Employability as an Autistic person
This question would depend on who you ask. One employer may hire you, while another does not. This is due to a range of factors, other candidates, the job in question, interview skills. Autism affects all of this. But for employers who purposely chose to not employ autistic people is down to one thing. The way they see Autism. They see autism as a weakness or struggles or deficits. Not through our strengths and benefits. However, there are some employers who only employ autistic people because of our talents, creativeness or attention to detail. According to statistics from the Office for National Statistics 2020, only 22% of autistic adults are in some kind of employment. (https://www.ons.gov.uk)
I have had jobs in the past. I started off with a paper round when I was 13, and I did it for almost 3 years. For 6 days of the week, I would get up every morning at half past five and get back in time to go to school. After this I then had to do work experience as part of my secondary school in year 10. I managed to get into one of the museums. For 2 weeks I worked in a museum of natural science because I wanted to do something related to science. I loved doing this work, I had to make crafts for local festivals, move the microscopes and log in new objects as well as doing pest control. I learnt so much about museums as well as all the science they had on display.
After this my family decided to own a pub. It was a massive adventure for all of us, working in a pub, living above it for a time as well. I started working there after I completed my GCSEs. Because it was a family run pub, I had to do both front of house and waitressing. I really hated waitressing. But I really loved working behind the bar. There was a physical separation between me and the customers, and I could easily remember and make the drinks from memory. I was fortunate enough that we weren’t the sort of rowdy pub, so we rarely had issues from heavy drinkers and lots of people. Those times that we did, I hid in the kitchen and did pot washing instead because I couldn’t face the masses of people outside. In this sense I was really efficient, I could make drinks quickly and from memory, I got quickly into the swing of it. I had difficulty with information overload, if I had too many things to do like waiting on tables and making drinks I would always get in a panic and the other people who I worked with knew by now that I just needed to be sent off for a couple of minutes to calm down. My social communication was still not great, I was always very abrupt and would often forget to give alternatives to what the customer wanted. Waiting on tables was hard because of course I had to interact with the customers, but also because I wouldn’t know what to say if they asked me a question. I was very awkward doing things in front of them, like opening wine bottles, especially if I couldn’t do it! And even more so if I had to go back and tell them something wasn’t available, or I had made a mistake. It was a lot of pressure and of course everyone would be looking at me. I also avoided the phone for a really long time, until I felt comfortable enough that I had learned a script in my head, so I knew what to say and how to answer.
In the last year of the pub, I had finished my A-levels and so I moved to working full time, I took on more responsibilities and perhaps my favourite of them all. I got to do the line-cleaning each week! Line cleaning is so satisfying and there’s a routine with it. So, its everything autistic me likes. I keep going on about my line cleaning and everyone says I’m strange for liking it so much.
I worked in this pub for 2 years and managed to do all of the above without my autism diagnosis. The colleagues I worked with were fantastic, we all got on with each other and some of them I am still great friends with. Especially my manager, she was the one who would tell me to calm down or step out for a bit. Because we were a close team, everyone kept an eye on me and would help me. To them, my autism diagnosis explained so much about what I struggled with while working there. But they also didn’t mind that I was like this, the regular customers didn’t mind that I was like this. Having people like this is what helps us autistic people thrive in the workplace, and it’s meant that I’ve been able to get better at my social communication and how I deal with lots of things going on.
After leaving the pub, I haven’t found another job because I then started university and I didn’t feel like I could do both my uni work and a job at the same time. However, during the pandemic, I was at home more than I was at uni so did try to apply for small jobs. But these weren’t so lucky as I got rejected by both of them in the same stage of the application. I failed the situational judgement test because being autistic means that I process things in a different way and apparently the way I do it is not suitable for those jobs. Which was annoying, especially as one of the jobs was the summer disability internship program with the civil service. A program specifically for people like me, yet I still failed it because of my disability, so it’s a little hypocritical but it’s what I’m going to get in the world of work in some places as I said in the beginning. They see autism as a weakness.
My autism is my strength. I am logical, methodical, efficient, productive, I keep to time, and I notice patterns. I love a routine and repetitive tasks. Yes my social communication lacks sometimes but I am not defined by this. I am defined by everything that makes me autistic.