This week is National Autism Awareness Week. There are over 700,00 adults and children with Autism in the UK, that is 1 in 100 of us. Often children on the autistic spectrum attend mainstream schools and other times they attend a specialist provision but does Autism mean they cannot access the workforce?
This week I want to talk about neurodivergence and how it can positively impact a young person and the workforce that they choose to work in. If you have a neurodivergent brain you really do have superpowers! You learn in so much more depth; I like to think of it as seeing life and learning with a million different colours rather than just a few. You absorb every sound, smell, object with intensity and should celebrate your superpowers. My favourite analogy of a neurodivergent brain is that of train tracks. A neurotypical persons’ brain is often viewed like a single track, they can stay on track. A neurodivergent brain is often viewed like the major intersection of tracks where there are lots of twists and turns; but the driver knows all the routes intrinsically.
Believe it or not there are actually thousands of autistic adults in the workforce from famous faces that we all know and love such as Chris Packham to those in every day jobs working in large organisations such as Virgin Red and HMRC. Workplaces should be looking at what they can do to support autistic adults and how much they can offer the workplace.
Autistic young people could offer your workforce:
- A different perspective
- Excellent attention to detail
- Strong technical skills
- Creative thinking
- Problem solving
- New insights and picking up on things others don’t
- Determination and tenacity
I mean sounds like the ideal employee, right? Like all employees the employer needs to make sure that there are reasonable adjustments in place and these are different for each person. Just because someone is autistic doesn’t mean they are all the same. The National Autistic Society has a great section on employment offering support to employees, those wanting to gain employment and employers through their Autism Work Programme. .
All the delivery programmes we offer at Above and Beyond Careers are personalised; which suits Autistic students as we can tailor at both the planning and delivery stages to suit each student in the class. This also support Gatsby Benchmark 3; addressing the needs of each pupil. I have also developed a programme of one-to-one appointments so that students could build their confidence, develop an understanding of their needs and explore their career potential. Rather, than a one-off intervention I work over an academic year seeing the students on a regular basis. This builds a strong level of trust and helps students to feel comfortable talking to me rather than me sitting in front of them as a total stranger.
Something my students often ask me is for inspirational people who are Autistic. My students often can’t see a future outside of school because they see the barriers they face. Just in case you wondered these are some of the awesome examples I use.
Dan Aykroyd, Actor and Film Writer
Dan is famous for his role in and writing and acting in the 1984 film classic, Ghostbusters. Dan’s special interests are ghosts and law enforcement!
Albert Einstein, Scientist and Mathematician
Einstein is a grey area as no one is 100% sure that he was Autistic but many believe he was
Anthony Hopkins, Actor
Hopkins is a multi award winning actor famous for roles such as Odin in the Marvel Movies and Hannibal in the self titled film. He was diagnosed as Autistic as a child and openly speaks about how it is both a negative and positive part of him. Hopkins often talks about how he struggles with maintaining friendships but how he can also see people and stories from a different perspective.
Charles Darwin, Naturalist, Geologist, and Biologist
It is believed that Charles Darwin was Autistic. Darwin was a very quiet person who avoided social interactions. He much preferred to communicate by writing than public speaking.
Bill Gates, Co-founder of the Microsoft Corporation
Bill Gates often displays stimming features of rocking, a monotoned speech pattern and often avoids eye contact. Being Autistic has helped Gates in his career and led him to become a multi-billionaire.
Satoshi Tajiri, Creator of Pokémon
This is probably my son’s favourite person on this list, Tajiri was fascinated with bugs as a child and expanded upon his focused interest in adulthood by creating Pokemon, a much loved game, cartoon and now film.
Elon Musk, Entrepreneur
Elon Musk famously announced he was Autistic whilst hosting Saturday Night Live in May 2021. He is one of the worlds riches people with an estimated net worth of over $!50 Billion!
There are even more examples and they span across most industries and specialisms:
Vincent van Gogh – Artist
Thomas Edison – Inventor
Alexander Graham Bell – Inventor
Steven Spielberg – Director
Alfred Hitchcock – Director
Lionel Messi – Football Player
Samuel Clemens – Writer
George Orwell – Writer
Jane Austen – Writer
Henry Ford – Inventor
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart – Musician
Bob Dylan – Musician
James Taylor – Singer-Songwriter & Guitarist
John Denver – Singer-Songwriter & Record Producer
Charles M. Schulz – Cartoonist
The next time you’re working with an Autistic young person, inspire them; tell them how amazing they really are. Use their passions to ignite their futures, work with them not against them and most of all support them to believe they can; because let’s face it the list above is proof that anything is possible.