Speaker Series: Neurodiversity

For our first Speaker Series event of the year, we welcomed two speakers from the UK’s National Autistic Society.

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:

  • Social communication and interaction
  • Restricted, repetitive patterns of behaviour, interests, or activities
  • Sensory processing. Processing the world differently, perhaps more intensely

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:

  • Application forms/CVs/covering Letters: Autistic people can struggle to fill in forms or be slower at putting together this information
  • The concept of selling yourself: “We can be uncertain around the concept of selling, as we can see it as almost lying,” explains Capella. “This makes us more cautious”
  • Lack of relevant experience: Many autistic people are highly qualified and have huge amounts of voluntary experience but can struggle getting paid roles. They lack basic paid experience because there aren’t enough opportunities for them. It’s a vicious circle and one that can affect many disabled people, too
  • Disclosure: People need to make sure they’re in a welcoming environment to disclose the fact they are autistic and that there are opportunities for them to disclose effectively provided at every stage of the process
  • Open, abstract or hypothetical questions at interview: Autistic people can require a level of preciseness to operate and can struggle to imagine personal situations
  • Tone/volume of voice, verbal processing speed, eye contact and body language at interview: “People can misinterpret behaviour like lack of eye contact,” says Capella. “We’re not doing it because we’re not confident, it’s just because we’re getting to know you. We might look disinterested, but in fact below the surface we’re more interested than anything else in the world”
  • Virtual interviews: When the connection is disrupted it can be very anxiety inducing for an autistic person

Making adjustments

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. 

Recruitment adjustments

  • Use straightforward language, avoid jargon and provide guidance in your job advert
  • Provide detailed information about the interview so the candidate knows what to expect
  • Ask the candidate if they’d like to invite a mentor to join the interview
  • Allow extra time for the candidate to process questions (use the five second rule)
  • Make sure the interview takes place in a calm environment (try to minimise chances of interruptive noises, like barking dogs etc.)
  • Avoid hypothetical questions and rephrase any that aren’t clear

 

At work adjustments

  • Altered shift patterns/break times

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 

  • Provide structure and regular meetings with line manager

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

  • Adapt and analyse the role

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

  • Give advance warning of any changes

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

  • Workplace support/buddy/mentor

The National Autistic Society provides support for candidates but in an ideal world they’d also get internal support when in their role

Building relationships

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:

  1. Communicate clearly — don’t rely on people’s abilities to mind read
  2. Consider what sensory adjustments someone might need. Some people might be attracted to loud noises, for example, whereas others might need to wear ear defenders
  3. Challenge yourself to think differently — if a colleague doesn’t communicate in a way you expect, how can you be more accommodating of that difference?

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Visit www.thehopper.tech to find out more.