For our first Speaker Series event of the year, we welcomed two speakers from the UK’s National Autistic Society, in partnership with the Bloomfield Trust, to share their insights on neurodiversity. In the talk, Job Coach Leo Capella, supported by Cath Leggett, Employer Engagement Manager, discussed how businesses can benefit from autistic talent and can help these employees flourish.
What is neurodiversity and why does it matter at The Hopper?
The term neurodiversity refers to variations in the human brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions. This broad definition is how we think about neurodiversity in the UK. In the US however, neurodiversity refers to autism specifically.
Neurodiversity is important to us as an organisation because it is about embracing different perspectives. We believe including diverse viewpoints is essential for us to achieve our mission to deliver outstanding products and become the trusted leader in digital entertainment services.
What is autism?
Autistic people represent 1.1% of people in the UK. Autism is a part of a series of overlapping and sometimes separate conditions that affect the brain, including ADD/ADHD, dyscalculia, dysgraphia, dyspraxia, ASC/ASD and dyslexia. They are not degenerative or life-threatening, but mean there are key differences in the brain regarding sociability, learning, attention, mood and other mental functions.
The main differences autistic people experience are in the following areas:
The business case for autistic talent
“If you hire autistic people, you will be hiring the most intense, passionate, diverse group of people on the planet,” says Capella. Not only do autistic people make motivated and highly productive employees, but by including them you will learn how to become more inclusive generally, whether that’s of your employees or customers. This will help you build new relationships and attract more diverse talent.
There are some specific strengths that autistic people are known for. “People who appreciate the method to our so-called madness will profit,” says Capella. For example, they can be very focused and logical. They can also have a different way of thinking and approach problems from new and unexpected angles. While autistic people can be technical, they can also be extremely creative. They can be huge perfectionists, paying close attention to detail and trying hard to get everything done.
Barriers to recruitment
Applying for jobs can be challenging for all of us, but autistic people can face a range of specific challenges that make it particularly difficult. “There is a huge gauntlet of obstacles for autistic people,” says Capella. “That’s not to make you feel sorry for us, but to make you appreciate the scale of the challenge that has to be removed.” Some of the major barriers to recruitment includes:
Simple adjustments to workplace processes can make the world of difference to an autistic person. And bear in mind that a more inclusive approach can benefit the entire organisation. “If you make something autism-friendly, it's more likely than not to be people-friendly full stop,” says Capella.
At work adjustments
This can vary according to the person. Someone with ADHD might suit break times as short bursts, for example, whereas another autistic person might need shifts that allow them to avoid the crush of rush hour
Structure and planning are key: make sure they know what they should be doing and when, what they shouldn’t do, as well as what they may do outside of their standard duties. Meetings help provide critical sign posts for an autistic person to track their progress and targets
Break down each task within the job, providing clear guidelines to protect your employee from getting overwhelmed. “Remember, what goes unsaid is a huge thing for autistic people,” says Capella
Autistic people can cope with change, but try and avoid any sharp turns. Be aware of changing priorities and ad-hoc or reactive tasks during exceptional times. Communicate unexpected information as early as possible and try phasing it in gradually so that your employee doesn’t become overwhelmed
The National Autistic Society provides support for candidates but in an ideal world they’d also get internal support when in their role
Start building relationships with autistic candidates as early as you can in the recruitment process so you can understand their unique needs. “It’s not just about what autism is, it’s about who autistic people are,” says Capella. Remember, not everything is linked to being autistic. What is this person’s personality like?
You can also consider the impact of intersectionality and how issues like race, gender identity and sexual orientation might play into your employee’s experiences. For example, people from ethnic minorities have historically been underrepresented in the autistic communities. Autism doesn’t occur in isolation, so remember to be human and think about the whole person you are working with.
Finally, remember the three Cs for an autism friendly workplace:
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Visit www.thehopper.tech to find out more.