Hobbs consultancy and neurodiversity (B2)

Interview Hobbs consultancy


Thanks. So I could start with why there is a need to get all employers thinking about employing people with autism.

Roxanne Hobbs (Head of Hobbs consultancy):

Yeah, I’m just thinking about how I want to answer that question because I believe many different aspects should be considered. I think there’s a massive underemployment rate amongst autistic people. The underemployment rate is significant; this needs to be corrected, and they need help finding more meaningful employment. I’m not going to be able to quote the number for you, but I know it’s too high. It should be a human right for people to have access to employment where they can make a difference. I also think autistic people have got so much to offer. I think they can be fabulous, and they can have such a lot to bring in and offer to the workplace. I would love to see the workplace benefit from those experiences and those skills.


As a consultancy, you look at enabling employers to employ neurodiverse individuals. What kind of organizations do you get coming to? What factors do you look at when improving the working environment for Autistic employees?

Roxanne Hobbs:

What kind of organizations? So, people don’t tend to come to us with that specific question about improving the environment for autistic people because of the nature of our business. We get people coming to us who want to improve their diversity and inclusion as an organization. They come in with that high-level objective, and then within that, we might be talking about gender, we might be talking about race, and then we start talking about neurodiversity as well. I think many of the organizations I work with are quite creative organizations. So, they might be do things such as branding or advertising or architectural firms. I actually think a lot of the time these companies have more neurodiversity than they realize within their building anyway. And I’m going to feed into a stereotype here. But if you think about an architectural company then Dyslexic people, the stereotype is that typically they good at that kind of creativity and spatial awareness.

And so it would make sense to me that within an architect’s practice, they might over-index on Dyslexia. And I think part of the process is it’s not just about getting people through the door, is it about creating an environment where those people can thrive, but also where they can feel able to disclose that they’re Dyslexic, that there’s no stigma or shame associated with it, and they can be seen for the strength that they bring to the table as well. 


How do organizations kind of typically respond when you start talking about neurodiversity?

Roxanne Hobbs:

You know what? This has been so fascinating for me. So, I started talking about neurodiversity and organizations in 2018 we did the Diverse Minds conference. That’s when we first started talking about it. And I was astonished at how it was embraced with open arms. Actually, I’d been speaking about gender for five years, at least before then. And I’d met a lot of cynicism, a lot of microaggressions against me. Somebody literally said, oh, you’re going to start burning your bra now, Roxs and those kinds of comments. And it felt like a constant push to persuade people that gender diversity was good for business. I haven’t experienced that same cynicism when speaking about neurodiversity. And I think it’s because if it’s explained well to people and especially the concept of the Spiky profile, that someone who is neurodivergent will typically; that they’ll be things they excel in and things they struggle with. I think leaders can see quite quickly the potential benefits that such individuals can bring to organisations.

So, I think people get the business advantage of embracing neurodiversity quicker than they understand the business advantages of gender diversity in the workplace. That being said, there is the danger, isn’t there, that we’re just talking about a certain type of neurodiversity. We’re talking about, God, I hate this language. I don’t really want to use it, but we’re talking about the individuals that are going to be able to perform at a very high level within an organization. Obviously, you know as well as I do that autism is a very complex condition, and you’ve got an enormous amount of variety in there, and you’ve got some people that really would struggle in the workplace on that spectrum. And I am worried that that kind of business case argument excludes a lot of autistic people. So, there is a downside to that. In summary, the business case is understood a lot more readily than it is with other diversity metrics. But there’s the danger that that doesn’t include all neurodivergent people or autistic people even.


I am interested in hearing more about how your organisation have gone towards more employment for neurodiversity for example you mentioned the neurodiversity conference what did that involve?

Roxanne Hobbs:

So we’ve done two, one in 2018 and one in 2019. And then we’re going to do one in 2020, and then the Pandemic happened. The 2018 one was all about celebrating neurodiversity in the advertising industry. And what we did was invite people who identified as neurodiverse, whatever language you prefer to use to share their stories. So, I had an autistic CEO, for example. We had a dyslexic female founder, and they spoke, they stood up and shared their story of their struggle, but also of their strengths, their so-called superpowers that they brought in, and how they had almost learned to see their neuro divergence as a critical part of their success, not something that held them back. And it really was for me, the underlying theme of that event was about challenging stereotypes, and I think it had real meaning for me on a personal level as well. My son had been diagnosed with autism a couple of years before, and I had definitely been guilty of having stereotypes in my head about what that meant for him and his long-term career. And so, it was incredibly healing for me to see an autistic CEO who was thriving in his job just to see what was possible.

And I think from what I’m told, it had the same impact on all of our neurodiverse people in the audience. So, they were like, this doesn’t need to hold me back. I don’t need to buy into these limiting stereotypes that exist in our culture. That was the first one and then the second one. I felt it was really important to be upfront about some of the challenges that people might face because I feel like maybe we just presented the shiny side of it of all the benefits that it brings. And obviously there’s very real challenges that some of these individuals would have on a day-to-day basis in an organization. So, the second one was much more focused on the kind of support that people could get, like coaching in organizations. It was that neurodivergent design e.g., designing buildings and cabins that were neurodiversity friendly. It was about art created by neurodiverse people. It was, really looking at more practical support and barrier removal for people. And the idea was that our third event was going to be about neurodivergent leadership, but the pandemic has impacted our schedule.


Okay, so I’m assuming a divergent friendly building focuses on having the right kind of lighting, sound proofing offices, that kind of thing?

Roxanne Hobbs:

Yeah, absolutely. That I’ve just been judging the neurodiversity Awards for genius within. And there’s a really interesting entry by Balfour Beatty. it might be worth speaking to them because this is a little bit second hand, but my understanding is that they have a lot of their workforce in those kinds of temporary huts that people work in. And they worked with one of the autism charities and the designer to really create that temporary work accommodation. So like you said really thinking about the sound, the lighting, just other things within it as well. And it’s a really neat little case study of what can be done.


There are costs involved. However I suppose it also helps people who aren’t neurodiverse to actually work well. Some of the adjustments, for example, might be useful just generally.

Roxanne Hobbs:

Yeah. I think when you think about inclusive design, there’s a thought that one person’s challenges. Let’s say you take an autistic person’s challenges with a specific work environment. That person’s challenges are all of our micro challenges. So, if you solve for that person, you’re actually making it easier for everybody because you’re addressing all of our micro challenges. So even though I don’t have an autism diagnosis, I still find echoey buildings really irritating and I still get distracted by lights. And so, a building that reduces that noise, would be a better workspace for me as well. So, as you solve for that, you solve for everyone’s micro challenges, it’s a really nice design thought. You tend to find that these solutions are good for everybody.


So that’s the building side of things what about neurodiverse adjustments in general for example, how much requirement is it for companies to do diversity training?

Head Hobbs consultancy:

There’s no governmental requirement at all. There’s nothing that they have to do. There’s nothing. The companies that I work with have decided that diversity is the future of business and they want to educate their employees and create behavioural shifts in their organization to welcome that. So, it’s completely been kicked off by a CEO or an HR director or head of HR who’s like, actually, this makes business sense for us. Let’s invest in it. And when I say invest, obviously financially, but time and resource and energy as well. So yeah, it comes from good people in the organization thinking about the possibility.


However, the lack of government pressure may mean that some of the companies don’t really think about diversifying their work force.

Head Hobbs consultancy:

The vast majority of companies, probably.


However, I have had conversations with people and they tell me they feel there is pressure to diversify. Where does the pressure come from?

Head Hobbs consultancy: 

Don’t get me wrong, they are under pressure too. But that pressure isn’t coming through a legal framework from the government. They don’t have to do any kind of diversity training or work. The pressure is coming from other parts of industry. So, say you work in advertising and say Coca Cola is looking for a new advertising agency. Coca Cola will be in their brief for the agencies to respond to. They’ll be saying to the agencies, what are you doing about the diversity, equity and inclusion in your company? What’s your plan? What’s your strategy? So potential future clients are putting the pressure on. Also, people who work at the company will be putting pressure on, especially the millennials and next generation coming through. They’ll be saying, what’s going on? Why is there a bunch of white men at the top? We need to be doing something about this. And they’re demonstrating that with their feet as well. So, they will leave companies or just join companies that have really clear diversity strategies in place. So, they are under pressure. But it’s not coming from any kind of legal framework. It’s coming from clients, suppliers, talent, people within the organization as well.


So people have taken the diversity inclusion training. Have you had people feedback to you about improvements from their staff or anything like this?

Head Hobbs consultancy:

Absolutely. One of the most wonderful outcomes of doing neurodiversity workshops and organizations is it starts a conversation about neurodiversity, and then people start to come forward and say, hey, I’m autistic, I’m dyslexic. I’ve never felt safe to disclose that before. I’ve got loads of examples of organizations where that’s happened after we’ve been in. And then those people are then getting the support that they need, but they’re also contributing to that cultural shift where it’s all right to have to ask for help sometimes it’s all right not to be a perfect human being, whatever that is, because none of us are. So, yeah, I definitely see that kind of systemic change happening. And some organizations I’ve gone into, and then I don’t see them for two years. And then I hear that they’ve done a neurodiversity panel that they had a partnership with Ambitious about Autism, that they developed all of these kinds of strategies after we’ve gone in. And we’ve always done the awareness piece and introduced the topic, and then action has been taken off of the back of that to instigate real change. It’s great.


Do you think there is anything more we can be doing to encourage diversity in organisations?

Roxanne Hobbs:

It’s a really good question. Yeah. I don’t know where I stand on that. When we think about diversity, I say that we’re in the third paradigm at the moment. So, at the beginning, it was all about the legal frameworks, actually. So, it was all about people getting sued for sexual discrimination in the 70s. And because there was so much legal stuff around diversity, one of the unintentional outcomes of that was people were quite scared about hiring for diversity, then we went from the phase of it all being about the moral and social responsibility, which was effective. But there’s a lot of people that if you say you should do this, you ought to do this, they just switch off and stop treating me like a child and telling me what to do. I think where we are now is characterized by the business case and by business case, I don’t necessarily mean commercials and profitability, although that its part of it for most companies. But I think for some people, the business case is recruiting and retaining the best talent, coming up with the best solutions, being an exciting and culturally interesting place to work.

And I think once we’ve entered that third paradigm that’s been the most effective. So, yes, I think probably it needs to be accompanied by some logistical stuff on a government level. Like an example would be, I’m not talking about neurodiversity here, but an example on gender level would be if the government could make paternity leave as easy to take up as maternity leave. That would create a huge shift in terms of gender balance in organizations, because at the moment, it’s expensive for dads to take the extended leave. So, I think there are frameworks that the government can put in place like that, and I think they’re working on. and actually, these might already exist, like design standards about making things accessible for all in terms of information communication and technology (ICT) systems and so on. So that kind of, again, the framework can exist there. But I see a lot of success in the paradigm that we’re in, which is about focusing on the business case.


What kind of industries do you work with that employ neurodiverse people?

Roxanne Hobbs:

Yeah. It’s hard not to stereotype when you answer that question, but I see tech industries over indexing on autism, and ADHD to an extent. Veterinary industry, I work with that. Obviously, you have to be really good at science to become a vet that attracts certain types. I also work a lot in the advertising industry. The creative industries, they seem to over index. Well, they over index in all neurodiversity, actually. But Dyslexia, in the creative agencies, particularly in Dyslexia, there are industries that I think over index because of the nature of the work that gets put out of them. But you’ve got to be careful of the stereotyping, haven’t you? Because I think autistic people, for example, can be super creative, really creative. I’ve seen amazing creative work of autistic people, and so it would be a mistake just to think, oh, it’s just the Dyslexics that are great in terms of creativity.


Any other comments on helping the neurodiverse into employment?

Roxanne Hobbs:

How to get more neurodiverse people into work? Yeah, I think it’s really complex, and I think it’s not just about getting them in. It’s about there being an environment there which they can thrive and succeed in, because I’ve seen that happen where, I don’t know, say you’ve got an apprentice scheme and you’ve got an autistic person coming through that kind of scheme, and then they’ve gone into an environment which hasn’t been suitable for them. So, for me, it’s about the diversity, but then about the inclusion once they’re there as well. And that happens to be a two-pronged approach. And I think there’s a lot of neurodiversity in plain sight in the workplace that those people are there already. But there are also people that have been systemically excluded from the workplace because of their neurodiversity. Yeah, I don’t think I’ve got anything more. It’s complex, it’s hard, but I think we can raise awareness. Can’t we? People can understand their own stereotypes. I talk a lot in our unconscious bias training about stereotypes and helping people understand that if there are spelling mistakes on a CV, that doesn’t mean someone’s lazy. It might mean that they’re dyslexic. Or if you’ve got someone in an interview who keeps looking around the room and not getting eye contact with you, that doesn’t mean that they’re not interested.

It might mean that they’re autistic and just struggle to maintain eye contact. And so, trying to educate people on things the way it might show up in the recruitment process. So, they’re questioning themselves and not falling into those assumptions. I don’t think there’s like one thing that we need to do. I just think there’s lots of little tweaks and hacks to our current processes that need to happen to support more people in, but also to make them feel included once they’re there.


Do you instruct people in terms of how to maybe change their recruitment process so they don’t filter out neurodiverse candidates, for example?

Roxanne Hobbs:

Yeah, we do work with people on the recruitment process. The only pushback I would have is on your word instruct, because what we do is coaching approach, because we think if people work out for themselves, there’s more likely to be sustainable change. So, what we do is get them to map out their recruitment process and then ask questions about it, and then they might start to work out for themselves what might not work.


So how have people changed the recruitment process as a result?

Roxanne Hobbs:

Well, the most common thing that I’m seeing now is when they invite people to interview, asking them, do you have any additional needs for the interview process? And so, what we do at Hobbs Consultancy is if we’re recruiting, we send out the questions for the interview the day before. This is an example of a hack we’ve made. The person can read the questions and not be kind of blindsided in the interview with them. But asking what needs a person has, that becoming a part of your process to ask anybody that’s coming in for an interview, what additional requirements, what reasonable adjustments do they need for that process? And it might be that they need to not travel in rush hour or they need to be in a room without air conditioning, I don’t know. But just normalizing that it’s okay to ask for different things. So that would be an example.


I am personally in favour of getting rid of interviews I don’t think that they suit everyone.

Roxanne Hobbs:

I’ve got a lot of sympathy with that argument. I don’t think informal interviews are very helpful at all.

I completely agree with you. I think informal interviews suit a certain type of person and I’ve seen organizations like Microsoft are doing this really well where they test people’s skills rather than their ability in the interview.


Do you have anything else you’d like to say?

Roxanne Hobbs:

And do I have anything else that I want to say? Not really. I think it’s really important to me because I have a son who’s autistic, and I want to create a workplace that is going to be welcoming to people like him and that appreciates the talents that he’s got. As more and more kids get diagnosed, I think there’s more and more parents who will be feeling the same and want to create that change for the children of the workforce of the future. So, I’m really hopeful that we are on the cusp of creating a massive shift. I’m hopeful.

End note: 

With thanks to Roxanne Hobbs of the Hobbs consultancy for taking the time for this interview.

The recruitment process/work (level B2)

I am hoping this is my last reflective blog for a while. I will hopefully be going back to interview people in a month or so. I am looking to temp, so I can have the time to work on blogging and videoing and develop skills that will allow me to pursue a career path with a content development focus.

I have a few more thoughts concerning the recruitment process and the nature of work. The last permanent job I applied for before looking into making temping work viable was a job that had a straightforward application form. As I am sure you’re aware, with most jobs, you have a form that asks you for the exact date that you worked to and from for a specific organisation. There are two problems with asking for to and from dates:

1) does anyone remember the exact day that they started working somewhere!

2) it makes it harder for certain people to get back into the work place;

for example women who’ve taken time out to have children, people with criminal records, anyone with a sketchy work history because they have some kind of neurodiverse condition and/or people with physical health issues.

The form I had to fill out didn’t ask for any job history details; the only questions the potential employer asked were about demonstrating certain skill sets. This approach is excellent as there is then no prejudice on the employer’s part about work gaps or the type of work you’ve done. I’ve heard that some people look down on candidates with a lot of volunteer experience. They wonder why the candidate has never found anyone who wants to pay for their time and effort; volunteering thus devalues the job applicant. However, I’ve also heard that employers love people who volunteer, so I am in two minds about this.

However, with an application form that just relied on the candidate to answer questions relating to the job, the candidate is judged less on their work history and more on what they potentially bring to the role, which is good.

Phrases from Aspierations interview

We think there might be some latitude there to allow Aspierations to come into companies and do some really exciting work with them.

Latitude-in this case greater freedom of choice.

I think there is going to be a new halfway house, which actually could be quite attractive to Autistic folk, who can dip in and dip out of that as they choose.

To dip in and dip out of-to actively take part in something then move back to another state or situation. In this case employees wouldn’t go to a company office in the traditional sense but they would still have the opportunity to socialise and potential to network. Probably with more emphasis on home working.

Secondly, the amount of social security that has to be paid to them as well. 

Social security-in this case the money paid to individuals who are out of work.

It’s naturally assumed that they will be good on the computer side of things, but you and I know it’s much more subtle than that and that different skillsets within Autism are attracted to different industries.

Skillset-range of things that someone is good at, usually used in reference to what someone does within their job.

Also, how does the intern, interact with their colleagues, I think there is a difference between being an intern and being a paid employee. 

Colleagues-people you work with at the office.

They might have had a reason to do that but for an Autistic student that is discrimination quite frankly.

Discrimination-in this case a scenario which puts someone with a neurodiverse condition at a disadvantage with respect to their peers.

However, when you look at their CV, it generally says jobs in Mcdonald’s or stacking shelves in a supermarket.

Stacking shelves-putting goods onto the shelves.

If they rule that out, then we’ve got to say to them, ‘right we’ve got to renegotiate your thoughts about career path planning, and that’s going to be a very, very hard thing to do.

Rule that out-they’ve decided that a course of action is unsuitable for them.

We might be able to get involved in being an advocate for that particular person because it’s all part of reasonable adjustments, and that’s a legal requirement; there is some wriggle room for change.

Wriggle room for change-there is the capacity to negotiate changes.

We are looking to create what we consider to be an Autism-friendly mock job interview we might be able to replicate that for a company for a real job.

Mock job interview-mock job interview something that seems like the real thing, in this case it is used in preparation for the actual event. A mock exam is the same concept.

We can make it much more bespoke for the actual candidate.

Bespoke-its tailored towards a specific candidate’s needs.

Aspierations part 2 Interview with Gabriel Herman (level B1)

What do you think about something less formal e.g., something that was paid for just a few months?

Its better than nothing. You and I know that but at what cost to somebody’s mental health?  When we organised mock job interviews in Bristol and Bath we needed  to stress that they weren’t going to lead to a real job.  The autistic students were given a very realistic experience and could have convinced themselves that it was real and a job could follow. Similarly, if you create a short term contract and can’t offer them a job at the end, the employee must be brought down gently. If you don’t do this with autistic folk, they could have serious problems coping with the rejection.

So, if you wouldn’t recommend internships what would be the alternative? I suppose if you wanted to get an insight into what the person could do on a practical basis and wanted to spare them the job interview maybe something like a one-day assessment with tasks might be a good alternative. What do you think of that?

If it was the skill, they were actually required to do in the actual job then, yes. But very often its much wider than that. For example, a company might say we’re going to give you a group of colleagues to work with and you have to work together to create a bridge in the middle of the room with the material provided. They might have had a reason to do that but for an Autistic student that is discrimination quite frankly. So yes and no.  A practical interview could work but it needs to be for the right reasons. A company might have in the back of their head that the skill set required for this job is that an individual may have to lead other members of a team. However, when you look at the job description leading a team might not be an absolute requirement for the role. Also, such a task could greatly disadvantage an Autistic candidate and it might put them in a tailspin so they won’t turn up to an interview as a result.

Does your organisation only deal with people who’ve just come out of education, or does it also focus on people who’ve graduated a while back?

We are focusing on individuals who are in university and who are very soon going to be graduating. We say very soon, but at the moment, no one knows if they’re going to be graduating. Traditionally it was going to be individuals who would be graduating and going to be looking for a job. We think that the careers services in universities are not particularly good for Autistic students. Part of the reason for that is Autistic students need to have more time, and the careers services don’t have that as a resource.
Do you help them at other stages, other than the interview stage?
At the moment, Aspireations is only offering the job interview experience. However, there are all the other areas involved in the job search process, such as career planning, building a CV and personal statement & then the job interview. The next stage for us is looking more into helping in these other areas. As I said at the start, we’re not a recruitment agency. However, we get people sending us emails asking us if we can find them a job. What I do in a personal capacity is tell them we can’t do that, but I am happy to offer you some help with your CV and your personal statement. I can tell you that from my experience that in general, their CV is pretty awful. Its generally because these are graduates who would typically be expected to work in very good jobs due to their qualifications. However, when you look at their CV, it generally says jobs in Mcdonald’s or stacking shelves in a supermarket. There’s nothing wrong with that. That’s not the point I am making. However, for a manager in one of the top companies expecting them to fit into a highly scientific department in a big company, that CV doesn’t quite look right. What I sometimes have to do is help them tidy up the CV as its badly formatted and there are misspelling and it doesn’t look anywhere close to what a CV should look like. Then I look at the content and ask them questions like, have you ever been on holiday, what did you learn about the time you were on holiday? Did you ever work at a charity shop, and what kind of responsibilities did you have there? So, we look at all of the personal statement, which hopefully gets around the CV problem.
There’s another problem, and that is the problem of social imagination. A lot of people on the spectrum can’t imagine things that they haven’t experienced yet. They can get quite fixated on an idea for themselves, which may or may not be realistic. This also applies to career path planning. We’ve got to do a lot of work with individuals to say, well, what are you looking for career wise? What kind of salary do you think you’re going to get? We’ve got to tell them I am afraid you’ve got no chance unless you go and live in Birmingham because that is where all the jobs are for that particular area. If they rule that out, then we’ve got to say to them, ‘right we’ve got to renegotiate your thoughts about career path planning, and that’s going to be a very, very hard thing to do. I think that is the critical missing bit at the meeting when we look at employment for Autistic folk.

I think there are other issues in terms of work. So, in my own experience, I am on the Autistic spectrum, but I also have dyspraxia. I qualified in Biomedical science and Neuroscience. However, I am appalling at lab work and programming, so I couldn’t use my qualifications. I am very good at writing it up, but I don’t know if its my Autism or my Dyspraxia, but I can’t do sequences if that makes sense (lab work is about following a sequence). My problem with programming is that it uses symbols for operations, and I find that hard; maybe it’s too much abstraction. So, I suppose it’s also about looking at transferable skills, it’s essential to look at someone’s skillset. So, someone like me might not be able to work in a lab, but they’d have some transferable skills from doing science.

We have contacts within the top UK companies, and when we’ve had the experience with a particular candidate, we might be able to say there is a match here. I am not saying we can do something across the board for every candidate, but we might be able to do something for a particular individual. What we might be able to do is look at companies and their job profiles and say that you are discriminating here as you’re insisting on this element of the job. Can we get rid of that element and very often, they say we don’t even know why that is there anyway we can take that out of the job description. I can’t say that across the board, we can certainly advocate for the candidate. An example is if a candidate came to us and said, ‘I’ve gone into this company, and I am looking at this particular role, but at the moment it doesn’t exist, but they’re not taking into account the conditions that I have.’ We might be able to get involved in being an advocate for that particular person because it’s all part of reasonable adjustments, and that’s a legal requirement; there is some wriggle room for change.

Any further developments with the job interview process?

We are looking to create what we consider to be an Autism-friendly mock job interview we might be able to replicate that for a company for a real job. We can then say the candidate has practised this way of doing a job interview; we can now set that up again for you as the real job interview. That would be extremely therapeutic because, having had the experience once, they should replicate it again in this scenario. Just doing a mock job interview is very generic, so a student might say ‘I want a job in the BBC as a newscaster.’ We can’t give them the job interview experience for that role, however, if we knew a bit about them before we came to Bath or came to Bristol, we could say the interviewer ‘can you please put a few questions in to make it feel like they’re interviewing for that particular role.’ We can make it much more bespoke for the actual candidate.
I was thinking about the actual questions that you should leave out. I remember at the event people saying that some questions in the job interview were problematic.
The thing is that no one knows all the questions and all the answers for the Autistic community. What I think was fascinating for us was that we created this experience. We had different elements come together; obviously we had Autistic students, or maybe I should say neurodiverse students, we had the careers service from universities, we had interviewers from some of the top companies in the country and we had mentors who was sitting in on the interviews to make sure that everyone was happy particularly the students and Aspirerations itself. All those constituents learned from each-other, Aspireations learned from it as well. It’s beneficial to everybody in that scenario. If it’s true, and I think it is that everyone on the Autism spectrum is an individual and it affects them differently, we have got a lot to learn about what would work best and what doesn’t work.
So as a part summary, different people on the Autistic spectrum deal differently with different questions.
Interestingly enough, I was sitting in on one of the job interviews in one of the universities, and the individual stayed with me at the end and was able to talk to me. He said to me he wouldn’t talk to his family, and he wouldn’t talk to his friends about some of the things he was sharing with me about his life experiences, which included a problem with faces. He couldn’t take in faces. This was new to me, and I wanted to understand what he meant by that. That was hidden from the interviewer, and I should imagine that it would be completely hidden from any interviewer in the future. But what is the implication for him in the work environment if he can’t deal with people’s faces? That was interesting for me, so if we could say to companies this is a condition related to Autism and might come in to play with one or two Autistic candidates that come into your workplace, and I think this is fascinating. An interviewer wouldn’t even consider this, and maybe a candidate might not even want to offer that information to an interviewer.

Aspireations interview with Gabriel Herman part 1 (level B1)

With thanks to Gabriel Herman for agreeing to be interviewed.

Could you give me a general overview of what Aspierations does?

Aspiration’s’ task is to help people with high functioning Autism or Aspergers syndrome get on the path to an aspirational career.

Could you give a general overview of how Aspierations help people into employment?

Initially, we thought we were going to be a recruitment company, a specialised recruitment company. Then we realised that that wasn’t going to work because our community is so small and we have ambitions to do all different kinds of careers. It would be almost impossible to find a position for each individual in big companies, so we rowed back from that, and we then focused on setting up the right environment. And by that, I mean making sure they were what we’d call Autism fit and friendly. To make sure that their recruitment processes were up to scratch in terms of getting Autistic candidates in, to ensure that once the candidate was in, they can thrive in the work environment and the work culture. So that was probably the second stage and the third stage, which we’re probably in right now. We say we’re doing that but we’ve got to regain the focus on the individual. This is why we’re currently working with universities and Autistic students in universities to prepare for job interviews, which will get them the job in the first place.

Regarding the interview process and what needs to change, I am aware that you conducted trials with Bath and Bristol University in conjunction with employers. I heard talks from individuals at Aspierations events about the benefits of informing employers about the interview process and how it changes things. What has been the impact on employment for students?

It’s a little too early to tell, as you know the Autistic community was the least likely of all the disabled groups in the country to be in employment, so there was a crisis before all this happened. We’re now trying to work out where the recruitment industry is now as we see virtual job interviews becoming more prevalent. We’re going to have to give the new skills to the Autistic students to make sure that they are ready for the new reality because what we suspect is going to happen, is that there is going to be a job shortage and therefore the competition for jobs increases and if the problem was bad beforehand it could be even worse now. We’re going to have to work out the skill sets they require and get them up to speed. On the more positive side, we think that there will be a call for compassionate capitalism, where companies will go out of their way to try to behave in the best way possible for the minority interests. We think there might be some latitude there to allow Aspierations to come into companies and do some really exciting work with them.

You have other areas of Aspireations that have gone on for longer; what kind of results have you had there?

Another aspect of what Aspireations does aside from work with Universities is awareness events. For these events, we go into companies and effectively host events for them to do with neurodiversity and bring them up to speed as to what’s going on out there. This is very exciting for a lot of companies who haven’t thought this through before. It begins to start a conversation and that conversation leads to a much better understanding of neurodiverse needs, particularly for neurodiverse staff members.

You talked earlier about the need to adapt to changes. Do you know how individuals on the spectrum have coped with working from home?

I think in this conversation, we have to talk about pre-corona and possibly post-corona. I think the rules have completely shifted, and we have to reassess everything now. Before I was beginning to hear many companies, we’re thinking of shutting down their offices and starting to work from home. When they had that conversation with us, they said, and the top people to ask to work from home are the Autistic employees, and you might see a certain logic in that. However, I was very frightened by that attitude because getting Autistic folk into the workplace is to reduce social isolation. If they felt happier at home, that might not be the most holistic thing for them. They should have ownership over their decisions and not be characterised as people who would much rather work from home. I think it’s not necessarily a good thing. The other thing about working from home is that the day is not as structured. So, I don’t think it’s a good thing for the Autistic community. In terms of where we’re going, I think a lot of companies are now seeing the benefit of closing down their offices as they haven’t used them for months and things have been going quite smoothly for some companies and some industries, and they are quite attracted to the idea that they don’t have to send individuals overseas on 1st class travel. It’s quite cost-effective for them. I think what is going to happen is that there is going to be a halfway house. I believe there are going to be local offices smaller ones were, you will be asked to go to your local office, near to your home and I can see them having lifestyle opportunities there might be things like a squash court or a swimming pool, and you’ll be expected to work at a desk. You’ll be expected to socialise with people. You may even be able to socialise with colleagues in your own company. I think there is going to be a new halfway house, which actually could be quite attractive to Autistic folk, who can dip in and dip out of that as they choose.

Do you think the government could do more in terms of helping people with Autism? What do you think they could do?

I think the government is very good at listening, but it’s more problematic when it comes to doing anything. We have, and other agencies have tried to explain that there is great talent within the Autistic community, who are completely and utterly hidden from the labour market because the recruitment industry can’t find them and this is a tragedy because a lot of Autistic folk quite frankly know that they are clever. They know their true worth, but they have a lot of frustration when it comes to getting the right jobs. As a result that companies don’t benefit from their expertise. Companies are often all made up of the same type of person, and therefore they can’t have the internal discussion and debate of different thinking, which I think is a great shame. I believe many Autistic folk as you and I know can be very clear thinking in terms of systems so they can go into a company and say why we are doing this A process, B and C process. Why don’t we get rid of B because you get the answer with A and C. Therefore, potentially saving the company vast amounts of resources. I think this is a great mistake for the British economy. The government is also failing to understand that if you don’t put these people into work. These people who want to work, they can cope with work. The only other option is the NHS mental health service because there will be deep problems for the person who can’t get employment but knows desperately that they want to provide for society. Secondly, the amount of social security that has to be paid to them as well. I think the government is thinking very creatively, but they’ve got a lot to think about now. Whether Autistic folk will be a priority is yet to be seen.

Would graduates generally be un or under-employed? Also, how many of these people would be graduating in skills shortage areas? Thus, one could make a good case for upping the recruiting of them. When graduates don’t graduate in skills shortage areas, maybe it would be concentrating on transferable skills.

That question is problematic because we don’t know. Especially at the moment it would be hard to work out where skills will be needed in the British economy there will be some industries that are close to collapse for example in the cultural sector, particularly for something like theatre, we know that cinema might survive. But things will be very problematic for theatre. We know that IT will be a very popular industry very shortly as we all move towards computers and the virtual world. I think there was a feeling before all of this, and I believe this is an over generalisation, but it was that most people on the Autism spectrum were very good at the IT side of things. They knew how to work with computers and technology and all the rest of it and a lot of companies used to say that we want Autistic employees to help digitise our company it didn’t kind of make any sense. Still, it was a perception that because of how people on the spectrum think. It’s naturally assumed that they will be good on the computer side of things, but you and I know it’s much more subtle than that and that different skillsets within Autism are attracted to different industries.

Interestingly enough, music being one of them which makes sense as music is a system, what notes work well with each other. Sometimes, people are less ambitious with people on the Autistic spectrum because they just pigeon hole them too tightly. I think what I am saying is that the Autistic community isn’t any different from everybody else in the spread of their skill set and the range of jobs that could interest them.

There seems to be an improvement in that respect, as I’ve noticed more work trials in music and places like the media. It doesn’t seem to be all finance and IT, but I am unsure how many opportunities there are for Autistic individuals in different industries.

I think you are right; there are schemes, and some are more successful than others. Having spoken to people on the spectrum, there’s a bit of a problem with it:

  1. It has different value within an organisation. So, many organisations say we’ve got the intern they’ll be with us for a year, and then we’ll chuck them out. That I think is highly problematic why would we put our Autistic students in that kind of environment. I will not say it is abusive with a capital a, but it doesn’t feel great to me. And the other problem.
  2. People on the spectrum think they’ve got a job at the end. As they’re part of the system and as they’re in a company and they see the work environment, they’re almost schizophrenic; they know it is not a real job but also think it’s a real job. I think that kind of makes things very, very hard.
  3. The other question is, if you’re not going to giving a person a job at the end, how do you deal with that. Are you just throwing them back into the labour pool without any support at all, you’re giving them a taste of real employment, and then you’re taking it away from them again. I am not sure if that’s the right thing to do?

I wouldn’t mind a paid internship.

Everyone’s different; however, there is trouble in terms of the way the management operates. A manager won’t treat an intern paid or otherwise in the same way that they treat a permanent employee on the payroll. It can be quite challenging to work out what that working relationship is going to be. Also, how does the intern, interact with their colleagues, I think there is a difference between being an intern and being a paid employee. And I think unless that is really explained to a candidate, it can cause a problem.

Being a paid intern can be worse cause you think that a paid intern is closer to being a proper employee that; when it disappears, not only do you lose your pay but also lose your job, and it doesn’t lead to anything.

Autism and employment, strategies aren’t working (level C2)

I trashed my GCSEs. I had spent my teenage years having problems sleeping, which led to periods of psychosis. My sleep deprivation was caused by anxiety, which was partly a product of difficulty fitting in at school. None of the teachers picked up on the problems I was having, even in the last year when I skipped classes.

Fast forward a few years, and I had managed to sort out my sleep, redo my GCSEs, and do the equivalent of two A-Levels in the form of an Advanced GNVQ in science. While at university, I got provisions put in place, such as a laptop with software that helped me plan out my essays.

After my degree, I went on to do a masters, I got through my master’s. I did well on my project I’d wanted to do a Ph.D. in neuroscience, but I hadn’t managed to try to create a rapport with the lecturers, partly through lack of eye contact and partly through not appreciating how one makes an impression, for example by dressing smartly. I was most of the way through my master’s project when it dawned on me that most of my fellow students were dressed in smart casual. There I was walking around in t-shirts (sometimes statement t-shirts) and jeans. This inability to conform to what was considered the social norm didn’t go unnoticed by some lecturers at the Institute Of Psychiatry; I could tell that a number of them were far from impressed. Not only did it not impress the lecturers, but they were late giving projects to some people; I was one of those people for whom they took time to provide a project. I think the fact that I was seen as being different and not knowing how to relate in the same way as the other students did affect how long it took to gain a project. After my masters, I attempted to get onto a Ph.D. However, the Ph.D. interview was a disaster; the panel had their head in their hands, apart from the guy asking the questions. I know how to dress for an interview. With an interview, there are easily identifiable social norms in terms of dress. The problem with interviews was then and has always been that I am not great at expanding on a point; I am not sure what the interviewer needs to know. Sometimes I answer yes or no to open questions.

I worked temporarily in various places and volunteered as it was easier to get work this way as the interviews were less formal. In one of the places I volunteered, I was given a series of instructions and was asked to go away and get on with the task. I had informed them that I had a developmental condition and that one of the things that I had needed was to have instructions given in a certain format. I required that the tasks were broken down and preferably for the instruction to be written down. The reason that I need a task written down is that I have issues with working memory. Working memory is the ability to hold instructions in mind[1]. My supervisor barked tasks at me; I started on them and did some of them. Afterward, I would begin to researching something related on the computer as I thought I had finished. My supervisor would come in and ask me how I was getting on I’d tell him what I’d done. After I showed him my work and he realised I hadn’t done all the tasks that I was supposed to do, he’d get frustrated. At the time, I didn’t complain about the lack of adjustments as I wanted my stint to lead to work. At the end of the year, I was told I couldn’t work there because I’d not done well enough. From then on, I always tried to push for adjustments if challenged about my performance. However, as a rule, I didn’t see any of the adjustments put in place. There was a lack of recognition of my struggles in terms of information processing and social interaction. At one point, I was doing a stint in NHS clinics supporting podiatrists, I had a sit-down review and was told that I got on well with the team, and there were no problems there. However I had a few issues that were problematic, I had a feeling they were Autism related, however when I told her I had Autism she turned to me and told me that I didn’t look Autistic. A few minutes through the review She said, ‘You have problems with forming a rapport when you talk to patients.’ It was then that I realised she clearly didn’t understand what being autistic meant.

As well as adjustments being ignored as ‘I don’t look autistic enough’, I also feel a bit like a square peg in a round hole. I’ve done jobs because I took something to make the transition into adulthood and independence, something that is everyone’s aim. However, I have felt that a lot of the jobs I’ve done haven’t allowed me to show what I have to offer. A lot of the work I’ve carried out has showcased my weaknesses, as I took what I felt was open to me without going through the formal interview process. However, I am torn as to whether it’s best to put in place adjustments that help the autistic person fit the job or find a job that fits the autistic person.

I decided not to go into the NHS permanently as I felt that I wouldn’t be supported in my role. I left to volunteer around Europe to improve my language skills and rethink my career direction. Before trying out work in NHS podiatry clinics, I’d considered filming. My idea had been to potentially train as a foot health practitioner or a podiatrist (a job where I could help others) and use this to support my film work. When I returned from my volunteering around Europe, I talked to a friend and found out he ran a film meetup; I joined and decided to temp/freelance while learning how to film. I joined temping agencies and freelanced as an EFL writer and EFL teacher. Around 2018 I lost work due to changes in contracts and the closure of the company for which I worked. I went to the jobcentre, and they sent me to a government funded programme but there were so many criteria that I found it impossible to justify staying on and didn’t feel I could be support, I felt the staff cared but they were constrained by the DWP’s criteria in terms of offering services. The programme is linked to the DWP, so if you get paid, they get notified, and you get kicked off the program. I also looked into applying for a business grant which disabled self-employed people have access to, I found out that you’re given money; however, they specify how money can be spent. You can spend the money from a business grant on software, for example, but not a laptop I felt was paternalistic. The scheme decides what’s best for the client; they don’t trust the client to put forward their case for how they spend the money.

I have very little stability in terms of employment. I managed to get some stable income, but through connections, not by going through the interview process, I dreed to think about what would happen if that option wasn’t available! Due to my inability to get through interviews I have temped and freelanced for years.

I’ve had to fight to get my GCSEs and get into university.
While on my Master’s course, I had to fight to prove myself capable of doing a project. I wasn’t at that point diagnosed as autistic if I had been, I would maybe have had a greater understanding from the lecturers. I think they thought that I wasn’t doing enough to make a good impression when in truth, I didn’t realise that I should be trying.
After my Master’s, I couldn’t find work and needed to rethink my work field; I decided to go for something where self-employment was an option. The reason I choose the self-employed route was that I had trouble getting through interviews. I can see that individuals who have autism could end up either being self-employed and/or in unstable work as it is practically the only option left for individuals who struggle with the interview process unless, of course, there is a shake-up.

Due to my experiences, I have a few recommendations (not all recommendations have been thoroughly studied; some only have anecdotal evidence or study of the techniques are in the early stages):
Schools should work on flagging up students they think are autistic to have adjustments in place to help them. Adjustments should include help with fitting in as poor social interaction can result in anxiety at school and future socialization problems at work. Evidenced-based strategies should be put in place to help reduce bullying. Also, adjustments should be put in place in all stages from education to employment to enable individuals with things such as following instructions and planning tasks.
Diagnosis should be made as soon as possible. From talking to some people who are autistic, it appears that not all local authorities have the same procedure in terms of diagnosis. All individuals sent for diagnosis should be sent to a multidisciplinary team or a psychiatrist or psychologist [2]. At the moment, this recommendation is not adhered to by all local authorities.
Traditional interviews could be abandoned in favour of recruitment processes such as job auditions or open hiring. Open hiring is a process with no background checks, applications, interviews, or resumes [3]. Both these processes rule out the interview stage of the recruitment process. With open hiring, not having to submit a resume means that people with an unconventional/patchy work history have the opportunity to prove themselves on their own merits.
Organisations that help individuals get back into work shouldn’t kick them off the program as soon as they get some work. Like the government funded programme did when I had very little work, I found the workers generally friendly and interested in helping, although the system in which they worked meant that they couldn’t provide the real sustained support required. Organisations that help people with disabilities set up their own business should let the individual make a case for how they spend their money, the grants offer a certain amount and if the individual thinks that money is best spent on a reasonable laptop that will allow them to work more efficiently then they have a right to make that case.
All staff within an organisation should have autism awareness training to understand what autism is and how it can affect an individual.

In the meantime, with COVID meaning that my ability to gain temp work is impacted, maybe its time to try a different approach; one of the ideas that I had was to approach companies with a speculative CV and apply; the reason for this is that due to my different work history many firms will look at my CV and it will be discarded. I thus plan to apply to most jobs with a speculative CV as an approach and see what happens. I am no longer looking to do a Ph.D. in neuroscience. I was looking into the idea of documentary making as it was 1) something I could possibly be self-employed and 2) as I am interested in social and environmental issues. However, I am more interested in the research side of film and can see myself go into research in several settings; I might be best placed to look into Autism and employment; after all I have lived experience.


[1]. Gwen Dewar, Ph.D (2019) Working memory in children: What you need to know, Available at: https://www.parentingscience.com/working-memory.html (Accessed: 05/04/2020).

[2]. NAS (30 Aug 2016) Autism diagnosis for adults, Available at: https://www.autism.org.uk/about/diagnosis/adults.aspx (Accessed: 06/04/2020).

[3]. Tina Rosenberg (May 29, 2019) No Background Check, Drug Test or Credit Check. You’re Hired!, Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/29/opinion/greyston-bakery-open-hiring.html (Accessed: 06/04/2020).

Autism and finding your employment niche (level B1)

Continuation of the series on Autism and employment. Here I interview Martina about how experience of work.

Me: I didn’t do that well at school. I was diagnosed late, so I didn’t have much support at school. Part of the problem was due to socializing issues, and I wonder how much that impacts other people with autism. I wonder how often problems in the education setting impact an individual with autism obtaining qualifications.

Martina: Absolutely, I think help is something that’s lacking. I was reading about this girl with Down Syndrome, the first to get a university degree in Italy; she had support put in place that was for students with learning difficulties. It sounds brilliant. I went through university, but it’s frustrating because I didn’t do as well as I could because my condition always stops me. I always wanted to keep studying, as long as I could really, but I couldn’t manage; I was just burnt out, it’s a massive shame. There needs to be much more support at school and work as well.

Me: I got help at university, but I got a diagnosis of dyspraxia before I got a diagnosis of autism. They misdiagnosed me as being mildly dyslexic. Apparently, people with autism can have spelling and grammar problems in part because of problems with executive functioning. I saw a psychiatrist, and he said I possibly have mild ADHD, so that might be another explanation for spelling and grammar problems. Due to having a diagnosis, even though it wasn’t for Autism, I got some measured put in place at university.

Martina: I was just left to struggle. I also have ADHD, but I’m a strange case as I’m actually into writing, spelling, and grammar. It’s like my special interest, and I’m a perfectionist at it. I feel like I express myself much better in writing than in speaking. When I speak, I can’t organise my thoughts; I keep losing the thread and kind of go in circles. What’s hard for me, aside from finding the motivation to study and be consistent with it, is the admin, tying it all together and knowing what’s going on, managing my time, really staying on top of things. I was lucky to have friends who were like my support; they were like, “oy Martina, you know we are doing this today, and you know that we had to do homework”, they reminded me of the stuff because I couldn’t manage, the kind of organisation of the things. You think what’s wrong with me, I am intelligent, but I can’t remember things, how do I miss all these things? I’m always kind of behind in life.

Me: With me, because I got diagnosed with something, I got extra time and the extra time helped me to organise myself, to do the assignments. It was advantageous. What happened for you after university?

Martina: I came here (to the UK). I wasn’t sure what to do. I didn’t choose what I wanted, because I wanted to do psychology and then my parents weren’t super supportive anyway, and you know it’s a long study with quite a big expense. I backtracked and went into language and literature, which I did in high school. I was offered a job here, and I took it as a chance to come over here; and some of my friends were over here, and they suggested flexible study (completing my masters part-time while I worked). Then I started working, and it never happened, you know you start working full time, and that’s it. Then I just had different corporate jobs, office jobs. Then we moved to Spain, then I started my own business with the cooking then I had {KARL}, and then we came back, so really my career was kind of chopped. I did lots of different things. I worked during uni. I always worked every summer. I was working all the time as my parents weren’t helping me. I got busy trying to pay the rent, really, not following my dreams. It all got kind of a bit lost.
Now that Karl is older and he’s in school, I thought about going back to uni. I’ve always been into psychology and things like wellbeing and yoga, and I think it goes well together. When you learn philosophy in depth its very similar and complementary to modern psychology as it’s all about controlling your mind. I think that helped me to manage, to some extent, my condition. It’s not a cure; it doesn’t treat, but it helped me manage the anxiety that goes with it, rather than the condition because you know it never goes away. I have lots of knowledge here and there, but it’s not a degree. I want to give scientific credibility to my knowledge. There’s a blonde girl, and she talks about Autism in girls, and someone posted it on a science page on Facebook; she states facts about how women are underdiagnosed and our symptoms are quite different to men. Even people on the page were posting asking about whether this was true, which I thought was interesting as even those who are part of the scientific community don’t know that there’s a difference.

Me: You talked to me before about being late to receive an autism diagnosis. Do you think not having an autism diagnosis affected how difficult work was for you? Your experience of the work environment?

Martina: I think that it affected how I looked to my managers in my job at Corel with software for video, photography, and illustration. I started as a support person and then started work as a marketing assistant. In one way, I enjoyed it as they gave you projects and left you to work on them; it was quite stimulating and creative, but the social aspect that you were expected to connect the salespeople and connect to the marketing people and with the whole team. Most of them were lovely, so it was fine, but I just found it overwhelming. It was overwhelming to be always connecting with people and multitasking, and having colleagues internationally from different offices pressuring you over whether you’ve completed tasks. In this job, I was really pushed, and I think eventually, I just had burnout. I needed to take days off here and there, and obviously, they didn’t get it; they just thought I was making it up that I was ill. I couldn’t wake up in the morning; I couldn’t go, and I couldn’t explain this to myself back then because I didn’t know either I just had this exhaustion; I thought it was my chronic illness maybe as well. There was just too much talking I don’t want to talk too much it was just tiring. I would sit there being blank because my brain needs to reload, basically. Even though I’d done well and I’d done everything they asked me, maybe the way I came across was that I was a bit all over the place and struggling, and it just doesn’t make you look in a good light with the manager as I couldn’t smooth talk my way through the office. It’s very much about the kind of chit chat and the jokes and how you bond with your colleagues. I was a bit weird in that situation, and I think I was definitely misunderstood, and they didn’t appreciate the amount of work I had done because I couldn’t sell it. So, I think it impacted me, and obviously, in turn, it impacted my self-esteem probably because I thought, why couldn’t I be like everyone else. I couldn’t understand it myself. I wanted this job. I am enjoying it, but some how I don’t seem to perform.

Me: You said you were diagnosed later on in life. Were problems at work the thing that led to your diagnosis?

Martina: No, it was problems with organising things with family life, such as organising the home when my child came along (I hope to follow up this and talk about being a mother and Autism-this will be a later blog post). My work was making people redundant, and as I was one of the last people to be employed, I was made redundant. After the redundancy, we moved to Spain, and I started my own business, which was hard at the beginning; I did ok however it was a struggle, but I somehow managed because I liked it. But there were things I couldn’t manage, like the admin part of it, I would leave it until my husband would get pissed off and do my tax return as I’d leave it to the last minute as I can’t face the paperwork.

My parents forced me to work as a waitress when I was in school. It’s the worst thing that you can ask an Autistic person to do, go to tables and talk to groups of people, and then you can’t remember what they ordered. I really hated it, but I didn’t have a good argument for my parents about why I shouldn’t do it as I didn’t understand my issues. I couldn’t stand it; there were periods when I was crying every day after work because it was just too much.

I think that slowly during the years, because I was doing something that was hard for people like us to do that I just ran out of energy. I literally feel that my brain has given up on me.

Me: I get what you say about interaction being draining. I sometimes feel that I have to make more effort than the average person to appear bubbly.

Martina: It’s an effort, its not that I hate socialising; everyone was lovely on my team, but it’s still an effort to be with people. I feel I have to make extra effort to be a little bit expressive and present and reply to things, especially in groups of people. The social aspect of work is something I find challenging.

Me: You said you had trouble organising things, so how did you find things such as deadlines?

Martina: I was kind of ok if I had one project and I could immerse myself in it. However, they wanted me to do admin on the side or send you orders to process. If I get interrupted when I was immersed in a task, I find it hard to go back to it and focus on it. I feel that I did the worse things for me, work-wise. I think that maybe I need to be a solitary writer or researcher who does their own thing.

Me: I find I have to have a balance in terms of the amount of people contact I have. If I have too much, I shutdown, but I also suffer if I have too little. I feel I need more downtime than most people.

Martina: It has to be a controlled flow of people, but people coming and going in an open office, it feels like it’s an environment where I have to use all my strength to function. I wondered why I couldn’t just socialise in the way that other people did in the office. You see others, and it just seems so easy. Why couldn’t I walk up to the person and chat with them? I don’t understand how to make conversation like other people.

Me: I did improvisation, and I did find that helpful to some extent. I think that improvisation gives you the message that it’s about how you make people feel, not what you say. You feel less apprehensive about what you say during interactions.

Martina: I had to teach myself by looking at my friends that you have to ask people questions and let them reply, rather than getting carried away about your interests. It’s good to just leave space for others and ask them about themselves. It is always a conscious effort, and I learnt to be kind of acceptable, which is why it didn’t get picked up. People tell me to be myself, and I can’t be myself in public; I wouldn’t talk to anyone, and I’d be sitting in a corner reading a book.

Me: Do you think there is anything that could have helped you?

Martina: I think I couldn’t articulate my difficulties and advocate for myself. At work, I would get stressed, and I ended up apologising for things and taking the blame for everything, as I didn’t remember things and felt that I didn’t do enough. I felt that what I did went unnoticed as I didn’t draw attention to what I had contributed. I don’t think it’s about adaptation I don’t think office work is my kind of job.

Me: I sometimes think that I should be doing something doesn’t involve too much socialising. Maybe I’d feel less overloaded.

Martina: I get that. I think that in my opinion we just don’t fit in many typical jobs. There comes a point where the employer might not feel its worth it if they have to make too many adaptions or have to minimise what you are doing in terms of the actual role. In the office, in customer service or a restaurant, you can’t sustain yourself as you have to present yourself in a certain way and I think it’s just against our nature, you can force yourself for a bit, especially if you need the money, but long term I don’t think its healthy. I think Autistic men are better off as they don’t care as much and perhaps because they often have more of a specialisation such as IT. They’re also not made to feel as bad about their interaction.

Me: I think women are often viewed as being better socially. By that, I mean we’re supposed to be better socially. I think guys are viewed differently, I think if a man is considered to be standoffish, he’s not seen in such a bad light as a woman who’s seen to be standoffish.

Martina: People have told me so many times that you’re standoffish, rude, you’re aloof.

Me: Some people tend to think that I am snobby rather than rude. Snobby isn’t good, though.

Martina: Sometimes its hard when people view you in these ways you start doubting yourself, it’s hard, so I think this is why we mask because we worry about how we’re coming across. The social interaction aspects stopped me from talking to people and promoting myself.

Me: I suppose it impacts on things like networking. I’ve tried to network, but if you’re in a room full of people you feel self-conscious.

Martina: It’s tough. I’ve been to this business seminar, and they got us to move and speak to new people, it’s quite cool and interesting to find out about what they do. However, it’s an effort and exhausting.

Me: I find it less hard to move around the room and talk to people one to one. I find it challenging to make my way through a room and start a conversation with people. Things such as breaking into a group are scary for me. Sometimes when I break into a group, I’ll start chatting to someone, and then I get nervous, and I’ll become inarticulate, and they’ll go back to speaking to the person next to them.

Martina: It will always be difficult; I think we have to find our niche. You have to push yourself out of your comfort zone, but you have to find the balance where you push yourself but don’t feel ill because of how much you’ve pushed yourself. I liked it when I was working on my own thing in Spain, and I could manage my time do yoga, doing healthy cooking, putting things about my cooking online, and have people like it. Working on the café and people really enjoyed the food and coming back regularly, which gave me confidence and was pleasant doing all the creative things surrounding food, e.g., the cooking, the food photography, and creating the blog. I was passionate about it, so I was doing well, and then Karl came, and that was it. I think finding your own thing is the only way, although it’s not easy as we also need to pay the bills. We have only been talking about our difficulties as we try to fit into the neurotypical world. Everything has to work a certain way; it has to be productive have profit, and I think maybe its time to have more space for the things that we bring as well.

We as autistics tend to focus on our difficulties and what we are lacking when we try to go along with this system.
But maybe we can create a new system that’s more sustainable, both for our specific sensitivities, for people’s mental health in general and the environment too.
I think it’s about time that we shift the focus from economic growth at all costs to a healthier way of life for us and the planet. It’s less about being productive all the time and more about actually living well, having a quality of life, and sustainable, fulfilling relationships and activities. Maybe us autistic people can lead the way in this, as we need lots of our own space and time to recharge our energies. But we have lots of strengths as well. We can be innovative, creative, seeing things outside of the box. We tend to have our own viewpoint. We are not so keen to conform. We can be seen as problematic or stubborn by others, but if we don’t think that things are working, maybe we are supposed to change the rules instead of just going with it.
Look at Greta. She’s the perfect example of what a neurodivergent person can do with the right support. A single girl now started a massive movement for the environment. What she’s doing could be seen as idealistic or radical, but it’s just common sense, wanting to preserve our planet.

Me: I agree with respect to changes in the system. However Autistic people will have a hard time in terms of helping with change unless they’re allowed to be part of that system. Which means Autistic people need to be able to get into and stay in work. Which kind of leads on to my next question. So you had issues within the system in terms of the actual job but did you have any problems with the recruitment process?

Martina: Not really; I tend to do quite well in interviews. I give it my all, but then it’s hard to maintain that level of energy and confidence on an everyday basis.