"The process enabled me to gain a perspective on ASD I wouldn’t have otherwise had. "
Over the last few months I’ve been tasked with creating a series of videos for Greater Manchester Autism Consortium, in their campaign to raise awareness for people with invisible disabilities in search of employment.
The videos consisted of one-on-one interviews with people on the autistic spectrum and employers. In terms of my career the experience was a huge educator, but perhaps more importantly the process enabled me to gain a perspective on ASD I wouldn’t have otherwise had.
Prior to the whole initiative my exposure to people with autism has been pretty limited, even as someone on the spectrum. Whilst filming the first few videos, the thing that became apparent to me was just how 'invisible' some of the autistic participants' difficulties were - not in a negative way but in the sense that if they not made it public you wouldn’t realise some of the difficulties they faced due to being on the autism spectrum.
I personally believe because that the media can often provide us with a sensationalised and stereotypical 'Rainman' perspective of autism, and we forget it’s called autism SPECTRUM for a reason; furthermore the normality of said people goes to prove that people with autism (depending on where they fall on the spectrum) are capable of operating in a work environment just as well as their neurotypical colleagues, all that’s really needed are some small adjustments. For example in one of the interviews, Sam was struggling with minor issues from his apprenticeship, but due to his employers Cisco being proactive and making some reasonable adjustments, he was able to continue his apprenticeship.
Speaking of adjustments, when interviewing some of the employers involved in the project it became apparent that despite being inclusive, they were often unaware of the process, or funding available, for accessing workplace support on behalf of disabled employees. They weren’t aware of the numerous grants and training Access To Work had available. Whilst the employers we interviewed were aware of how to make reasonable adjustments, unfortunately there are many out there that are not.
I personally believe what’s needed is a little more education on what autistic employees need, to be able to come in to work everyday and do their best. As part of the education for employers it’s imperative that people on the spectrum are consulted and are able to share their views on what they think works. For example, in the video featuring Andy Smith he detailed how his employers Bury Council allowed him to have regular movement breaks because he told them he finds it hard to sit still for a long period of time, and the regular movement breaks allow him to fully concentrate and do his best work when he is sat at his desk. That's a really simple but effective reasonable adjustment which his employer only found out by including him in the conversation.
Not all the interviews were conducted at the participants workplace, sometimes they were kind enough to allow me to film them in their home settings, which gave me another insight into how employing someone with disabilities doesn’t just have a positive effect on the person but it also affects their family. It’s only natural as a parent that you’d take pride in seeing your child acquire a full time job but when they’re autistic it can take on a greater importance. For instance, if the severity of someone’s autism or learning disability is on a level where they require a lot of care and attention from their family, them having a job can feel like a big step towards independence for both parties. As Janet puts it in her video, it would be a very restrictive life for her and her family if her autistic son Mohamed couldn’t go out and work.
It’s probably too early to determine how successful this campaign has been, although judging from the social media metrics the campaign has reached a lot of people, but I do believe the message behind it is highly important, especially in light of the Covid 19 outbreak which will have a long standing effect on everyone’s employability. People with disabilities, visible and invisible, have a lot of qualities to offer, and in many ways autistic individuals approaching life from a neurodiverse perspective can be a worthwhile asset in a business when it comes to generating new ideas, and in return for those ideas all employers need to do is make micro adjustments, and utilise the support on offer. To quote Helen Douglas from Cisco, who was also interviewed as part of the campaign: “There are 13.9 million people in the UK with disabilities, we can’t write off 13.9 million people, because they have so much to offer, and they’ll bring it in so many different ways that it’ ll just really impress you.”