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Seven dogs to a bone!

It's seven dogs to a bone! we often hear in the context of job applications.


It said you had to have a driving licence! says Guilherme (fictitious name). Although it doesn't make much sense to ask for a driving licence for an offer for administrative staff. And so I ended up not sending my application! he concludes.


All job offers mention that you have to have soft skills, social competences, or similar! says Anabela (fictitious name). And I know from experience that I don't have them. At least I don't have those soft skills and social competences they mention. I have others! she concludes.


The examples of Guilherme and Anabela mirror a well-known and painful reality of the whole autistic community. Guilherme and Anabela are both autistic. Guilherme is 42 and Anabela is 29. They have already worked in the past. But they have also had many breaks from unemployment. They have done some unpaid internships. Maybe too many. They've seen some of their contracts ending and not being renewed. And they've never been told why. Just as they have never been told why they were not hired after going to the job interview. Not to mention the countless CV's they sent and never even got a reply.


I don't know of any job offer where it is possible for an autistic person to apply! says Ruben (fictitious name). And I don't mean those offers that are specifically for autistic people! he continues. We need people to understand that it is important that any person, autistic or not, can feel that the offer is adequate to respond. And I'm not talking about the technical skills. I'm talking about the general issues and that are referred to for all or most job offers. It is as if they are implicitly saying that that offer is not for autistic people! concludes.


Autistic people face high rates of unemployment. And one reason for this may be that hiring processes are inaccessible.


Employment is important for the person's well-being and economic gains, as well as for society in general. And for autistic people it is no different! Research shows that employment can have a positive impact on the mental health, well-being and quality of life of autistic people. Conversely, unemployment and job loss are associated with higher depressive symptoms and lower overall quality of life for these people.


The specific nature of the relationship between employment and mental health is unclear. Although the mental health and life satisfaction of adult autistic people compared to non-autistic adults was lower to be at least partially explained by greater vulnerability to negative life experiences such as unemployment. A sense of security and maintaining employment may therefore be an important aspect and factor in improving mental health outcomes for adult autistic people.


However, it is estimated that 80% of autistic people are unemployed worldwide. And that these rates are higher for autistic people than other groups of people with disabilities.


This is despite the fact that many autistic people are willing and able to engage in employment and possess a range of unique skills and qualities that can be of particular value to employers, for example attention to detail, reliability and tolerance of repetition. And this is not to get you thinking that autistic people have super powers. It is to make you think about and pay attention to the existence of these and other skills, even though they may not be visible in the same way as they are in non-autistic people.


Indeed, organisations with autistic employees have emphasised the range of benefits that neurodiversity can bring to employment. For example, SAP (a multinational software company and prominent employer of neurodivergent people) report a direct link between workplace diversity and innovation, with innovations from their neurodivergent workers contributing to savings of approximately $40 million. Similarly, Hewlett Packard Enterprise reports that its neurodivergent workers are up to 30% more productive than their neurotypical colleagues.


Given the significant contributions autistic people can make in the workplace, and the gap between the rates of those who want to work and those who are employed, it is clear that many organisations are missing out on the talent and skills that autistic people can bring to their workforce. And one reason for this disconnect may be that inaccessible hiring processes act as a barrier to getting autistic people into employment.


Autistic people are likely to face several obstacles during the hiring process. Firstly, there are barriers in seeking employment opportunities. Indeed, the process of hearing about a job and deciding to apply can be, albeit unintentionally, biased against autistic people. For example, a large proportion of jobs are secured through existing social connections. However, autistic people tend to have smaller social networks and as such may struggle to find suitable social networks for employment issues. And it is no coincidence that in the last 5 years companies or employment platforms exclusively dedicated to autistic people have started to emerge. But surely recruitment companies and platforms in general can all learn from these positive practices and improve in this respect.


Even when jobs are widely shared, many employers reframe existing vacancies using generic job descriptions that prioritise equally generic 'core skills', such as 'teamwork' or 'communication' skills, as opposed to specialist skills" that are specific and relevant to the job. This can be problematic for autistic people who are likely to interpret information literally and cannot therefore apply for a job because they feel they do not fully meet the specific criteria set out as necessary for the role.


Secondly, autistic people are likely to face additional barriers during their initial job application. For example, autistic people are less likely to be offered work experience opportunities and may face challenges in adapting their experience to the requirements of the prospective role. As such, autistic candidates may find it difficult to showcase their skills to potential employers. Indeed, there is evidence to suggest that the increasing use of artificial intelligence in recruitment (e.g., curriculum vitae screeners) is problematic in this regard, as the systems are unable to account for such individual differences in experiences. As a result, autistic candidates may be 'screened out' before they are able to demonstrate their abilities.


Third, there are the specific barriers related to job interviews. And much of the characteristics of autistic people, whether in the difficulties related to interaction and even more so with an unknown person, the reaction to unpredictability and having no idea what type and tenor of questions will be asked, the more literal interpretation and the very difficulty in being able to answer questions that require predictability about the future, etc. There is evidence to suggest that autistic people may be more likely to struggle in this respect than non-autistic people, even if they are able to do the work in question. For example, some autistic people experience challenges in managing social expectations, understanding and engaging in verbal and non-verbal communication, and responding to interview questions that require an element of impression management. For example, interviewers often use open-ended questions to probe about specific personal experiences (e.g., tell me about a time . . .), but research shows that autistic people can have difficulty recalling episodic memories and memory often declines the more open-ended task. One thing is for sure, it seems that the whole job interview process is a minefield.


In fact, autistic people often report that they need additional processing time to make sense of what is being asked of them. However, given the time constraints that employment interviews are often subject to, this processing time is unlikely to be accounted for, potentially putting autistic people at a disadvantage. Furthermore, evidence suggests that employers, and therefore interviewers, often lack an understanding of autism and the specific challenges autistic people may face.


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