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Autistic People Wanted!

Good afternoon, I was wondering if you could send the job interview questions in advance? asked Ana (fictitious name). The other incredulous person even asked her if she was joking. What do you mean? asked Annie. You do know that you can't send the interview questions in advance, right? asked the voice on the other end. No, I didn't know that. But why? asks Annie, in order to understand why she thought the situation was absurd. This is a prank, right? It's not funny at all! said the voice on the phone. I still don't understand," said Annie. I'm not joking at all. But can you tell me why? The call fell through. Ana called back. A different person answered. Good afternoon, I was wondering if you could send the job interview questions in advance? she asked again. An obviously not harsh tone was heard on the other end of the line. Ana didn't understand and asked again why. Because then everyone would be in on the job offer! But that doesn't make sense! said Annie. People shouldn't stay in the job by knowing the questions, but by the content of their answers, right? questioned Ana. The call dropped.

Anna is applying for the job market for the first time. She recently finished her degree in Translation. It was the second best of her year. She doesn't know what she's going to do now that she's finished her degree. But before that, when she finished secondary school she didn't know what to do with her life. But even though she knows a few things, she doesn't know how to go about making an application. Even though she knows that she has a number of questions about some of her characteristics. But she also knows that other issues that are likely to be very challenging for her are related to how other non-autistic people think about autism. That's right, Anna was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder at the age of 8. And if there is one thing Anna has learnt, among many others, it is the importance of asking questions when she feels she doesn't understand and needs clarification. The example in the previous dialogue shows exactly that. Anna has read some articles about job interviews and realised that there is a whole range of questions that seem to be standard interview questions. But she has also realised that there is a whole range of questions that can arise that are unexpected. And so Ana called the company she is applying for to ask if they would share the interview script so she could prepare herself and lower her anxiety level.

It is well known that more and more people, including adults, are being diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder. And it is also known that there are a variety of intervention responses more adapted for autistic people. These responses lead to an increasing number of autistic people who, by the end of adolescence and into adulthood, are finishing their higher education or professional training and trying to enter the labour market.

But is the labour market adapted to receive autistic people? And will the people who are doing the recruitment and selection be equally prepared for this process with autistic people?

These are two questions that some of us can advance some answers. But they are answers that only exist in some companies, both those who will receive autistic people in their staff and those who are recruiting and selecting. However, the answer is not yet diversified in the labour market. As such, autistic people still do not know if this or that company has a policy of inclusion and respect for neurodiversity. They also do not know if the company that will carry out the job interview and selection is aware of the necessary adaptations to be made when this is done with autistic people. And many of us know that when an autistic person thinks that people in the interview may not know how to deal with autistic people, they will feel an increase in anxiety levels, to the point that they may even avoid applying.

So how can we get around these challenges? And who can we do something with? And what do we do?

Some continue to bet that work should continue to be done with the autistic person. But this has proven that it is not at all able to meet the needs of autistic and non-autistic people. Some companies that are hiring autistic people are already doing training within their organisation for all workers, or at least for those who are most likely to work alongside autistic workers. But this also does not seem to help meeting the needs, as autistic people end up not reaching companies. In other words, it also seems necessary to raise awareness and train the professionals who do the recruitment and selection and especially those who do the job interviews. Basically, we need to change our paradigm and stop thinking that the intervention should continue to be exclusively carried out with autistic people. And to think that non-autistic people will also benefit from this training. And organisations as a whole will benefit from the creation of a more inclusive and neurodiverse environment.

Many autistic people experience more challenging situations due to language and social communication issues, which can make it difficult to get relevant information about their people. They may find it difficult: to consider others' perspectives, or what another person is thinking. But also recounting an event in context, focusing on smaller details. Or expressing your feelings through your more atypical tone of voice. Or using appropriate body language or gestures. As well as making or maintaining eye contact.

Autistic people may also struggle with issues related to sensory hypersensitivity to bright lights, loud noises, strong smells or touch, which can be very overwhelming and distressing when in a new environment, or

sensory hypersensitivity, which can result in sensory behaviours. But stimming behaviour can also occur. That is, a behaviour that usually involves repetitive movements. It is often used as a relaxing mechanism, so it is important not to try to stop an autistic person from doing it, or to take away any objects they may have so that they can use it as a distracting and stimulating object.

The very situation of whether the interview is conducted face-to-face or by videoconference is not neutral. And these two years of the pandemic have for example shown that some people have responded better in these virtual situations, compared to being face to face.

As well as being able to offer a pre-interview tour of the location where they will be interviewed will help to ease the interviewee's mind and prepare for the interview so they are more relaxed on the day.

Or inform the interviewee about what is going to happen and what is expected of them ahead of time. Most people (but especially autistic people) like to know what is going to happen and what it will be like. Ideally this should be in a letter, with a visual schedule and pictures where appropriate, as well as being provided verbally.

Providing the interview questions in advance is facilitative. Autistic people can find it difficult to process questions and formulate an answer with a certain speed, so it is important to give them more time to prepare. And that does not mean they are not an asset as a worker to be hired.

Plan to minimise interruptions and avoid unnecessary "waiting room" time. Schedule the interview during a quiet period at a time when interruptions are unlikely (being left waiting can be extremely challenging for an autistic person).

Adapt the environment for potential sensory issues. Is there lighting flashing, noises coming from outside the room, echoes, a ticking clock, lighting hums, scheduled fire alarm tests? If so, you may need to alter these or use a different space.

Autistic people can find it difficult to meet the level of detail required when they are asked open-ended questions such as "tell me a little about yourself". These types of questions are often too ambiguous for autistic applicants as they contain little structure, particularly with regard to the need to include positive information about goals, aspirations, self-descriptions and self-assessments.

And as such, the person doing the job interview for an autistic person can help them by: 1) asking specific questions that require specific details, examples and certain types of information; 2) if the question has more than one part, asking each one in turn. Autistic people sometimes have difficulty remembering too much information at once, providing them with a printout outside the questions so they can refer to them during the interview. This can help them structure their answers and stay on track; 3) Avoid asking, "Tell me a little about yourself." Try asking, I will ask you to give me a brief introduction about yourself. Please tell me: what are your best personal characteristics? what are your educational qualifications? what work experience do you have? 4) Avoid asking, "What are some of your strengths?" Try asking, I will ask you about your strengths. Please tell me: What do you consider to be the main things you are good at? how have you used these strengths in work or education? 5) Avoid asking, "Tell me about a time when you disagreed with a colleague. How did you deal with it?". Try asking, Think of a time when you disagreed with a colleague. Please tell me: what was the disagreement about, how did you resolve it?

The examples are not exhausted here. And I believe that some people in the course of their duties may take some of these aspects into account. But it will be necessary to make these practices a daily reality.

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