According to research, it has been very difficult for many with autism spectrum disorder to attain and retain a job; however, a new generation has decided they refuse to let anything get in their way.
Jonathan Young is one of these inspirational young professionals who is not letting autism get in the way of their careers. He is currently a business analyst at Goldman Sachs.
He explains, "I'm the company's global go-to guy for all the information used in every single one of our internal and external positions. I'm moving up the ladder every year in terms of responsibility or promotion. My ambition is to maintain this momentum. In 10 years, I want to be someone fairly big."
While Jonathan's confidence and high position would lead many to believe that autism does not impact employment, he and his generation of those with autism spectrum disorder are more successful in careers than ever before. Now, many are able to assume that they can attain jobs that are comparable to those who would be considered neuro-typical, which was only a dream to many in years past.
Now, many with autism spectrum disorder even attain PhD level educations, enabling them to attain practically any job they desire. Where employers sometimes exhibited prejudice, these courageous young professionals are forcing them to reconsider their preconceived notions of what someone with autism is capable of.
Jonathan first interned at Goldman Sachs via the National Autistic Society's program for employment, Prospects. During his internship, he proved himself as entirely capable, and he was quickly able to become a full-time permanent employee.
He explains, "when I arrived, this role was a part-time job but I built it up into a key, full-time post and made it my own. Autism doesn't hold me back because I have had the correct support from a young age. It's key to have that support, both in education and the workplace, but I don't require anything complicated: people just have to understand that I'm different."
The people working with Jonathan have swiftly come to understand how integral he is to the team, and don't mind that he is indeed different. However, Jonathan understands that many don't have the same experience as he has been able to, and explains, "I never lose sight of the fact that I'm lucky to have a job that allows me to use all my intelligence and stretch my potential."
Penny Andrews works as a Leeds Metropolitan University library graduate trainee, a job that she gained all on her own. This was no small feat, as there were 200 other people applying for her position.
She explains why she was best for the job by stating, "sometimes I feel people think I should be grateful that I have a job but I'm performing a useful task and doing it well, so they should be grateful to me. After all, they wanted me badly enough to employ me a month before I had finished my degree in IT and communications with the Open University."
Penny's point about valuing the work of those with autism spectrum disorder instead of viewing it as a charity case is very important. In fact, Andrews believes that her Asperger's syndrome is something that was actually a benefit for the job. She says, "I was completely open about my autism throughout the interview process and even asked for a few special conditions to take account of my Asperger's, such as working from 8:30am to 4:30pmm, for example, so I don't have to take the rush-hour bus home, taking extra breaks in a special quiet area if I need quiet, and not having to answer telephones."
Penny thinks that these requests are entirely reasonable, especially considering how much benefit they receive out of her Asperger's, she says, "I'm more focused, intense and honest than a neuro-typical person. I do things thoroughly and pay proper attention to detail. I'm always switched on: even when I'm not at work, I'll go to events that are relevant. Libraries are one of my autistic specialties and I harness that at work."
William Thanh has very severe autism, and can only communicate through his iPad. However, he was hired at a bakery and London, and does a great job there.
His manager, Salina Gani, voices how integral he has become to the bakery, "when we decided to take on three young people with autism last year, we thought there would be limits to what they could achieve. But these young men have shown us that we shouldn't assume anything on the basis of their autism alone. Yes, they need work that's repetitive and structured, but much of the service industry is like that anyway. We would gladly take them on full-time and increase the numbers of people with autism working for us across all our outlets."
William's story shows that even with severe autism, employment is possible and not only benefits the employee, but the employer.
Guy's and St. Thomas' hospitals in London have begun an initiative that employs many with autism, and Staynton Brown is the Associate Director of Equality and Diversity there. When asked about if the initiative was to "give back" to the community, he stated, "this is not a charitable gesture. We want to make sure we have the most talented workforce possible. It's in our interests in multiple ways. For a start, this hospital serves a very diverse population and we want to do that to the best of our ability, which is more likely to happen if our workforce is used to working alongside a diverse group of colleagues. We've all benefited from the changes we've incorporated to accommodate those with autism. By clarifying the way we give information to and help introduce the interns into the hospital, we've made communication clearer for everyone, which leads to better patient care."
At Goldman Sachs, employers hold the same view. William Elliott is a managing director and confirmed, "employers are thinking more diversely about their workforce because they want to get the best talent through the door. We're increasingly recognizing those talents can be found within this historically underrepresented group. It's a lot easier than most people think to integrate someone with autism into the workplace. It just takes a good manager who is prepared to give some time to bring that person on, an approach which will be of benefit to every new employee."
However, there is still much progress to be made. In the United Kingdom, out of adults with autism, only 15% have full-time paid employment and only 9% part-time. A quarter of people who graduate with autism are unemployed, which is the highest rate out of any group with disabilities. The worst part? Out of adults with autism who are unemployed, most of them do not believe they will be able to ever get a job again. Nevertheless, there is hope and with trends changing, hopefully they will see themselves to be valuable and respected employees.
The narrative that those with autism spectrum disorder cannot successfully perform during their careers needs to be changed, as illustrated by these courageous young professionals. If anything, their autism makes them even more valuable.