performance trump social skills, which is why you see so many Autists in academia and software development.

This is more than awareness, it is more than understanding, it is more than acceptance

As we move societally towards more and more corporate jobs, or at least corporate-style jobs, we seem to be moving away from individualised roles and strong teamwork, while the rhetoric of recruitment emphasises these things as crucial to your job and your prospective company.  To me, an Autist, this makes no sense.

The Goth

March 2021