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This is the plan

Only 2 in 10 autistic people have a job! The phrase alone should set off alarm bells and get us all involved to change this reality. The alarms have been ringing, but not everyone has been paying enough attention. Or they have confused it with other alarms. And why alarm? they ask themselves. Because there are at least 5 million autistic people in Europe. Because there are at least about 78 million autistic people worldwide. And because autism is a lifelong condition and adults have the right to work and to be able to guarantee their autonomy, independence and to carry out their life project. Are these reasons enough for you?


And as such, a plan is needed to respond to this urgent need in the lives of thousands of autistic people. Responsibilities are and should be shared by all of us, including autistic people. It is enough to create measures for autistic people without them being involved from the beginning and in the decision-making process. It is necessary to hold the government entities and the other political parties with parliamentary seat and representation accountable. And that, once and for all, they appoint themselves to listen to autistic people. Organisations, whether public or private, must be made responsible for having a vision capable of integrating neurodiversity. And that it is not the neurodiversity that only fits into people with multipurpose certificates with 60% or more disability. And it should not be an integration biased and oriented towards existing vacancies. It is fundamental that autistic people, like any other person, can have and choose their professional life project.


It is easier to talk about diversity than to achieve it. During a normal, usually busy working day, it is difficult to find the time and energy to invest in reconsidering ways of working. Many of our working practices are habit-driven. When Organisations have a vacancy to fill, they look for the previous job advertisement and we update it. However, each person is different and the way they experience, process and respond to the world, varies between people, and within the same person, depending on the context. These in turn lead to inevitable exclusion and fewer opportunities to participate in the workforce.


But when is the right time to make the change anyway? And can I alone make that change happen? When? It's now. Now is the time to create and implement an inclusive neurodivergent employment framework that not only supports autistic employees, but enables all people to thrive. An inclusive employment framework that embraces and fosters neurodiversity can support people throughout their working lives.


However, the changes to be made need to be thought through by everyone. And they need to be realistic, practical and 'good for business'. As with any situation involving the labour market, we need to work with employers to help identify practical adjustments that are effective and lead to sustainable change. But too often we feel that Organisations and employers specifically are equally distant from neurodiversity and what it represents. And more specifically what autism is and how it is expressed diversely across the spectrum. And whether it is vital to think about a framework, namely a legal framework, for aspects of inclusive employability. It is equally vital to think again that one size does not fit all. For example, the publication of Law 4/2019 for the creation of employment quotas for people with disabilities with 60% or more and disability, leaves out many people. And if we think about neurodiversity we need to think about diverse response possibilities. Not least because all autistic people are different. And whether some will manage to thrive without any support in their career. Many need some simple adjustments or to be given an opportunity at the right time or in different contexts. Others will need high levels of personalised support to find and stay in work. And we need to emphasise neurodiversity as a key response to change. Not least because it is a model capable of incorporating a wide range of community profiles and needs.


But do not think that underlining the importance of neurodiversity is only important and concerns only neurodiverse people. Diversity in the information process as well as cognitive diversity is a vital and underutilised resource in Organisations. Autistic people, for example. introduce different ways of thinking and working into Organisations. And for example, for complex tasks involving problem solving or creative thinking, such as new product development or business strategies, a neurologically diverse team is more likely to generate a wider range of ideas to consider and avoid cognitive biases.


But change needs to be extended to other contexts. Such as to Universities, and especially to those with a greater responsibility for teaching Human Resource Management and related courses. Just like in Psychology or Medicine courses, it is fundamental to improve the information taught on autism, on how to recognise and intervene. Also in the scope of recruitment and selection, it is fundamental to be able to do this work with the neurodiverse community. This change operated at this level reproduces a change in the recruitment and selection practice, but also introduces a paradigm shift in the functioning of the very organisations requesting this recruitment. We may observe in the job advertisements themselves a substantial change in the way of recruiting translates into a visible transformation for everyone, neurodivergent and neurotypical. In addition, this change will also translate into an assurance of confidence of neurodivergent people in the selection process, for example, in going to the interviews. This situation causes some anxiety in most of us and becomes very disabling for neurodivergent people when they feel that the preparation and awareness of the people who will receive them is nil or close to nil.


The bet on neurodiversity makes it possible to respond at various levels in society. Be it in the allocation of economic resources for the necessary pensions for neurodivergent people who, not being in work, will turn to you. Or because, within the neurodivergent community, there is a whole pool of capable and increasingly well-trained human resources that is under-exploited. In addition to this diversity itself being a richness and a catalyst for the change to operate and necessary for Organisations. And if proof is needed, the companies that have been in neurodiversity and inclusive recruitment for the last 10 years have proven that the change translated into improvements and growth for their Organisation, but also for the well-being and quality of life of all their workers.


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