There are a two main groups of statistics in regards to autism that terrify me: the first group is looking at health inequalities (autistic people dying 16 years sooner than neurotypical people, and 30+ years sooner if you have a comorbid learning disability), while the second is looking at employment. According to a survey taken by the National Autistic Society 16% of autistic adults are in full time employment and overall, only 32% are in any type of paid employment. This is while 77% of unemployed autistic adults want to have a job.
This is all the more scary for me at the moment when I don’t have a job. It does mean I’m in the majority for once, but it’s not really a majority you want to be in. After having been out of work for a little bit, I really want to find a new job. For me, having a job gives structure and routine (something that I, and I imagine a lot of other autism people crave), it gives a sense that I am helping others and having a positive effect on society (making me feel good), and it means I can support others around me and not feel like a burden to them. Having a job is a really important thing for some people. When we are worried about autistic people and their integration into society, employment is an important step towards that.
However, the difficulty is that I want to find a job that will use me in the best way more than I want a job in general. I want to find a job where I can be fully me, and therefore the best form of me. Not worrying about passing all the time. Being able to work in an environment that doesn’t make me want to scream from all of the sensory inputs ramming their way into my head. Being able to put my all into something, combining that with other people’s awesome and see the amazing things we can do. I want to find a job where I can be that me, the right me.
But the question is, how do you find that? Of which I don’t have the answer yet – I hope to one day, but no success so far. What I’d imagine is it is going to be a long run of trial and error until I can get it perfect. In order to try different things and learn if something is going to be right for you, you need to research about jobs until you find the sort of thing you want to do, and then apply. My Dad told me a bit ago that “an interview is as much about learning if they are right for you, as it is you are right for them”. I don’t know how I feel about that, but I think that it is an interesting idea and that, seeing as though I am looking at trying to find “the right job” rather than “a job” then maybe I should start approaching the interview process a bit more like that.
Today we are going to focus on interviews. I am not going to give any tips about how to do well at interviews – other people are probably much more equipped for that and everyone has their own style anyway. But what I’m going to talk about is looking at setting up interviews properly (figuring out if you want reasonable adjustments and what you can ask for), and looking at questions you can ask in an interview to help you figure out if a job if right for you. I don’t know about the rest of you, but a part of my autism is that I find it really difficult to come up with questions to ask people on the spot. If you give me five minutes then I can figure out a list of different things that I want to know about, but in the moment it is really tricky. Therefore, I’m hoping that exploring these bits here will help for the future.
Reasonable Adjustments – Should you disclose?
The first question is whether you should tell someone you are autistic. This depends on what you want really – and this is the lovely thing about the Equality Act of 2010.
Summary of the Equality Act in relation to autism:
- Disability (the protected characteristic for a person who has a physical or mental impairment that has substantial and long-term adverse effect on their ability to carry out normal day-to-day activities) is a protected characteristic under the act
- It is up to you to decide if autism falls under this. For me, I would consider myself as disabled. However, if the right things are in place, then I would be enabled to do everything well and so wouldn’t be disabled anymore – that’s where reasonable adjustments come into play.
- There are protections in the act to deter and help you if you are directly or indirectly discriminated against (direct = when a person is treated less favourably because of a protected characteristic than another; indirect = when there is a policy that affects everyone but particularly disadvantages that person with a protected characteristic. The latter is lawful if it can be shown to meet an objective in a fair and balanced way).
- To this end, you are protected against harassment by the act.
- Positive action can be used to ensure that autistic people have the same chances as everyone else (though it is the employers choice to do positive action). This is not the same as reasonable adjustments, which an employer is legally obligated to fulfil.
- Reasonable adjustments are an obligation of an organisation, that when someone has this characteristic and they are at a significant disadvantage when compared to others without it, they should be provided with adjustments to help them to fulfil the role at the same level as people without a disadvantage.
- These have to be reasonable – and so cost and resource efficient, and practical for the organisation.
- Reasonable adjustments apply to recruitment practices as well as to existing staff members.
- If someone does not fulfil reasonable adjustments then this can be disputed, and ultimately they can be taken to an employment tribunal to discuss this.
This is really helpful legislation to have. While it doesn’t always work perfectly (the idea of what is reasonable or not is very subjective, and it can be quite difficult to prove discrimination in some circumstances) it is something really empowering that you can have to support you in your daily life whether you are working or not.
The caveat to it is that, if you want to be protected by it, you need to identify as someone who can be protected by it (if you want the shield, you need to admit that goblins are trying to stab you with their tiny swords…or that you just need the shield).
Ultimately the choice as to whether to disclose is up to you. For the sake of approaching an interview, disclosing could mean that you get reasonable adjustments and more understanding during the process. It also means that you don’t need to hide who you are (as much as you would otherwise at least). However, while it shouldn’t happen, it does open up an avenue for potential employers to discriminate against you (excusing it in a way that doesn’t look like discrimination). Also, it means that someone will have an idea about you before they meet you. As a society we function around making pre-judgements and coming up with an idea about people before we meet them as it gives us an advantage (woo for evolution!). Therefore, giving this information allows someone to make more of an idea about you than they would otherwise. It is up to you about whether the risks outweigh the benefits or not.
For me, I am pro-disclosing, but I like to think about when the right time is to disclose. While according to a bunch of neurotypical people they “never would have known I was autistic” (cue for groans from the neurodiverse people) so I could probably present as neurotypical in an interview, I am looking for a job where I can be me and so it is important for me to be honest about these elements of myself as they are important for how I work.
Also I wear dark blue tinted glasses and I don’t want to be directly discriminated against for them (like when I was failed in a medical school exam for professionalism because I was wearing glasses – yeah, let’s not go there today).
So, to that regard, the reward for deciding to do this is that you can get some reasonable adjustments put in place. At this point the organisation asks you – what reasonable adjustments do you want?
Does that cause the rest of you to freak out a little bit? Because I then start worrying about that. What do I ask for? What if I ask for the wrong thing? What if I ask for too much? Are they going to think that I’m a nuisance? At this point you then start crumbling under existential rumblings deep in your soul for a minute.
But actually it’s fine. You are allowed to ask for things. That doesn’t mean people will give them to you, so as long as you are fine with that, you can ask for what you think would be helpful. I try not to ask for too much, as I do worry about being a nuisance, but that shouldn’t stop you for asking for some things that are important to you.
One of the ideas that Catherine Leggett, Employment Training Consultant for the National Autistic Society, proposed in her top 5 autism tips for professionals on recruitment and interviews, is to provide a fact sheet so that employers can use that to prepare from. I have not tried that myself yet, but think I am going to. You have the choice that you can make your own or use someone else’s resources.
When I’m faced with the question the first thing I do is think about what the application process looks like – which means that if you don’t know the answer to this, then you need to ask the person who is inviting you to it. If you don’t know what that is going to be, then you don’t know which adjustments are applicable to that scenario.
Other organisations have provided some helpful ideas of things you could ask for:
- Asking for questions to be rephrased so they are asked in a concrete way rather than being too abstract or hypothetical (ex. Changing “where do you see yourself in five years time” to “Could you explain to us or describe what aspects of previous jobs or tasks or projects that you’ve worked on that you have particularly enjoyed?”.
- Asking for prompts if you are talking too much (if you are the type of person who has a tendency to not know how long you need to talk for).
- Asking for the interview to be in a room that is quiet, not brightly lit, comfortably heated with minimal risk of interruption or distraction.
- Asking for a quiet area to prepare for the interview in.
- Asking interviewers to repeat questions or slow down their pace of conversation.
But ultimately it is about knowing yourself and how you get when you are a bit anxious. Interviews make me anxious and so I tend to think about what I need in place so that I can calm myself down as much as possible. For the last interview I went to I asked for the interview setting to be comfortable and for a quiet area to prepare in, and this was really helpful for this.
Also, as a note, if you have other conditions that require adjustments, you should think about them too.
Questions – how to figure out if a job is right for you
So going back to my Dad’s advice, how can you interview your interviewer to figure out if their organisation is right for you?
The nice thing is that first part is to do your research before hand, which you should do before going for an interview anyway. Look up about any organisation you are interviewing for and see if you agree with their ideals. Understand what they do and why that matters to you. If you want to work for them, then you should be interested in what they are doing in some way and so it is worth exploring that. The more you know beforehand, the more insight you can show at the interview. This can be an advantage for an autistic person as you may be able to learn details about the organisation that neurotypical people may not have noticed.
From that, come up with questions that you think about naturally during the process and write them down. I have a good ability to come up with questions…and immediately try to find the answers with the resources I have. This is great in general, but in preparing for interviews I am trying to figure out the questions I am naturally asking, noting them down, and then trying to find out the answers. Then I know what questions I have been asking so I can ask them at the interview (with the extra knowledge that I have learnt from my research helping me to understand that conversation).
At the end of an interview people give you the opportunity to ask any questions. Generally, it is a good idea to ask some questions as it shows you are interested in the job. A question I like to ask is “what do you think a normal day in this job would look like?”. While organisations write job descriptions, I have been told that they often don’t know exactly what they want for that role at that time. Therefore, asking a question like that allows you to clarify the points that are important to them in the role that they may not have communicated ahead of time.
Something that I am working on is asking questions about your interviewer. This is an important thing as it makes an interview, which can be a one-way conversation, into something that goes both ways. This allows you to make a connection with the person, which helps in making them want to have you as an employer. For the next load of questions I have looked at an article from The Muse about interview questions and picked out some that I thought were good. In regards to connecting with your interviewer, these questions stood out:
- How long have you been with the company?
- Has your role changed since you’ve been here?
- What made you choose this job?
- What did you do before this?
- What is your favourite part about working here?
Other ones are asking about the company and the team you’d be working with?
- What do you see this company doing in the future?
- What can you tell me about your new products or plans for growth?
- Can you tell me about the team I’d be working with?
- Who would I report to?
- What are the team’s strengths? What areas do they need to work on that I could help with?
- What is the work environment like?
- What is different about working here than anywhere else you’ve worked?
Some other questions that could be good are:
- What skills would you like to see in someone doing this job?
- Do you expect the job to change in the next six months to a year?
- What opportunities are there for professional development?
- What have successful employees in this role gone on to do?
- Where do you see the company in the next few years?
The last ideas discussed in this article is about questions to clarify your interviewer has all the information they need, which can be important:
- Is there anything that concerns you about my background being a fit for this role?
- What are the next steps in this process?
- Is there anything else I can provide you that would help?
- Do you have any other questions?
From here there are a lot of questions you can ask. The difficult thing is figuring out what to ask and when, as asking all of these could come across as quite intense and not conversational. I don’t have an answer for how to make this work yet. What I am going to try is picking a handful of them and trying them out at an interview to see how they work. The complication of these is that they open up for unstructured conversation, that is difficult to prepare for so can be a bit of a disadvantage for autistic people. But at the end of the day, be polite and try your best. If they are the right place then hopefully they will see that you are trying and will look at everything else about you that they like and put that towards their decision.
Government Equalities Office (2010). Equality Act 2010: What do I need to know?
A summary guide for voluntary and community sector service providers. Crown. 1-11.
Government Equalities Office (2010). Duty on employers to make reasonable adjustments for their staff. 1-6.
Leggett, C. (2016). Top 5 autism tips: employment – recruitment and interviews. (URL: https://network.autism.org.uk/knowledge/insight-opinion/top-5-autism-tips-employment-recruitment-and-interviews). Last accessed: 21st February 2018.
The Muse Editor (Last accessed: 21st February 2018). 51 Great Questions to Ask in an Interview. (URL: https://www.themuse.com/advice/51-interview-questions-you-should-be-asking)
National Autistic Society (Last accessed: 21st February 2018). Our employment campaign. (URL: https://www.autism.org.uk/get-involved/tmi/employment.aspx).
National Autistic Society (Last accessed: 21st February 2018). Recruiting an autistic employee. (URL: https://www.autism.org.uk/recruiting). – This one seems like a really good one for a factsheet if you want to send something to an employer.
University of Oxford (Last accessed: 21st February 2018). Reasonable Adjustments for Interview Candidates. (URL: http://www.ox.ac.uk/sites/files/oxford/field/field_document/Guidance%20for%20colleges%20on%20adjustments%20for%20disabled%20interviewees.pdf)